Making a healing herbal hand salve

Amanda Riley
Special to The Black Mountain News
Gather all ingredients and jars. Place a spoon or two in the freezer to test the salve's consistency once it is all mixed.

With my hands still wearing their dry, chapped winter look and the garden steadily calling, this is the time of year that I pay the most attention to my hands.

Somehow during the winter months, when they are by far the driest, I am able to look past the cracks and scaliness that comes with dry windy days and what seems like an obscene amount of handwashing. Come midspring, however, when those factors aren't yet far behind and I'm adding to the mix quite a bit of digging in the dirt and shoveling/raking/planting, well, right about now my tired hands seem to beg for a little TLC. That, and I'm getting tired of their alligator-y appearance.

And so, I believe it's time to mix together a batch or two of healing hand salve. Sure, there are countless lotions and potions on the market that one could go out and buy. But why not make your own at home? Not only will you save yourself a bit of money, you'll also know exactly what is in the product you are slathering on your dear skin and thus introducing into your body. Might as well make sure it's all good stuff, yes?

Making your own salve couldn't be much easier. You can make a simple salve to soothe your skin by mixing together just oils and beeswax, or you can customize your salves by first infusing the oil(s) with herbs and/or adding essential oils to the nearly finished product as well.

Following are simple instructions for mixing up your own batch of herbal salve. I love to use herbs from my own garden that I have dried myself. But if I don't have on hand what I'd like for my salves, I will often get them locally from Roots and Fruits Market here in Black Mountain or order online through Mountain Rose Herbs. Villagers, in West Asheville, sells local beeswax in bulk.

The recipe below will yield a fairly firm salve consistency that is also good for a lip balm and can hold up to warm summer weather.

For the oil, I like to use olive oil. You may want to play around with other oils such as coconut, almond or apricot kernel, especially if you want a subtler color and smell than olive oil will provide.

If you want to infuse the oil with herbs, consider consulting an herb book for herbs with certain healing properties. Generally, I love comfrey, plantain, calendula, lavender, yarrow and rose petals. For essential oils, I like adding a bit of rosemary, tea tree, lavender, lemongrass, patchouli - or a combination of any of them.

Amanda Riley lives in Black Mountain with her husband, young daughter, cat and small flock of chickens. Read more about her suburban homesteading at www.sweetpotatoclaire.blogspot.com.

Healing herbal hand salve

8 ounces oil

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried herbs

1/4cup (2 ounces by weight) beeswax

Remove oil from heat and strain out plant material with cheesecloth, then add to the oil in the jar some roughly chopped beeswax. Return to pan of warm water, stirring until oil and wax are combined and wax is melted.
Place herbs and oil in a glass jar and, over very low heat for 30 minutes to several hours, warm in a pot of simmering water (place a towel or canning rack beneath the jar to keep it from breaking).
Test for desired thickness by placing a small amount on a frozen spoon (add oil to thin, wax to thicken). Remove jar from heat, add essential oils, if using, and pour into jars. Salve hardens as it cools.