The All Natural Gardeners Salve Making Workshop

Last update: 24.07.17 First posted: 24.07.17 by in

Guest blog by Marie Wheelwright and Rosie Clear

We can’t think of a better way to spend a wild and wet Wednesday evening, thunder and lightning outside, than in Mary Clear’s gorgeous cosy cottage, in the company of some lovely, like-minded people, chatting, informally sharing knowledge, rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck into making beautiful, natural lotions and potions. We had a fantastic, eclectic mix present, including some highly knowledgeable folk, botanists, herbalists and homoeopaths, as well as absolute beginners,
sharing knowledge
but all with a shared love of all things natural, healing, organic or homemade.

It’s a common complaint that shop bought natural products can be ridiculously expensive, or else, on closer inspection, not even natural in the first place, with terms like organic, and pure, unscrupulously bandied about all over the shop. Those of us with allergies, medical conditions or children with eczema have to be especially careful not to let ourselves be duped.

What better way to be absolutely sure that what you have is a natural, pure product, than by getting involved in a little DIY. I’m a trained aroma therapist with a passion for creating my own therapeutic blends, creams and makeup, before I ever trained I had a love of experimenting. (Sometimes with hilarious consequences. Don’t come round when I’m making mascara, it gets a bit scary) I’m used to working with the plant essences, but when it comes to wild crafting, I’m a newbie. Rosie has a keen knowledge of it though and has been making her own herbal infusions and healing balms for years.

Before we ran the course, she took me on a meander down the canal one fresh, sunny morning after the school run, showing me where to look on verges and in hedgerows for abundantly available beneficial flowers and leaves. We gathered Plantain, Heal All, Yarrow and Lady’s Mantle.
It was all very satisfying, gathering such lovely, fresh ingredients and infusing them. Our goal was to create a cheap as chips, but highly effective gardener’s hand balm. As for the base of our concoction, I’m a huge fan of Egyptian Magic. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a fairly expensive, (over twenty quid) shop bought balm with hundreds of seemingly miraculous uses, from leave in conditioner to make up primer to eczema calmer, favoured by the likes of Madonna, who swears by it. And if it’s good enough for her…..Anyway, I was one of their best customers until I realised just how cheaply and easily a simple homemade version can be produced. Its main ingredients are good old extra virgin olive oil, beeswax, and (optional) honey- all easy enough to find. And that’s what we used.
everyone learned how to make their own salve
There will be some variation to the recipe depending on what’s available seasonally, but for the more organised and forward looking, ingredients might also be gathered, dried out and infused in olive oil in advance. Solar power is the best way to infuse anything. Just put the ingredients in a jar filled with olive oil on a sunny window sill for a couple of weeks and let nature take its course. Alternately, you can use the quick method of infusion which involves gently heating in the olive oil for anything between twenty minutes and two and a half hours.
pots ready for salve making lesson
This is the method we used, and on the night, everyone dug in with chopping the herbs and flowers and adding them to the bowl of oil.

Other quick tips…..It’s always a good idea to keep a record of any exact recipes you concoct, so in that future you can replicate a potion, or do something differently if it didn’t turn out to your liking. And lastly, before getting started, wash hands just as you would if preparing food, and ideally sterilise the jar and utensils in boiling water. And take care. Hot oil splashes can be really painful.

The salve
gardeners salve  made at the lesson
Here are the ingredients we used

2-3 sprigs comfrey leaf (known in folklore as knitbone, for its fast healing action. Great for wounds and cracks)

3-4 sprigs plantain leaf (Good for bites, cuts and stings)

2-5 calendula flowers (Reduces swelling and works on slow healing cuts.)

2-3 sprigs yarrow. (Wound healer, improves circulation.)

2-3 sprigs rosemary (Cleansing and full of nutrients. A good all round treatment for skin, used in numerous commercial hair and skin products.)

One jar extra virgin olive oil per person

One to two teaspoons of beeswax pellets per person.

Some wild rose I picked in the garden before arriving.

We also needed heat proof bowls, jars, small whisks and kitchen scissors.

Everyone brought a jar, which we labelled and filled with olive oil. We poured the contents of each jar into a large heat proof container with the finely chopped herbs and put in a double boiler for half an hour. 2 hours is preferable, but we didn’t think Mary would’ve been happy if we’d still been there at midnight.

We strained the infused oil using a sieve, ensuring as much of the oil passed through into the new container as possible by patting firmly down. (Waste not, want not.)

We added 1 tsp of beeswax. (If you prefer a thicker salve you can use two, if you prefer a lighter consistency use one.)

Then we melted in double boiler. By the way, this is nothing more technical than a pan of boiling water over heat, with another heat proof container over it.

At this stage you could prepare some honey to add later. Honey is a natural preservative with anti-bacterial properties so will help keep the salve fresh, but this is optional. If using, add one tsp to two tbsp, no more or it gets a bit sticky, to a tea spoon of olive oil and mix in a cup. When the olive oil, infused herbs and beeswax mixture is cooled and thickened, add the honey. Adding when the mixture is hot will cook the honey making it lose many of its properties.

When the beeswax has melted into the olive oil remove from heat and cool for a few minutes before using a small whisk to begin to firm it to the desired consistency.

A final, optional stage would be to add essential oils to the salve. Lavender is gentle and soothing, good for cracks or callouses. It can even be applied neat to skin. It is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. Geranium is great for promoting radiant skin. Some call it the poor person’s rose. The infused leaves and flowers can be used, or a drop or two of essential oil. Again it’s great for healing bites and stings, and anti-bacterial properties make it ideal for any scratches from thorns.

The potion can be returned to the jar which was first used to measure out the olive oil, then labelled and left to cool in the fridge for a while. It goes a lovely, natural shade of green, and has a subtle, earthy scent.

Finally, enjoy. And remember, with a balm like this, less is more. A little goes a very, very long way. It can be too greasy if you use any more than a thumb nail amount at any one time. An average sized jar of the stuff should last a few months, and if stored properly in a cool, dry place, will keep for at least a year.

Rosie and I had a lot of fun doing this. Thank you to everyone who came along and a big thank you to Mary for her hospitality. We hope to run more workshops like this in the future, and welcome any ideas for natural products to make. So far, suggestions have included natural deodorants, soaps, natural deep heat, natural cold cream and dry shampoo. Do let us know if you are interested in attending any workshops and we’ll get busy experimenting in advance.

I should like to add a huge IET thank you to Marie and Rosie for such a fabulous workshop and for this blog and recipe, Thanks ladies.

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