There’s a lot that I love about winter — afternoons spent barrelling down toboggan hills, warm cozy nights spent sipping mulled wine by the fire place, the crunch of the snow beneath my boots after a fresh snow fall…
But there is one part of winter that I hate. The dry air. Sure, I complain about the humidity in the summer, but it’s nothing compared to the dryness of winter. The skin around my elbows gets rough, my wind-blown lips crack and bleed, and in general, I become a moisturizing machine.
So, as the colder weather begins to descend, it seemed only to appropriate to make some salves and balms! This is Part 1 of a two part post about the wonderful things that happened in my kitchen last Sunday, when my wonderful roommate Carolyn arranged for seven of us to get down and not-so-dirty, producing balms, salves and (Part 2 – coming later in the week) soaps! A huge thank you also to Kristen, who led the salve-making session, and provided the notes adapted here! You guys rock!
The beauty of making salves and balms is that there is so much potential for variety. You can infuse your oils with different scents, you can use different essential oils to change the healing properties, and you can adapt the consistency by adding more or less beeswax. Inserted throughout this post are ideas about how to personalize your salves and balms to make them juuuussssstttttt right.
First, some notes about gathering and preparing materials…
- The basic idea in making balms and salves is to melt together a bunch of great moisturizing ingredients. It’s important to melt
these ingredients together slowly, over a low heat. To do this, I either use a double boiler or a slow cooker (not aluminium!). If you don’t have either of these, you can create a make-shift double boiler by heating some water in a saucepan and balancing a metal bowl inside it. The bottom of the bowl should be submerged in the water, but it shouldn’t be touching the bottom of the sauce pan.
- Tins to keep your salve in can sometimes be hard to come across. The ideal containers are aluminium or glass. Remember the sunscreen workshop, and how I learned that aluminium helps preserve the sunscreen for longer? It’s the same deal here. Carolyn and Kristen got the containers we used at Lee Valley.
- One of the base ingredients for salve is oil. We used olive oil which Kristen had infused with calendula leaves (which have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties). To do this, she heated up the olive oil for about 3-5 hours in her slow cooker with about ½ cup of dried calendula leaves. Once the infusing was done, she let the oil cool and strained out the leaves with a fine strainer or cheesecloth. You can
infuse the oil with other dried herbs – do some research to see the medicinal benefits of various herbs and infuse away!
- Another staple ingredient on the forth-coming list is beeswax. For this recipe, you need to grate and then melt the beeswax. In my experience, this is a terribly frustrating process. Beeswax is just no fun to grate (it’s even less fun is trying to clean your grater afterwards). However! You can often buy beeswax flakes at health food stores. They’re a bit more expensive, but for me, the expense is well, well worth it.
Ok, so now that that is out of the way, here’s what you need (for ½ c. of salve):
- 3 Tbsp grated beeswax (or more for a harder consistency – like for lip balm)
- ¼ c. infused oil
- 3 Tbsp coconut oil, shea butter OR cocoa butter (optional)
- Essential oils (see below)
- Liquid Vitamin E Capsules (optional)
And here’s how you do it!
- Warm oil in a double boiler or slow cooker.
- Add coconut oil / shea butter / cocoa butter and then beeswax to the oil. Stir frequently until it has all melted.
- If you are adding vitamin E capsules, puncture the capsules and squeeze in the vitamin E.
- Either add your essential oils to the pot (if you want one big batch of the same flavour) or add 5 drops of your desired oil into each tin.
- To test the consistency, put a wee bit of liquid salve onto a spoon and throw it in the freezer for a few seconds. This will mimic the consistency of the salve once it’s hardened. If you want quite a hard salve, (i.e. for lip balm) add more beeswax.
- Once the consistency is right, pour the salve mixture into the tins. If you’ve put the oils in the bottom of the tins, stir them gently with a toothpick and let them set.
- Store in a cool, dark place. They should last about a year!
Et voila! Simple, hey?
The last piece is just a word about essential oils. There’s a lot of possible variation here, so I’ve just included a few essential oils and their properties. Feel free to do some research and come up with your own personalized balm!
- Lavender – calming & relaxing
- Tea Tree Oil – anti-bacterial
- Vanilla – anti-oxidant, relaxing
- Rosemary – alertness and pain relief
- Wintergreen – good for sore joints and muscles
Chris has often talked about wanting to make a “womb balm” for women to rub on their bellies while menstruating. We haven’t tried it yet, but may well in the weeks to come and will let you know how it goes!
Last but not least, a huge thank you to the incredible Kristen for leading the salve making workshop last Sunday, and the wonderful Carolyn for organizing it!