In the winter months, when most of the herb garden is asleep, you can still find vibrant life among the evergreens. Not only do conifers help lift the spirits with their fresh, invigorating fragrance, evergreen salves have traditionally been used to ease achy muscles, as a chest rub for easing congestion, and to help heal dried, cracked skin.
Also called balms or ointments, salves are easy to prepare at home using dried herbs, oils and wax. Salves are easy to apply; the skin absorbs the medicinal properties of the herbs through the oil, while the wax provides skin protection.
Here are oils commonly used in salves, which can be used alone or combined:
- extra virgin olive oil
- almond oil
- sunflower oil
- coconut oil
- shea butter
Beeswax is the most commonly used wax in making salves, but vegetable based waxes, such as candelilla wax, can be substituted to create a vegan salve.
You can collect the evergreen material during a winter woodland hike. Some commonly evergreens used in salves include:
- pine needles
- fir needles
- juniper berries (crushed or ground in coffee grinder)
- spruce needles
Making Evergreen-Infused Oil
Before you begin your salve, you’ll need to create an evergreen-infused oil. To do this, make sure the materials you collect are dry, especially if you’ve picked snow covered branches. I usually allow them to dry overnight on a tray, plate or basket before I begin infusing.
Cut, break or chop needles into small pieces; grind or crush berries if using. Fill a jar with the evergreen needles and berries, but don’t pack too tightly. Pour the oil over them, making sure all plant matter is covered.
Cover and label the jar with contents and date, and place the jar in a warm, dark place. I often put my oil infusions on top of the refrigerator in a paper bag. Give the jar a gentle shake daily or whenever you remember to. In four to six weeks, strain your oil through cheesecloth or muslin.
If you need your infused oil to be ready more quickly, you can use the hot method. Place the jar of herbs and oil in a slow cooker filled with water, a double boiler or the oven. Gently heat the herbs using a very low heat (100 to 150 degrees F) for 4 hours. Allow to cool before straining.
Store infused oils in a dark place until ready to make your salve.
Making Evergreen Salve
What You’ll Need
- 1 cup evergreen-infused oil
- 1/4 cup beeswax*
- essential oil (optional)
- double-boiler setup
- tins or jars and labels
*In general, more wax is used for a harder, more protective salve (i.e. for chapped skin or as a lip balm), and less is used for a softer formula to allow the healing properties of the herbs to more easily absorb into the skin.
Place oil and beeswax in the top of a double boiler over low heat, and cook until beeswax is just melted. Remove from heat immediately, and stir gently to blend.
Test the consistency of your salve by dipping the back of a spoon into the pot and then placing the spoon into the freezer for a few minutes until it hardens. If your salve is too soft, add a bit more wax and stir until melted. If too hard, add a little oil.
Add a few drops of essential oil to the oil/wax mixture if desired.
Pour mixture into tins or jars, and allow to cool and harden. Label with the name of salve, ingredients and date made. Stored in a cool, dark place, most salves have a shelf life of at least one year.