I tend to cover every level of herbal therapeutics, nutrition and materia medica that I feel qualified to talk about. I know this can be overwhelming for beginners who may feel completely intimidated by the sheer volume of information and plants here (though I do tend to talk about the same plants over and over again). Do remember that you can use the categories (over on the left side there) or the archive index (up in the page bar) to narrow down the posts. You might want to start with the Terms of the Trade series I’ve started that explains terms and concepts of traditional western herbalism. There’s also the medicine making category that is primarily simple ways of herbal preparation. And if you’re interested in getting down to the heart of working with plants, there’s the talking with plants category.
So anyhow, salves. You need exactly three items:
Fresh or dried herb
Some lard (any good rendered animal fat will work)
Let’s assume you’re using a nice fresh green herb, like Mugwort (or Beebalm or Roses or Grape leaves). Harvest your plant, being sure to thank it for sharing its medicine and life with you. Chop it up coarsely. Fill your jar loosely with fresh plant.
Now, lard is fairly solid at room temperature, so you’ll need to get it slightly warm to make it liquid. When it’s nice and fluid, cover your plant with lard, filling the jar to very near the top. Poke the plant and lard mix with a chopstick or butter knife to get the air bubbles out. Put the lid on.
You could just leave the jar to cold infuse, but I like the results of a warm infusion better so I store my jar in a warm place. My favorite place is in the woodstove warmer but any consistently warm area in the house should be fine. The idea is for the jar to get very warm to the touch but you should still be able to pick it up without burning yourself. I let mine steep (warm method) for about three weeks, but six weeks if using the cold infusion method. When the lard is done infusing, strain it (you may have to get it warm again for this) and bottle it.
Another, more traditional approach is to put the lard in a pan on low heat, then add the herbs. Stir frequently, and cover when not stirring if working with an aromatic plant. Let the plant gently cook for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on the plant. When the lard turns color and takes on the aroma of the plant and the plant matter is somewhat crispy (but not burned) it’s all ready. Strain, pour into jar, let cool. All done. Depending on what plant you used, it could also be used as a condiment (Beebalm lard is yummy!)
There you go. A traditional, incredibly effective medicine made in the same way that our ancestors on nearly every continent and every tribe crafted their medicine. Yeah, you could weigh things and create perfect proportions, but you’ll learn more if you eyeball it. Besides, it all depends on the plants you’re working with and who you’re making it for. Adapt, evolve and have fun!
We’ll get to the rendering of fat to make lard in another post.
Grape flower buds and leaves photo (c) 2008 Kiva Rose