Garden remedies for teenage angst

With three teenagers in the house I’ve listened to a fair amount of talk about the plague of spots. At times the bathroom has resembled a chemist’s shop with endless tubes and jars, most of which were uncomfortably expensive, and all of which promised miracle cures within a few days.Image

There were considerable expectations of benzoyl peroxide-based creams with which friends at school had experienced wondrous results, but it quickly became clear that my kids’ fair northern skins found this remedy unbearably harsh and the after effect was super-dry red-raw faces. Consequently I was relieved when Leeds Metropolitan University published the results of their herbal experiments last year.

In a nutshell they discovered that thyme steeped in alcohol for several days produced better results than many remedies on the market, including benzoyl peroxide. (See http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/about/thyme-for-a-more-natural-cure-to-acne27032012.htm ) Having plenty of thyme in the garden, and knowing that it likes nothing better than a harsh trim on occasion, I thought it was worth a try. There were two risks, first that I was descending too quickly down the slippery slope of Worzel Gummidge wackiness and would soon reach the point where in olden days I would have been burnt at the stake, and secondly that it wouldn’t work at all and so my teens would have additional reasons to view my horticultural exploits with scepticism and the odd guffaw of laughter. However, a small bottle of alcohol costs around a euro in the local supermarket, which was so much cheaper than the last shopping expedition to the chemist that the gamble seemed worth it.

After washing the thyme I crushed it into a clean screw-top jar until it was full (Mercadona pasta sauce jars are perfect) and topped it up with alcohol. A day later the whole thing had turned a lurid shade of green. The following week teen-testing began.

A year down the line all I can say is it certainly works as well as anything else. Our family isn’t blessed with great skin, but I have had no more requests to go chemist-shopping and the only additional expense has been cotton-buds with which to dab emerald ointment on the offending eruptions.

As with the pulp in Aloe Vera leaves, which is fantastic for healing skin problems and especially burns, the colour is a drawback so it’s best to apply it at night. However, the thyme mixture smells a good deal better than Aloe Vera and is easier to keep at the ready in the bathroom.

 Another garden remedy I heard about recently was to use lemon juice in a facial steam clean. It’s said to be great for removing dirt and oil whilst not being too harsh on the skin, so I’ll give this a try next time there are cries of, “OMG look at my face, I can’t go out today!” 

Lemon cake, with plenty of zest!

Lemon cake, with plenty of zest!

If you don’t want to waste your lemon zest when you freeze cubes of lemon juice, here’s a lovely recipe that uses lots of it. You can either use this cake mix for muffins, or to make two 18cm sandwich sponges (put lemon curd or chocolate filling in the middle), or as a lemon tea loaf (boil 5tbsp of lemon juice with 25g of sugar until it is slightly thickened and use as a glaze on the top).
Basic lemon sponge recipe: 200g self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, half a tsp of salt, 220g sugar, 120g butter (softened), 2 tbsp of grated lemon rind, 3 eggs, 100ml milk.
Method: Grease your tins and heat the oven to 180ºC. Mix all the ingredients together and bake until a knife comes out clean (the timing will depend on whether you are doing muffins or cakes so keep an eye on things). If using a lemon glaze, prick the cake or muffins with a fork and then apply the glaze liberally so it sinks into the sponge. Leave the sponge to cool in the tin before turning out.