When you are thinking about putting your household first aid needs together; here are some things to think about. What ailments or health circumstances are most common to your family members? For instance do you have an allergy sufferer, one prone to poison ivy, little ones prone to cuts, bruises and scrapes, sinus infections, an athlete or back sufferer………? Your first order of business is to get the items that cover these common problems in your first aid closet so that they are at hand when you need them. After that you can accumulate other things to have on hand for other problems that might arise. In other newsletters we have discussed tinctures and supplements that would be good first aid items. Today, we will talk about salves; how to make them and what to put in them.
A salve is an herb based oil mixed with a semi solid that makes it spreadable but not greasy. It should be easily absorbable, which allows the medicine to enter the body through the skin. In some cases you may want to make a salve that is more like lotion because you need the smoother application for a sensitive area or problem. What circumstances might warrant the use of a topical salve or lotion instead of an oral application? - If someone is unconscious, if it's a child or person who refuses to take something by mouth, if it's an open wound, if the person is so sick they cannot communicate or keep anything down…….
There are a couple of ways to infuse oils. 1. One is to put dried herbs directly into olive, avocado, jojoba or similar good oil (enough oil to just cover the dried material) and allow it to infuse for 2 weeks in a sunny window; straining out the bulk herbs, so that it is ready to use when you need it. Then transfer the oil to a glass container and place in a dark closet. Things to watch out for are any dampness or water in a not totally dried herb material, may lead to rancidity and molding of the oil. This would cause it to not be useable. The other is if you keep the oil over 6 months, you run into a problem with rancidity also. 2. Another way to infuse oil is with the use of low heat such as a crock pot or stainless pot in oven with pilot light. It's especially good when you want to do a salve with a formula of multiple herbs. You never want to heat the oil too hot as it will take away from the viability of the medicinal. I have a mini crock that holds about 4 cups or so of material that works well. Let the oil and herb heat together for 48 hours and then you can add your hardener.
It is possible to use the oil that you have made directly on the area needed, although it will tend to be greasy and get into clothing unless you cover it loosely with a nonstick or cloth bandage. To make your salve, the general proportion of oil to hardener is 2 oz beeswax or shea butter to 1 cup of oil. I like to mix my beeswax and shea butter together for a smoother spreadability. You will need to heat the oil and melt the beeswax/shea butter together into one liquid. (I use a clean plastic yogurt container in a double boiler or pot with water in it so that the container with the oil just begins to float off the bottom of the pan) If you want some scent or added medicinal property of an aromatherapy oil, this would be the time to add it, just before you take it off the heat. To check and make sure the hardness of your resulting salve is not too runny or too hard, take a wooden stick or toothpick dipped into the oil and place a few drops on a piece of wax paper. Give it a few minutes to cool and harden (it will change color to a lighter waxy hue). Place a finger on the drops of hardened oil and the heat from your body should melt it. Try spreading on back of your hand. If it is too hard, add a little more oil, if too soft add a little more wax/shea until it is the consistency you would like. From here you can pour it into salve jars or pour it into a pint canning jar and scoop out what you need when you need it, into a smaller container. Again, place in dark place.
Make sure you label, label, label with date and ingredients!
Should you need something more moisturizing and soothing in a sensitive area, a medicinal lotion might be more appropriate. This is a process of blending an oil with a water or aloe combination. This is another process which we can address in another blog but is something to keep in mind as you evaluate your medicinal needs.
So what kinds of salves would we want for first aid purposes or handy family basics? A combination of Arnica and St. Johns Wort would be a good salve to have for sore muscles and strains with the nerve soothing characteristics of St. Johns Wort and the oxygen inducing, pain reducing characteristics of Arnica. Runners particularly like the effects of Arnica after a training session. Either one can be made into an individual salve. We have a combination of Comfrey, St. Johns Wort and Calendula for a soothing, healing salve for all kinds of cuts, scrapes, minor burns and other miscellaneous bumps and bruises of life. This is a good all around household salve. St. Johns Wort oil is a better solution for hemorrhoids than preparation H for reducing swelling and is excellent for reducing the excruciating pain of shingles until they resolve.
The following is a list of other herbal salve combinations and what they can be used for.
Lung Congestion - comfrey, elecompagne, mullein
Headache - lavender or wintergreen
Premenstrual Tension in abdomen - Crampbark, Motherwort
Neck tension related to stress - Black Cohash, Motherwort
Broken bones - Comfrey
Cooling - peppermint, chickweed
Bug bites - plantain
Swollen & inflamed Breasts during nursing - Marshmallow
Vericose Veins - Witchhazel, comfrey
Drawing out infection, imbedded material - Plantain
Infection - goldenseal, usnea, echinacea
Remember, any herb can be used in salve form and the skin is an excellent organ system to receive good medicine without taking pills. The trick is to have these made ahead of time for when they are needed. Let your needs be your guide.
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Over 40 years of Herbal and nutritional experience.