In the Garden: A Recipe for Relief

DIY Winter Oils and Salves

By Poa Jacobsen Van Sickle // Photography by Paulette Phlipot

Most of us are tuned into the fact that what we put into our bodies has an influence on how we feel, how we age, and what diseases we may or may not end up with. And, sure, choosing organic foods is a great way to minimize the toxic overload on our bodies. But being mindful of what goes onto our skin each day warrants equal consideration.

Studies show that, with an average beauty routine, a woman can put over 500 synthetic chemicals onto her skin before leaving the house each day. And since the skin is the body’s largest organ, everything that goes onto it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Simply stated, if you wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t slather it onto your skin, either.

Today, more and more body products are made with healthy, natural ingredients, and some purists experiment with making their own, too. If this sounds like a good (and economical) idea to you, a few on-hand ingredients and some basic herbs are all you need to create a nourishing oil or salve for treating cuts, bruises, insomnia, and other maladies.

The benefits of homemade herbal salves are numerous, and the ingredients needed—like olive oil and a few bulk herbs—can be quite simple at first. As you learn the ropes, you can experiment with other oils that target your family’s specific ailments or beauty remedies.

Making oils and salves at home helps whittle down the amount of products found in your medicine cabinet, too, leading to an eventual cost savings. And don’t forget to double the batch so you have enough for holiday, birthday, or baby shower gifts.

First, let’s look at the plethora of herbs that can be added to salves for various healing benefits.

Calendula stimulates an anti-inflammatory action when placed on the skin to promote the healing of damaged tissues. It’s also a potent antifungal and antibacterial. Lavender’s antioxidant, regenerative, and antiseptic properties can be used to treat burns, blisters, diaper rash, and bug bites. Plantain—a weed found locally in most untreated lawns and in sidewalk cracks—has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities that treat rashes, eczema, and psoriasis. Other popular salve ingredients include arnica, chamomile, chickweed, comfrey, echinacea, and yarrow. In the summer, you can harvest these plants and their roots in our surrounding forests. But for wintertime ailments, Jackson Whole Grocer, Barrels and Bins, and Broulims sell select bulk medicinal herbs.

Since what we put on our skin is just as important as the food we feed ourselves, make sure to source organic oils and waxes (for the base) that are free of chemical components.

*Additional resources: Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar; The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green.


Pain Relief Oil and Bruisin’ Balm

Ginger and turmeric help reduce the inflammation of aches, pains, bruises, and arthritis, while essential oils of wintergreen and eucalyptus act as an analgesic. Sensitive individuals should omit the cayenne.

FOR THE OIL

½ ounce arnica flowers, dried
½ ounce St. John’s Wort flowers and leaves, dried
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional) *may have a yellowing effect
½ teaspoon ground cayenne (optional) *avoid contact with sensitive body parts
1 cup organic olive oil (or use another oil like   almond, jojoba, or grapeseed oil)
10-20 drops wintergreen, clove, eucalyptus, or copaiba essential oil combined

  1. Place dried herbs in a quart-size glass jar.
  2. Cover the herbs with oil so that they are submerged by 1 inch (add more oil, if needed).
  3. Mix well and let sit in sunny location for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking daily or whenever you think of it.
  4. Strain oil through a fine mesh cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove particles.
  5. Pour the herb oil into a clean, dry jar to use as massage oil, or save it to make a salve (recipe below).

*HACK: Combine herbs and oil in a double boiler and simmer on low (do not boil) for 20 to 30 minutes. Then strain as above.

FOR THE SALVE

  1. In a double boiler, combine 1 cup of the herb-infused oil with ¼ cup grated beeswax or beeswax pastilles. Melt over low heat.
  2. Once heated, add essential oils and stir gently with a chopstick or spoon.
  3. Pour salve into a shallow glass jar with a lid. Allow it to cool and harden.
  4. Place the lid on the jar and store it for up to a year.

Notes:

  • For a creamier balm, substitute coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, or grass-fed beef tallow (available at Sweet Cheeks Meats in Jackson) for the oil infusion.
  • Add more or less beeswax for a harder or softer end product. Test a spoonful cooled in freezer for an idea of firmness.
  • Can’t find the herbs you need locally? Source them online at: mountainroseherbs.com, pacificbotanicals.com, and wholesale.frontiercoop.com.


Everyday Healing Oil and Balm

The calendula contained in this balm soothes dry winter skin, diaper rash and other rashes, and acts as a healing agent for cuts and scrapes.

FOR THE OIL

¹⁄3 ounce dried calendula flowers
¹⁄3 ounces dried plantain
¹⁄3 ounce lavender flowers
1 cup organic olive oil (or almond, jojoba, or grapeseed oil)
10-20 drops lavender essential oil

  1. Prepare the oil using the same instructions as the pain relief oil. (You can also use the hack.)
  2. Pour herb oil into a clean, dry jar to use as a massage oil, or save it to make a salve.

FOR THE SALVE

  1. Prepare the salve using the same instructions for the Bruisin’ Balm.
  2. Pour the salve into a shallow glass jar with a lid. Allow it to cool and harden.
  3. Place the lid on the jar and store it for up to a year.

Dream Oil and Balm

Nothing beats chamomile, hops, and lavender for relaxation or for promoting deep sleep. The addition of mugwort also helps with joint pain or menses issues.

FOR THE OIL

¼ ounce dried chamomile
¼ ounce dried rose
¼ ounce dried hops
¼ ounce dried lavender
¼ ounce dried mugwort
1 cup organic olive oil (or almond, jojoba, or grapeseed oil)
10-20 drops lavender and clary sage essential oils combined

  1. Prepare the oil using the same instructions as the oils above. (You can also use the hack.)
  2. Pour herb oil into a clean, dry jar to use as a massage oil, or save it to make a salve.

FOR THE SALVE

  1. Prepare the salve using the same instructions for the balms above.
  2. Pour the salve into a shallow glass jar with a lid. Allow it to cool and harden.
  3. Place the lid on the jar and store it for up to a year.

Enjoy relaxation and a deep sleep! Add mugwort to help with joint pain.


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