How To Grow Your Own Beauty Garden

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Botanical extracts, essential oils, and nut butters are all the rage. And for some, "synthetic" is almost a beauty curse word. But who can tell how much "natural" actually ends up in our all-natural products? Which got us thinking, Nancy Botwin-style: How hard would it be to, uh, grow our own?

As it turns out, it's actually not as challenging as you might think. Tara Heibel of Sprout Home Chicago and Jeannette Graf, MD, dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, have teamed up to lay out a plan for growing the most beauty-beneficial plants, and dished intel on their benefits and uses.

Before we dig in, Heibel says there are a couple of things to take into account. "Know your conditions — as in, light — and how you are able to care for a plant," she says. "Each person’s house is different, and each person cares for plants differently. If your living conditions or lifestyle aren't suitable for the plant you want, consider other options that would be a better fit." (That's her nice way of saying if you're never home and can't keep a cactus alive, you may not want to sign up for the most finicky of plants.)

As for actually rolling up your sleeves and using your harvest, Dr. Graf stresses the importance of a patch test or physician consult before trying homemade recipes. Also, for your skin's sake, be mindful of providing fresh, clean soil. Last time we checked, pesticides weren't great for our complexions.

Okay, now for the fun part. Click through to check out how to care for and use the following 11 plants in your daily beauty life. You'll be green-thumbing it up in no time.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Heibel tells us that there are different varieties of lavender out there that you can pick up, depending on your temperature zone. Those in colder climates (like Chicago, for example) should pick up Hidcote. Other types, like French lavender, are intended to be warm at all times and best for apartment-dwellers or warm-weather peeps. (Hi, West Coast.)

As a general rule, though, this violet beauty likes full, direct sunlight and soil slightly moist to the touch.

Beauty Uses: Ahh, lavender. Those three syllables alone make us feel instantly calmer. While it is a fairly tricky ingredient that doesn't agree with some people's skin (hence the importance of patch-testing), it still earned Dr. Graf's stamp of approval. "Lavender is an astringent, believe it or not, so it's got soothing, healing, and anti-inflammatory properties," she tells us.

She recommends infusing it in distilled water and using it as a toner. Or spike it into a neutral oil, like jojoba, and let it marinate before slathering on. Grinding tried buds for lavender tinctures (you can learn more about those here) is also a good bet.

Some other options: Grab a couple of oats and some buds, and you can make yourself a pretty lovely bath soak. Or combine steeped lavender with apple-cider vinegar for a nourishing scalp rinse.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Rosemary follows in the same care footsteps as lavender, Heibel says, although it tolerates even warmer temperatures. That means it can be left indoors, as long as it's getting direct sun and even moisture.

Don't feel guilty snipping leaves and flowers, Heibel says: You're actually doing the plant a favor in the long run. "When you cut off the bud or the flower, the plant produces more leaves instead of putting all the energy into the bloom. You're kind of getting the best of both worlds."

Beauty Uses: Outside of being our go-to herb for Thanksgiving, Dr. Graf notes that rosemary strengthens and stimulates capillaries. She recommends using a majority of the herbs on the list as toner, similar to lavender (you could also try making this DIY deodorant). One note: If you're pregnant or nursing, Dr. Graf says to steer clear of rosemary.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Since it's a weed, you won't find dandelion seeds at your local Home Depot. To grow your own, Heibel recommends plucking a dandelion flower from any old place, allowing it to go to seed, then using those seeds for your next plants.

Contrary to what one might think — It's a weed, so it must a weed — Heibel says not so much. "They're kind of noxious in terms of their growing," she tells us. "I think it’s a little bit hard to get them to bloom indoors, and they just might not look really good. You’re going to have to grow them from a seed, so it might be a pain in the butt." But if you do pull it off...

Beauty Uses: "Dandelions are very rich in vitamins and minerals, and they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties," Dr. Graf says. She notes that the extract is primarily used to combat acne and eczema. You can boil the dandelion root, then apply the liquid to your face with a cotton ball. You can also add a couple of drops of tea-tree oil for a more powerful pimple treatment.

You can even eat the plant, Dr. Graf says, as it's liver-protective. She stresses to be careful of a wild plant like this if you have allergies of any kind. And, as with all the plants on this list, wash it thoroughly before using.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Follow the same care regimen with mint as with rosemary and lavender, Heibel says. But keep in mind: It sort of likes to take over. "If you are planting different plants in one container, mint is the one guy I would leave out of the mix and put in its own pot," she tells us. "Most varieties are cray-cray."

She notes that herbs in general like to have their own space (it's not you, it's totally them). "Larger pots will not only allow them to grow at faster rates, but [they] will also increase retention because these guys are more thirsty for water and they’re going to drink it," Heibel tells us. "So the more soil you have around their roots, the better they are able to procure and prepare for survival."

Beauty Uses: "Mint is stimulating, so it's a refreshing ingredient," Dr. Graf says. "You can use mint for acne, you can use mint for soothing your feet — putting it into a foot bath," she recommends. "My favorite use of mint is to put it into water and drink it." Or, ya know, you can also pop it into your favorite alcoholic beverage. (It's only the best way to stay fresh to death this summer, in our humble opinion.)
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Heibel says that although green tea can be grown as a houseplant, she recommends keeping it outdoors. "In warmer climates, they get to be huge shrubs, up to 30 feet, but they can be kept four or five feet for harvesting," she says. "I would recommend using them outside in warmer climates as long as you’re up for pruning."

