Though gardening is wonderful for the soul, it can be pretty hard on the skin. Perpetually scrubbing off the good earth from spring through fall takes its toll in epidermal moisture. In addition to battling dry skin, some gardeners spend whole seasons spackled with poison ivy. But there are new and time-honored ways to clean, heal and protect gardeners' skin, many derived from plants and other natural ingredients.
Smith & Hawken's Gardener's Remedy Hand Scrub ($18 for 8.5 ounces) contains pumice and coconut shell as abrasives, while rosemary-scented Farmer's Friend Gardener's Soap ($5.95 for 6 ounces at Fresh Fields), uses cornmeal as an abrasive.
Lisa Redman of Flower Moon Soaps, a local mail-order business, also uses cornmeal abrasive ($2.25 for about 3 ounces).
"It's milder on your skin," she explains. Redman makes 80 kinds of chemical-free soaps, including Granny's Garden Recipe, which, in addition to cornmeal, contains lemon grass and a touch of mint "for scent."
Another of Redman's specialties is a line of Castile baby soaps with calendula ($2.25 for 3.5 ounces).
"It's good for people with eczema," Redman says. "Calendula is very healing."
For those with tired bones, there are Moon Flower Mineral Sea Soaks or peppermint soap.
"Peppermint's one of my hottest sellers when it gets warm out," says Redman. "It's very cooling on the skin. It's also good for aching muscles."
Healing and moisturizing
Once you've scrubbed off the grime, and soaked out the muscle kinks, you'll want to remoisturize and heal.
For years, farmers have been using udder salve, now called Bag Balm (about $6.95 for 10 ounces in many garden centers) to soothe work-cracked hands. Though the scent is a little more barn than field, it's a great moisturizer and is also antiseptic. Smith & Hawken carries Gardener's Remedy Hand Cream ($18 for 8.5 ounces) with vitamin E, comfrey and calendula. Farmer's Friend hand salve ($5.95 for 3 ounces at Fresh Fields) is beeswax-based with herbs like comfrey and eucalyptus.
Redman makes a balm called Garden Gel ($4.50 for 2 ounces) with glycerin and chamomile, another healing herb good for sensitive skin. She began making healing salves when her son was born.
"He had a dry spot on his ankle that I tried everything on, and it wouldn't go away," she remembers. "Then I made a calendula cream, and it healed in three days."
If you are allergic to poison ivy, oak or sumac, Tecnu, a post-contact preventive, is one solution, (about $10 for 16 ounces at garden centers and through catalogs). As soon as possible after coming into contact with poison ivy (up to six hours after exposure) wash with Tecnu. Two full minutes of dry scrubbing with the lotion-like wash followed by a thorough rinse completely prevents an outbreak.
If you've had a reaction, Farmer's Friend Poison Ivy Soap ($3.99 for 2 ounces at Fresh Fields) helps to defuse the itching with jewel weed, clay and pine tar.
Adventurous gardeners can make soaps, soaks and salves with recipes gleaned from old herbals or from newer books.
"The Complete Book of Herbs," by Lesley Bremness (Viking Studio Books, $16.95), offers recipes for skin creams and lotions, herbal baths, facial steams, face packs and soaps.
Tina James - garden writer, lecturer and host of the public television show "Good Earth Garden" - teaches herbal classes in the Roland Park Country School Evening Series, including a class on making herbal salves and balms called "Lotions and Potions." Call 410-323-5500 for a course catalog.
A word of caution: Before using any herbal preparations, especially if you have had any allergies, first try a small amount (as directed) on the inside of an arm and then check it for redness or reaction after 24 hours.
* Lisa Redman, Flower Moon Soaps, 8192 Bakers Lane, Chestertown, Md. 21620; 410-778-2385. Flower Moon products are sold in area shops and are available through mail order. Call for catalog.
* Smith & Hawken, 1300 Smith Ave. Balti-more; 410-433-0119
* Fresh Fields 1340 Smith Ave. Baltimore; 410-532-6700
Pub Date: 5/03/98