Capsaicin, a compound found in hot peppers, has traditionally been used to treat pain associated with arthritis, shingles, psoriasis, strained muscles, rheumatoid arthritis, backache and diabetic neuropathy. While you can find a variety of topical capsaicin gels, creams and lotions at your local drugstore, it’s simple and more cost-effective to make your own version at home.
Because I love growing a variety of peppers and usually have more than I know what to do with, I use homegrown cayennes that have been capped, sliced down the middle, and dried in a dehydrator for several hours. (Tip: When drying hot peppers that way, do so outdoors or in a well ventilated place. The spicy fumes can be quite potent!) You can also thread peppers together with string and hang to air dry in a warm place, or use the lowest setting of your oven for several hours. Once the peppers are completely dry, store in mason jars in a dark cupboard or pantry. If you don’t have fresh peppers on hand, you can purchase cayenne powder from the spice section of your local grocery store.
The first step to turning peppers into a salve is to make an infused oil. To do so, fill a mason jar half to three-quarters full with dried cayenne peppers that have been broken in several pieces. Pour a light oil into the jar until it almost reaches the top or at least covers the peppers by 1 to 2 inches. If you’re using powdered cayenne pepper instead, use 4 or 5 teaspoons of spice per 1 cup of oil.
Sunflower oil is especially nice to use, but you can also use olive, avocado, sweet almond, or any other light oil that you like or have on hand. You can use a thicker oil, such as coconut, though you might need to decrease the amount of beeswax you use when making the salve.
At this point, you can add other herbs if you wish. I like to add a generous pinch of powdered ginger, which increases blood flow and is also helpful for arthritis and muscle pain. Arnica flowers are another good choice for their pain-relieving abilities.
Set the jar of peppers and oil down into a saucepan containing a few inches of water. Place the pan over a medium-low burner, and heat for about two hours, keeping a close eye to make sure the water doesn’t steam out. The water should stay hot, but not quite a simmer.
After about two hours, turn off the burner. Allow the jar to stay in the warm water until it cools. You can strain and use it right away, or for a stronger, more powerful oil, cover with cheesecloth or a scrap of old t-shirt and allow the oil to infuse for several days (or even weeks) longer.
Once the oil has infused to your satisfaction, strain and rebottle in a clean, sterile jar. The shelf life should be around nine months to a year, depending on the freshness of the oil you used.
Making Your Cayenne Salve
Once your infused oil is ready it’s time to make a pain-relieving salve.
- 3 ounces (by weight) infused oil (about a 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 ounce grated beeswax or pastilles (about 2 tablespoons)
- 15 to 20 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
Combine the oil and beeswax in a heat-proof container. You can use a mason jar, which is messy to clean up, or re-purpose a disposable tin can for this purpose.
Place the container into a pan containing a few inches of water. Heat over a medium-low burner until the beeswax melts.
Remove from heat, and stir in peppermint essential oil, if desired. I add it not just for the pleasing scent, but to also to create a hot-cold effect. Peppermint essential oil has pain-relieving properties, as well.
Pour into tins. The amounts above will fill two 2-ounce tins. You can also use small glass jelly jars or other recycled glass containers. (Avoid pouring hot salve into plastic containers.) Allow to cool and harden.
Using Your Cayenne Salve
Massage the cayenne salve into sore areas of your body, up to four times a day. The salve should feel pleasant and gently warming. Even my daughter with sensitive skin is able to use this, but to be safe, apply to a small test patch and see how your skin reacts.
The salve will sting if used on broken skin or rubbed in your eyes or nose. After applying, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after use to prevent this. If you want to treat arthritic hands, try applying before bed and covering with a pair of thin pair of cotton gloves.
This salve is intended for adults or older teens, not young children. If you’re pregnant or nursing, check with your health care provider before use. It probably goes without saying, but you shouldn’t eat cayenne salve either!
While products with capsaicin can help relieve a variety of painful conditions, it’s not a cure for any of them. Use consistently for the most noticeable results and consult your doctor if you have any questions, concerns or notice your condition is growing worse.
Find more of Jan’s projects on HobbyFarms.com:
- Old-Fashioned Pine Tar Salve
- Wash Your Hair with Homemade Shampoo Bars
- Homemade Natural Deodorant
- DIY Itchy Stix for Bug-Bite Relief
- Rose Lotion Bars