Hope you all had a wonderful Valentines Day yesterday! Chris took me out to a classy farm-to-table restaurant in the mountains. It was a magical evening!
Today I want to share with you how I made a sore muscle comfrey salve for Chris. He sometimes has lower back pain that flares up, and I wanted a salve that I could rub on his back that would decrease the pain, reduce the inflammation and contribute to tissue healing.
I knew exactly the herb I wanted to use. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Some of it’s herbal actions include demulcent (it soothes inflamed tissue), vulnerary (promotes tissue healing by increasing cell regeneration), styptic (stops blood flow), astringent (binds tissues together), and anti-inflammatory. It is great when used externally on the skin to help heal burns, bruises, abrasions, and irritated or inflamed skin. Actually, it is so good at healing broken skin that you don’t want to use it on deep wounds because it heals the top before the inside can heal which can lead to infection. In that case you would want to pair it with an anti-microbial herb like calendula. But we don’t need to worry about that for this salve, because we will be using it for sore muscles.
I wanted to infuse my comfrey into olive oil. I prepared the dried herbs by grinding them roughly in my coffee grinder. You have heard me say it before, the smaller the pieces the more surface area exposed and the stronger the preparation. I like to combine tasks as much as possible, so I infused some plantain oil at the same time (there is a post coming soon on how to make a plantain salve for bug bites!).
Once the herbs were ground, I poured in enough olive oil to cover the plant material. One pan for comfrey and one pan for plantain.
I use the oven method to make my infused oils. There are other methods, such as using a crockpot, or sitting the herbs and oil in a jar in the sun for 2 weeks, but I like this method the best because it is so quick and easy.
To infuse in the oven, turn it to 150-200 degrees and let the oil infuse for 2-2.5 hours, the lower the temperature the longer you want to infuse it. I give a range because it is hard to keep the oven at a consistent temperature. Having an oven thermometer is really handy for this. You know it is too hot if your oil starts bubbling. We don’t want to fry the herbs! If it does start bubbling, just turn the oven down slightly and open the door for a few minutes to let the excess heat escape. Then continue on as normal.
Once the oils are done infusing, leave them on the counter for a while until you can handle them comfortably. It is easier to press the oil when it is still warm, but you don’t want to burn your hand while you are squeezing the oil out.
Once your infused oils are comfortable to touch, you can prepare for pressing out the oil. I have some flour sack towels I got at Sam’s Club 4 years ago. I use them to press all my tinctures, infused oils, etc…. You can tell they are well used. This one stained really bad when I pressed my cinnamon tincture last fall. So, I try to reuse this towel when I know it will stain. You could also use cheesecloth, or even cut up a yard of cotton fabric for pressing. I am sure you have something around that will work :).
I lined a bowl with my towel and poured the infused oil and comfrey into the bowl.
I gathered up the edges of my towel and went to work. Squeezing, twisting, squeezing, twisting until I couldn’t anymore. Pressing out oil from an infusion takes some work, and the unfortunate truth is that you will always lose a little bit. Just do the best you can. Whatever spent comfrey you have, after you have pressed out as much oil as possible can go to the compost pile and be returned to the nutrient cycle. Nothing goes to waste :).
For any oil infusion, once I discard the plant material, I take the oily towel and immediately squeeze some dish soap onto it and scrub it around until it isn’t oily anymore and rinse it out a couple of times. This makes it easier when you go to wash the towel. I once made the mistake of not pre-washing it in the sink, and it got green goo in my washer that I had to wipe out. You can learn from my mistake :).
Then you can bottle your infused oil, label it, and let it sit until you have the time and energy for the next step.
Making your salve!
I made salves as part of my christmas presents last year, so I made a bunch at one time. You definitely don’t have to make this many at one time. I ordered my jars from specialty bottle, and you can click HERE to see the item.
To make your salve you need infused oil, beeswax and essential oils.
The ratio is approx. 2 tsp beeswax to 1 oz. of oil. I wanted to make 3 jars of comfrey salve, and each jar held 2 oz. So in my pan I measured out 6 oz of infused comfrey oil and added 12 tsp of beeswax (which is 1/4 cup).
Make sure to keep the heat as low as possible and be patient as the beeswax melts. Mine took about 10 minutes.
Once the beeswax is melted, you want to make sure your consistency is right on your salve. I did this by dipping a spoon into the oil/beeswax mixture and setting it in the freezer for a few seconds. Then you can squish it down and spread some on your hand to see if it has the consistency you want.
For a sore muscle salve, I wanted something on the softer side, so it spread easily. It is also in the middle of the winter, so our house is cooler. If it was in the summer, I might have added a bit more beeswax so the salve would be firmer. You can think about your goals, and if the salve is too firm, add more oil, if it is to soft, add more beeswax. Let it continue to warm over the stove and test again when everything is melted. This takes a few more minutes and a dirty spoon, but it is much better than pouring your salve and being unhappy with the results.
Once my beeswax/oil was ready to go into the jars I prepped my essential oils. The general rule of thumb is to use 10 drops of essential oil per 1 oz of oil. But, I used a little extra in this jar. Because it was a sore muscle rub, I wanted a stronger anesthetic action from the essential oils.
I used 2 oz jars, and ended up with 10 drops lavender, 8 drops eucalyptus, 5 drops rosemary, 3 drops clary sage, and 2 drops peppermint. 28 drops total. The essential oils were added to the glass jars first, before pouring in the melted oil/beeswax mixture.
Finally, everything was ready and I was able to fill my jars. I used a chopstick to swirl the oil and essential oils together so it all incorporated evenly.
Then I let them sit undisturbed on the counter until they hardened.
The last and final step involved creating labels for the salve.
“Comfrey Salve. For sprains, bruises and sore muscles. Do not use on broken skin. Ingredients: Comfrey infused olive oil, beeswax and essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, clary sage and peppermint.”
I think they turned out great, and Chris definitely notices an improvement in back pain when I use it on him consistently!
So, here is a recap:
To infuse oils: you want to grind up your plant material in small pieces, cover with oil, bake in oven at 150-200 degrees F for 2-2.5 hours. Let cool, then strain.
To make the salve:
The ratio: 2 tsp beeswax and 10 drops of essential oil per 1 oz of oil.
Melt oil and beeswax together over low heat, test on spoon to make sure consistency is right. Put essential oils directly in jar first, and then pour in the melted oil/beeswax mixture. Mix with a chopstick or spoon. Set on counter or in fridge to firm up, label (so you know what it is), and enjoy your new salve!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and now I want to hear from you. Have you ever tried to make your own infused oils? What method do you use?