Every year, I learn more from my garden. New plants grow, old friends die. It brings me closer to the cycle of life and reminds me of the great mystery that encompasses our planet and all beings. Every year something new catches my attention or sparks my creativity. This year, along with seed saving, it was gathering herbs for a healing garden salve. I decided to make a salve strictly from the herbs in my garden. After all, I think plants that grow where we live have unique healing properties specifically for us. But more on that another time. After strolling through the garden for several days, I came up with this recipe. It is made from plants that are easy to grow and can be found in many herb gardens, maybe even yours.
I dried the herbs well in a cool, dark place (my garage has never smelled so good!). The I garbled them, meaning I took off all blemished plant parts, dead leaves and woody stems. I then made them into herbal oils. I like to make each oil separately so I can use them by themselves, or have the opportunity to mix them with other herbal oils later. Alternately, you can throw them all together and make a combined oil.
A common herb, both in the garden and in waste areas, self heal will also grow easily in a lawn. It is known by many common names (often the sign of a well-loved herb) including heart of the earth, heal-all, all-heal, carpenter’s herb and hook-heal. Culpepper, explains the name ‘Self-Heal whereby when you are hurt, you may heal yourself.’ It is excellent for the skin. It is astringent, hemostatic, vulnerary, and has mild antiseptic properties. As a hemostat, it will stop bleeding. Self heal is specific for the mouth and will help to heal inflamed, bleeding gums and skin or mouth ulcers. It can be used as a mouth wash or gargle. As an anti-inflammatory, it is useful for insect bites, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. As an antipyretic it will help to reduce a fever. It is also mildly diuretic, helping to increase urine flow. Similar to calendula, self heal is a lymphatic tonic that can help ease swollen lymph. It was traditionally used for various swellings on the body as well as mastitis. It makes an excellent wash for the eyes. My favorite way to use it is to add 30 drops of self heal tincture to a 1/2 cup saline solution (1/2 cup warm water and 1/8 teaspoon whole salt – not table salt) and rinse both eyes twice a day.
A common garden herb, plantain is cooling and soothing to burns, rash, sunburn, hives, eczema, psoriasis and chicken pox. It can be used as an infusion in a healing bath, poultice or compress applied directly to the skin. It makes a useful, vulnerary compress, oil or salve, helping to heal wounds. Plantain will help draw out a splinter, or bee stinger. It is useful for bug bites and nettle stings. Just chew the fresh leaf (dry will work in a pinch) and apply directly to the area. As a hemostat, it will stop bleeding. As an astringent, it is useful for pulling boggy, inflamed tissues back together, allowing for quicker healing.
Calendula is one of my favorite herbs. It is such a gentle, useful plant, and very easy to grow! I love to take the fresh flower petals and sprinkle them in salads, rice or soup. It is one of my favorite herbs for the skin due to its antibacterial, anti-fungal and skin healing properties. Calendula makes an excellent herbal oil, salve, wash or sitz bath to help heal wounds, scratches, bug bites, skin ulcers, rashes, hemorrhoids, and diaper rash. It encourages tissue restoration and reduces scarring. Calendula is also a useful herb to support proper lymph function. It is useful for ear aches and it makes a soothing eye wash. It is safe to use for extended periods of time.
Comfrey has the highest mucilage content of any herb. Mucilage is demulcent and emollient, making comfrey a wonderfully soothing, moistening and lubricating plant. As a gargle or mouthwash it will relieve throat infections, hoarseness or bleeding gums. As a hemostat, comfrey helps stop bleeding. Use a comfrey poultice for sprains and to help repair cartilage, tendon or ligament damage. Allantoin, a constituent found mainly in comfrey root, is an excellent cell proliferant. It aids healing and new cell growth in wounds, bruises, sores, cuts, burns, skin ulcers, eczema, psoriasis and varicose veins. Comfrey encourages proper healing to reduce scar tissue. Use it as a poultice or sitz bath to heal perineal tears or hemorrhoids. Comfrey can be used in the bath to soften the skin and makes an excellent herbal oil or healing salve. Be careful when using comfrey with deep wounds as it can encourage tissue growth over the top of the wound before it is properly healed, leading to abscesses. Do not use comfery internally as the root and to a lesser degree the leaf contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which may damage the liver with excessive use.
Echinacea is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic and anti-microbial, giving it strong wound healing and infection-fighting properties. It reduces swelling and pain along with increasing immune response making it good for boils, cuts, teething, wounds, abscesses, ulcerations, poison ivy, and animal, reptile and insect bites. Echinacea is probably best known for its immune stimulating properties. It is said to be anti-biotic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral. It increases the white blood cells’ ability to fight, destroy and eat foreign organisms (called phagocytosis). Echinacea is resistant to many viruses and can be used topically as well as internally for herpes or canker sores.
About the Author:
Elaine Sheff has been studying medicinal plants since 1987. A Clinical Herbalist, she is a graduate of both the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies and the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Elaine is a certified instructor of Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning, a safe, effective birth control method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. She has a clinical practice providing herbal consultations for individuals with health concerns. Elaine teaches herb classes throughout the United States and is the original co-founder of Meadowsweet Herbs. She is the co-director of Green Path Herb School in Missoula, Montana. A best selling author, her latest book is called Naked: Botanical Recipes for Healthy Skin. You can often find Elaine in her garden or cooking gluten free.