Light-wise, the shrubs enjoy partial shade and can get a little burnt if they're in full sun all day, so keep that in mind when picking a spot for them in your garden.

Beauty Uses: Dr. Graf says the best way to use green tea is to boil it in water, keep it in the fridge, and then use it to soak cotton balls to lay over your eyes. It contains caffeine, so it will wake up your peepers and decrease any puffiness. She adds that it also inhibits enzymes that break down collagen and has a UV-protective effect.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: "Out of everything on this list, this is the easiest to deal with," Heibel says of the humble aloe vera. The spiky plant loves a well-drained succulent soil mixture. As much as you might be tempted to nurture this green-stemmed baby hard, it's best to practice tough love.

"You want to let the soil dry out between waterings, which is yet another reason why these guys are great — because you can abuse it," she says. "When you water them too much, that’s when they fail."

Keep the plant in full-to-partial sun, or outdoors in warmer climates. And unlike its buddies, aloe vera doesn't like to roam free, Heibel says. "Aloe has a very shallow root system and actually likes tight spaces, so he’s the odd man out," she tells us.

Beauty Uses: Heibel says she thinks this particular plant is the most beauty-useful, and we think she's on to something. It's also the easiest to get your hands on. "Just cut the aloe branch as close to the base as you can, then chop off the other end," she says. "You basically have a little aloe sandwich with the middle and skin on either side. Then, take a sharp paring knife to peel off that top layer of aloe. You’re left with a boat with the aloe inside."

Scrape out the gel-like substance, and use it for soothing a sunburn, washing, or masking your face. The choices are endless.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: "Witch hazel is actually a genesis of trees and shrubs, so they're meant to be grown outside," Heibel tells us. "They're not a houseplant, unless you have a huge loft warehouse with a lot of sun." She adds that many varieties are meant for colder climates, so keeping them outdoors for all four seasons is a-okay. So NYC tiny-apartment dwellers can skip to the next slide. L.A. crew, read on.

Care-wise, they need to be well-drained. And though they can handle partial shade, you're going to get more flowers when they're in full sun, Heibel says.

Beauty Uses: "When people think of witch hazel they think of an alcohol, but it's not," Dr. Graf says. "It's actually a soothing astringent." It's most commonly used as a toner, and she recommends it for those with shiny skin as it helps control oil production.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Thyme is in the rosemary, mint, and lavender care family. Heibel says you can even pair or group them, as they work well with one another.

Beauty Uses: Fun fact: A study back in 2012 found that thyme might actually be better for acne than prescription creams. Researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University tested three different tinctures (thyme, marigold, and myrrh) and found that the thyme tincture was the most effective. It has antibacterial properties and is great for fighting skin infections and irritation, Dr. Graf says. "It's also great on fish," she quips.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Chamomile is a little different from the other guys, Heibel says. The plants prefer even soil moisture, and, she finds, they thrive the most with part sun and part shade. "If there's an area where you aren't getting all of the direct sun, like on a balcony, the chamomile might be a good option because it can tolerate a little less sun than some of these others," she says.

Beauty Uses: Dr. Graf notes that there are several versions of chamomile, all with different benefits. "One is Roman, which is anti-inflammatory [and] has soothing antibacterial flavonoids," she says, adding that it can be used for aromatherapy, too. "German chamomile is grown all year 'round, and it's very rich in quercetin, coumarin, and flavonoids. It enhances collagen in damaged skin, is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant." Basically, this bloom does it all.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: You've probably seen the calendula — or, pot marigold — at your local plant store, thanks to its spectacular bloom, Heibel says. "It’s a fun project to do from seeds because watching them grow into these huge flowers is dramatic," she says. "They grow to full size within 40 to 60 days of potting, so there's kind of an immediate satisfaction compared to some of these other plants." Just remember to keep them in full to partial sun, where they truly thrive.

Beauty Uses:
Calendula is a healing and calming plant, Dr. Graf says. It also promotes skin repair, making it great for treating cuts and scrapes. Heibel adds that the uses expand outside of beauty. "The blossoms are completely edible, which is nice because you can use it for different tinctures and beauty care, but if it’s grown organic with organic soil, you can actually just clip off the whole flower and use it in your cocktails or your salads."
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Growing Tips: Roses are a simple bunch: They love full sun, ample airflow, a slight dry-out between waterings, and a spot outdoors. "They're hard to do indoors because they need a lot of space to start producing," says Heibel.

The great thing is that a lot of varieties are meant for colder climates, so they can bloom in the majority of states. Just make sure your backyard is spacious. "They are actually a genesis of trees and shrubs...and can get a good 15 feet!" Heibel notes.

Beauty Uses: Who doesn't love a good spritz of rosewater in the morning? Dr. Graf says this particular plant is great for sensitive or aging skin. "It's an aroma, it's a tonic, it's an astringent and has anti-redness properties," she tells us. Aside from plucking the petals and having them soak in water for a couple of days to make your own personal midday spray, she recommends adding some glycerin to your concoction for a sweetly scented, all-natural moisturizer.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
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