White Sage & Bacon: Adventures in Traditional Salve Making
Making most all of my salves in animal fat is this past year’s herbal experiment. Lard is an interesting substance, lovely and white and creamy and… so very smelly. At the moment, I’m having to use plain ol’ storebought lard since I haven’t found a good source for easily obtainable and affordable organic lard and I’m out of bear fat just now (I’m going to try making lard with the next beaver tail I get though). Regular lard from pork smells kind of like bacon, but weirder. Considering the aroma, I tend use an equally strong smelling herbs in order to balance the aroma effect. Nevertheless, the salve still usually ends up smelling a bit like food.
Why use lard, you ask. For a few reasons, not the least of which is how easily absorbed into human skin it is, making for a better vehicle of healing than plant based oils. Another is the fact that one can easily make lard from available animal fat, and I haven’t figured out how to make almond or olive oil yet. Also, you don’t have to ad beeswax to lard salves, making it a cheaper alternative to the normal olive oil and beeswax method. Animal fat, often bear fat, is the traditional way of making salves for many primitive peoples because it works well and is easily made from available resources.
You can likely make lard salves with a crockpot or double boiler or any other standard warm infusion method. I generally use the method taught to me by a cantankerous old Mexican though, which is to melt a bunch of lard in a pot, and crush up a bunch of some dried smelly, traditional healing herb like Sage or Sweet Clover and toss that in. Keep the temp fairly low, you don’t want crackling, you just want very warm fat. Stir frequently and let infuse with the lid on for at least forty five minutes, or until the plant matter begins to lose its color. For fresh plants like Estafiate (Wild Mugwort) or Indian Tobacco (that’s Mullein to all you non-local gringos), chop the plant up and toss into hot fat, but leave the lid off or at least cracked so that the water can evaporate out. It’s done with the plants are crispy (deep fried Mullein anyone?), usually in about forty five minutes to an hour. After removing the fat from the heat, let sit for about ten or fifteen minutes, then strain very carefully (animal fat gets hot hot hot and burns like hell if you’re not careful). Pour into appropriate containers and allow to set in a cool place. I was not taught with any particular proportions but the well known 1:5 for dry plants and 1:2 for fresh plants works fine.
When you’re all done, you have a nice traditional form of salve that works tremendously well. I expect that many of you, my esteemed readers, will not like the peculiar smell. And no, I can’t say that bear or beaver fat smells that much better either, different but not necessarily better. Beaver fat from winter killed beaver can sometimes taste/smell a bit like gamey cottonwood buds though, which might be better than bacon, depending on your viewpoint. I however, have grown rather fond of the scent of White Sage and bacon.
You can also make a good fat based salve with ghee, which at this point in time might actually be more cost effective than olive oil and beeswax. Either way, I find these animal fat based salves to be very therapeutically effective, and a great option for those who hunt, farm or otherwise have access to good lard or butter.