Herbal Salve Making Tutorial

Herbal salves are one of the easiest and most effective ways to use your garden herbs. Here’s what you’ll need:

— A selection of medicinal herbs (some of my favorites are St. John’s Wort and Lavender, Calendula, Rose, Chamomile, Blessed Thistle), do some research and choose what you think best suits your skin needs.

— An oil base. Extra virgin olive oil works best and is the easiest to come by. Jojoba and sunflower oil also work.

— Beeswax

— A canning jar

— A large glass bowl and a sauce pan (you’ll be using these as a double boiler)

— Cheesecloth or muslin

— Pipettes

— Tins or jars to hold your salve

Step 1: Collect your herbs fresh or dried. If they are fresh, you may want to let them wilt slightly before using them, if there is too much moisture, your oil might mildew.

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Step 2: Place herbs in a clean canning jar and cover with your oil. You can fill to about an inch above the level of the herbs.

Step 3: Wait. You want your herbs and oil to cure for at least a month. Sometimes for maximum potency it’s best to wait two to three months. Every day (or as near as you can manage) you should shake the jar to disperse the herbs. About halfway through the curing process you can drain the oil, discard the herbs, and put a fresh batch of botanicals in to increase potency.

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Step 4: To drain off the oil you need, I like to put a strip of cloth (cheesecloth or unbleached muslin works well) under the ring of the jar– after removing the lid of course. It will need some time to drain. One option is to prop the jar on top of a vase or glass upside down, allowing the oil to gradually collect below.

Step 5: When most of the oil has drained down, pour the remaining herbs out of the jar and into your cloth. You want to squeeze the herbs to wring any remaining oil from them. This is the messiest step of the process.

Step 6: Heat your oil in the glass portion of your makeshift double boiler. Metal bowls will not work as well for this.

Step 7: Add beeswax to the mix. For every 2 teaspoons of herb oil, you will add 1 of beeswax. Allow this to melt, stir to fully incorporate oil and wax.

Step 8: Use your pipette to fill tins and jars with your salve. Let cool.

Now you’ll have an all natural alternative to commercial lip balms and hand salves. These are great gifts and convenient to keep in your bag, especially in the winter when rough patches appear on your elbows and hands. You can always add drop of essential oil to the mix as well to enjoy the scent and medicinal benefits they offer.

Summer Safety: Bites and Burn Remedies

Tomorrow (or this weekend if you couldn’t get off from work) many Americans will head outdoors, undeterred by scorching sun and active insects. Most people who have avoided those downsides of summer so far will get their first bad burn or insect bite this week. So how do you keep your friends and family from spending the day after the fourth lying on the couch moaning over sun burn or itchy bug bites?

Well, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely applies in this case. To naturally deter bugs, there are some great repellents on the market such as Burt’s Bees. Or you could make your own using this recipe:

2 parts oil (extra virgin is one of the best and easiest to find)

1 part beeswax (available at craft and health food stores)

10-15 drops citronella essential oil

5-10 drops of cedar wood essential oil

5 drops of lavender essential oil

5 drops of tea tree or lemongrass essential oil

Directions: Heat oil over a double boiler (a glass bowl over a small pot of water makes for the easiest clean up). Add in the beeswax, stirring  until it melts into the oil. Then add essential oils, stirring gently, and use a pipette to transfer mixture into tubes, tins, or jars. You can pour it straight into a jar as well, but the wax will be hardening inside the bowl as you do.

This creates a soft but thick balm that is easy to toss in your bag for travel. Apply the balm to your arms, legs, neck, and any of your pulse points.

Note: In this recipe, one part equals one ounce. To make larger batches (1 part= 3 ounces for example), you should increase amount of essential oil accordingly.

Some essential oils in this recipe may be too strong for women who are nursing or pregnant.

Now, you are covered in strong natural oils, but there’s still the sun to contend with. The best way to prevent a burn is to use coverage like a hat. A baseball cap will help shade your face, a wider brim cap like a floppy sun hat or “booney” hat will give you more all around protection, helping shield your next and shoulders as well. A light, long sleeve shirt thrown over your tank top will also give protection.

Sunscreen is also a must. Here’s a great guide to choosing the best sunscreens that give protection without flooding your body with chemicals.

You might do all these things, but still end up with a painful strip of burn or a few itchy bug bites. What to do then? Being perpetually pale, thanks to my Scotch/Irish heritage and apparently possessing delicious, insect inviting blood; I’ve been in that position.

-For bites and stings, making a paste of baking soda can help draw out any venom and help reduce pain. This paste should be wet, but not runny. Just baking soda and a little water are all you need.

-If itching is persistent, apply a few drops of lavender essential oil straight to the bites. If you can come by it, geranium oil is one of the best at reducing itches, and it also helps sanitize the area. I recommend keeping it in the cupboard.

-For bad sunburns, within a few hours of the reddening, bathe the skin with a soft cloth soaked in a water/white vinegar solution. This will help draw some of the heat out of your skin, relieving some of the discomfort and hot feeling.

-Cool, unsweetened green tea can also be applied to sunburned skin within 24 hours after burning.

-24-72 hours after a burn your skin will likely start peeling. When this occurs you want to put back as much moisture as you can. Fresh aloe plant juice or unscented gel aloe from the drug store does this quite well. I’ve seen many people make the mistake of applying the aloe gel directly after being burned, you should use the vinegar or green tea cure before applying the aloe. The thick store bought gels can trap some of the heat  against your skin and cause more discomfort. I don’t usually recommend it be used until 24 hours after the burn. Home grown aloe can be used earlier with less risk because of its thinner consistency.

-My older brother swears by Jewelweed for treating bites and burns. It’s also recognized as a great poison ivy treatment. It grows wild in many yards and is often pulled with the rest of the weeds. Read about it here and you many be convinced to let a few stalks keep growing wild.

Hopefully these tips and recipes will make your summer celebrations as painless as possible.