I suffer from Eczema and really dry skin. Is there anything that plant medicine can do to help me? T. Hayden, Auckland.

Suffering from eczema and dry skin can not only be debilitating but frustrating. Some people have grown up with eczema, and for others it can emerge out of nowhere making it hard to identify the cause.

Eczema affects 1 in 5 people throughout their life, and can appear in different forms and stages. The most common form of eczema is called atopic which is very common in children, but can also appear later in life. Atopic eczema usually appears in those who have a family history of eczema.

As people who are susceptible to eczema may notice, the changing of the seasons (much like we are in now) can aggravate the skin further. This is due to the change in temperature and humidity which can further dry the skin out. Regular moisturising can help alleviate some of these symptoms.

Traditionally licorice has been used to help skin flare-ups, eczema, and itchy skin. This is due to the flavones present; in particular glycyrrhizin. A randomized double blind, placebo-controlled study showed that the use of a standardised 2% licorice gel (on patients who were clinically diagnosed with mild to moderate atopic eczema), saw a reduction in redness by over 60% and a reduction of itching by 72%. A medical herbalist will be able to make up a cream containing licorice for topical use.


Chamomile is often found in natural based eczema creams, this is because it is has an anti-inflammatory action. Chamomile has shown that it is comparable in efficacy to hydrocortisone cream, and slightly better than 0.5% hydrocortisone in treating atopic eczema (Patzelt-Wenczler et al. 2000).

Calendula and chickweed are beneficial for their anti-inflammatory and soothing actions in eczema, psoriasis and wounds that have been caused by insect bites. Chickweed can assist to decrease and relieve inflammation and itchiness caused from dry skin and eczema.

What may be helpful is to try and eliminate other sources of irritation, like washing powders, soaps and liquids, deodorants and cleaning products. Opt for sensitive skin or hypoallergenic options. Therapeutic baths may also provide some relief to soothe irritated and inflamed skin, by including essential oils like Chamomile or Lavender, and a bag of oatmeal suspended in a muslin cloth.

Check that if any foods make it worse as certain food products can exacerbate eczema after consumption. Starting a food diary will allow you to document your food intake and note if any reaction has occurred, making it easier to streamline your approach and avoidance of those aggravations.

Remember to always consult with your medical practitioner if your condition worsens.

Hi, I have been told I have food intolerances. Do you know of any natural approaches that may help me? D. Reid, Canterbury.

Food intolerances differ to food allergies in respect to the fact that intolerances are not life threatening like allergies are. However, food intolerances can still be debilitating and while some people are able to pinpoint what food upsets them others are unsure.

Gut health is a popular subject at the moment with people incorporating fermented foods, probiotics and herbal medicine into their daily lifestyles to help improve their digestion.

Often what happens with people who suffer from food intolerances is that after they consume the offending food it causes a response within the body that can cause bloating, diarrhoea, stomach pains or even an aggravation of eczema. This response can also cause inflammation within the body.

The herb Slippery elm may help reduce inflammation by relieving the irritation and providing a protective layer to the gut lining. Slippery elm comes from a small tree, and the portion that is used in herbal medicine is the inner bark. The best way to take Slippery elm is mixed into water, juice or yoghurt as it bulks up in liquid. When picking slippery elm try and pick a sustainable option as it is becoming increasingly endangered from overuse.

A New Zealand native alternative is Hoheria, which has also been used as a demulcent. Hoheria is taken as tea or as a tincture instead of a powder, and due to the fact it is a fast growing tree it makes it a more sustainable option over slippery elm. Traditionally, Maori used a fresh plant preparation of Hoheria leaves by simply picking leaves from the tree and chewing and swallowing in order to obtain the medicinal properties. Today however, a medical herbalist will be able to make a tincture that will be more convenient to consume.

With both Slippery elm and Hoheria it is best that they are taken before meals to help with providing a protective layer to the gut lining before food is consumed. This can alleviate irritation and reduce symptoms of unease that food intolerances cause.

The gold standard for all food intolerances is the elimination diet, where people maintain a strict diet and slowly re-introduce foods to see if they react. It is a great way of narrowing down the foods that can cause issues, but it requires patience, time and can be quite hard to stick to.

Ultimately with food intolerances, it is important to find out what foods cause the reaction, and to try and eliminate (or dramatically reduce) their intake. Boosting immunity is also a good idea to help with any reactions that may occur, this can be done through immune boosting herbs like echinacea, astragalus, calendula and withania.

Consulting a medical herbalist and/or your health practitioner will help you put the right programme in place for you to target food intolerances.

- nzherald.co.nz