Happy Earth Day! What a wonderful reason to get out and about into Nature and see what wonderful gifts our Mother Earth has to share. Spring has Sprung. With the season changes, the fresh grasses and budding tree leaves are cloaking Northern California in a beautiful green hue. One special aspect to this time of year, is getting out of the house, the office, the classroom (wherever one finds warmth in the coldest Winter months) and back into the sunshine and nature. When I am out and about frolicking in the natural world I can not help but look around and notice all the abundance around me. There are so many wild herbs available for cultivation. Many of which are available for purchase at the local market. If you are anything like me, or even just curious about me and my whimsical wild child ways, then you might want to know a thing or two about wild harvesting herbs for homemade remedies like a healing salve.
It is important to honor our Mother Earth and be mindful of the practice we create when seeking out our medicines. The Sierra Botanica website offers this list of Ethical and practical guidelines for Wild-crafting. In my experience, the golden rule is to only harvest where there is an abundance of the plant already growing and to only take what you need. Ask yourself, how much am I going to use today? In this way, the plant will still be available for the taking in years to come.
Ethical & Practical Guidelines for Wildcrafting
1. Follow the abundance
2. Avoid and protect unusual, threatened and endangered plants
3. Gather in small, thoughtful numbers
4. Browse, don’t graze
5. Know where (and where not) to harvest
6. Be okay with an empty basket
7. Know your plant ID
8. Err on the side of less
9. Promote abundance
10. Harvest to the plant’s needs
11. Bring the right tools
12. Assess for environmental toxins
13. Share your gratitude
Once you have a general understanding of Wild crafting etiquette, it is time to select what plants are beneficial in your native bio region and collect a few. There are all kinds of resources to choose from which aid in discovering the beneficial native herbs in your area. You can begin by surfing the web. There are many field guides available for regions Worldwide. Oftentimes, the local library will have some available to use. You might also want to check out any Visitor’s Centers in your local parks for additional identification materials. Living where I do, I find I am especially blessed by my local herb shop (HAALO) to be a reliable and helpful resource when I need to identify something new.
After you collect your herbs I recommended you dry them by hanging them upside down in a cool, dark, dry space. I have used certain herbs like rosemary and evergreen leaves freshly picked. However, any reliable resource on herbal preparation with oils will advise you to work with dried materials to prevent it from spoiling.
Salve is a great carrier medicine. This means that it is a wonderful way to cultivate and use the medicines you need around the home. Depending on the herbs you choose, salve can be used as a muscle rub for aches and pains, for inset bites and stings, for nicks, scrapes and scratches, as skin protector, breath easy check rub or even a simple personalized moisturizer or perfume.
Next, gather your other ingredients and tools. For my personal recipe you will need:
1. Wild-crafted and dried. native herbs unique to your geographical region
2. a crockpot
3. beeswax/cacao butter (or both)
4. cold pressed coconut/olive/jojoba oil (or any combination of each)
5. an old cheese grater
6. wooden spoon and/or high temperature silicone spatula (handy for getting the most out of your brew)
7. cheese cloth or old metal strainer
8. scented essential oils (I recommend Florecopeia oils for quality)
9. a small glass/metal jar for cooling and storage (old jam jar samples or lip balm tins work well)
10. a tall mason jar with lid
11. labels and pen
When you are ready to prepare a homemade remedy, plug in the crock pot and add your coconut/olive/jojoba oil with the herbs. In this first step you are infusing the oil with the medicinal properties of the plants you collected. I recommend squishing, tearing and pinching the dried matter as you add it to the pot in order to activate the medicinal volatile oils still present inside the leaves, roots, petals and/or stems. I recommend a 1:4 ratio of herbal plant matter to oil.
Allow this to infuse for at least four hours. If you are using more than a a couple cups of oil (not recommended for a first go at this. Start small, perfect your recipe, then start thinking big to avoid waste) you will need to allow the herbs to infuse longer.
Now, spread your cheesecloth (still folded in layers) over the opening of your mason jar and push it in a couple inches so it hangs down in the center like a little cup. Secure it in place with the metal ring from the lid. Now, ladel or pour the hot oil from the crock pot into the cheese cloth. You may need oven-mits, to protect your fingers, depending on the type of handles on your crock pot. Allow the herbs to sit in the cheese cloth while you mish-mash the wooden spoon over the plant matter and squeeze out the extra oils. Remember that if you get messy throughout this process you do not have to wash the excess oil off your skin. You can rub it into your elbows and hair.
Next, discard the herbal matter in the cheesecloth. It can be composted or used for a second infusion with fresh ingredients. The cheesecloth can also be reused.
Now, pour the oil back into the crockpot. Use the spatula to get it all out of the jar. Grate the beeswax/coconut/cacao butter into the crockpot as well. Stir until melted.
Add your preferred essential oils. Good recommendations are Lavender to calm, cinnamon to warm, sage to clarify, or blue chamomile because it is absolutely fantastic.
Now pour this mixture into your chosen storage vessel. Use a container that will not melt. I recommend something with a wide mouth so you can get your fingers into it.
Allow the salve to cool for an hour then put it into the refrigerator for another hour. After the initial cooling period it can be kept in the cupboard until you are ready to make use of it. I never do this next step, but I always regret it. Label your jars so you know what they are and what your recipe is for future reference. You can get really creative with crayons or ink pens or use the computer.
Have you made salve before? What herbs did you use?