For all of its loveliness, January is a month in New York that requires some amount of defending against. To fend off the cold we need extra layers of wool. To combat the blues we need friends and family and cheerful dinners in cozy spots. Cheeks and hands and other bits that might come into contact with the cold? Those need salve.
When it comes to protecting my hands and feet and the cheeks of my little guys, I prefer a thick salve to liquid oil and both of those far more than a watery lotion. Since having kids we’ve been given a number of baby lotions, but I admit that I’ve passed most of them along, none of them doing quite as much good work as a simple, rich salve. A salve goes on and stays on, forming a protective layer and soothing anything that’s gotten chapped or chafed before I could get to it. There are lots of lovely salves to be found for sale, and I’ve listed a few favorites below, but they’re also easy enough to make yourself if you have the time or the inclination. Last week, I walked to our local grocery in a snowstorm and carried home a bagful of flowery sunshine in the form of dried calendula flowers to use in a salve of my own.
Like other bright orange things found in the middle of winter, calendula flowers offer the professional and casual herbalist a bit of good cheer and a welcome reminder of summer during the bleakest time of year. I first encountered the flowers during my time on staff at Stone Barns Center. They’re edible and a lovely addition to things like salads, but they’re also useful for their anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. For skin that needs gentle soothing, applying calendula topically is one of my favorite herbal remedies. Here’s how to make your own calendula salve:
Adapted from Mountain Rose Herbal (a great spot to order calendula flowers if you can’t find them locally!)
What you need:
~ 1 ounce dried calendula flowers
~ 1 cup olive oil
~ 1 ounce beeswax, roughly chopped
~ 30 drops lavender essential oil
+ glass jars
+ an old pot
+ a candy thermometer (if you have one)
Step One: Make Calendula Oil
The first step is to infuse your olive oil with dried calendula flowers. The measurements can be fairly loose here. I covered approximately an ounce of dried flowers with a cup of olive oil. For the sake of time, I applied heat to speed up the infusion process. To do this, put flowers and oil into a heat-safe glass jar or measuring cup and heat the glass in a pot of water with an inch or so of water in the bottom of it, double-boiler style. Let the oil infuse for at least an hour, until the oil turns a deeper orange-y color. (A candy thermometer is handy for making sure that the oil doesn’t get too hot and damage the flowers—you’ll want it to hover around 100 degrees—but if you make sure to keep the burner low enough you don’t have to get too fussy with the temperature).
Once sufficiently infused (you can infuse up to five or six hours if you’d like!), use cheesecloth or a sieve (or both!) to strain out your oil.
Step Two: Make Salve
Put most simply: a bit of beeswax melted into oil makes a salve. I strained my calendula oil directly into a heat-safe jar that I could return to my sauce pan and reheat, this time with beeswax included. Once the chopped beeswax melts into the oil, remove from heat, add the essential oil if you’re using it, and pour into clean jars. Allow to set and cool completely before covering.
Calendula flowers in olive oil. I heated the oil in this heat-safe measuring cup set into a pan of water.
A candy thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it helps to make sure you’re not over-heating the oil and risking damaging the calendula flowers.
I used a bit of cheesecloth in a strainer to strain my calendula flowers after infusing the oil.
Everything you need: chopped beeswax, calendula flowers, and lavender essential oil.
Add your essential oil to the warmed oil and beeswax after the wax has melted and you’ve removed the pan from the stove.
Pour your liquid salve into smaller clean glass jars.
+ If you have the time, you can skip heating the oil and simply leave your oil to infuse in a sunny spot for several weeks, turning every so often.
+ If you don’t have a dedicated wax knife or grater, my favorite trick for getting beeswax off of kitchen items easily is to put them on a parchment paper-lined tray in a warm oven. The wax will liquefy and melt off, and a quick buff with an old rag will remove any that remains.
+ Like anything else you make yourself, you might decide to tweak this recipe until it’s just right for you. This ratio of beeswax to oil yields a fairly firm salve that requires some amount of warming in hand, but I prefer that to a salve that goes too soft in our overly warm January apartment. If you do prefer something softer, you can experiment with a bit less beeswax, or add in shea butter or other nourishing oils like jojoba or sweet almond. I like adding lavender essential oil because it’s kid-friendly and calming, but you can add whatever else you like, or omit essential oil altogether if you want a more neutral salve.
If opening your own small apartment apothecary shop is not in the cards, here are a few other favorite salves that other people have already made:
+ Egyptian Magic is, well, magic. It’s made from olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. When I’ve needed something heavy-duty, I’ve used it on my own face and body and on my kids too. (You’ll either love or hate the old-school packaging on this powerhouse salve.)
+ Skipping Goat Farm A Little Love Organic Salve is a really lovely calendula salve made with olive and sweet almond oil that we enjoyed last fall. It has a subtle but lovely scent and it’s very soothing and easy to apply.
+ Nectar and Moon Daily Floral Salve is heavenly. Shop owner Alexandra Elle gave me a jar to try a few months ago and I’ve been slowly savoring it, using it nightly before bed on my hands and feet. It has a strong floral scent that’s lovely, especially if you like richly scented lotions or creams.
What about you guys? Salve lovers? Favorite recipes or formulations to share?