Friday, December 28, 2012

calendula: from garden to salve

well, this post was a long time in the making, let me tell you! I included several varieties of edible flowers in the garden this summer, to give our salads a pretty kick every time we had company - and we had loads and loads of them this year! Between the pansies and the tangete marigolds and the bachelor's buttons and the calendula, we had edible flowers coming out of our ears! And I started wondering - what else could we do with them, besides EAT them? With a little poking around the internet, I realized I could be preserving the calendula plants (which were prodigious in the garden) to make a lovely salve for dried and chapped winter skin . I have many friends who struggle with eczema and just as many friends with new babies whose bottoms need soothing, so it seemed like the perfect project! Thus, this long process began:
I gathered all the calendula blossoms I could for months, drying them on an old window screen (which I'd freshly scrubbed) sitting on some empty flowerpots in my kitchen, where they could slowly dry out of direct sunlight. Soon, the whole screen was pretty much full. As soon as the flowers were fully dried and crisp, I removed the petals and placed them in this glass Weck canning jar. I took off the rubber seal and one of the clips so that no moisture would build up in the jar as I gathered my petals over the summer. There's a piece of parchment tucked under the lid to help absorb any moisture that might develop. I kept this jar in a dark cupboard, taking it out every few weeks to add more dried petals.
Our sunny summer weather lasted through October this year, so I didn't start infusing (olive) oil with the petals until November. At first, I perched the glass jar of oil and petals (approximately 2 parts oil to 1 part petals) in the window, hoping that the weak winter sun would slowly warm the oil each day and help infusion. When I realized that not much was happening, I set the jar down in the dark, in front of a heating vent, which warmed it better. Still, I let my petals infuse for over a month - and then heated the oil on the stove for an hour at the end of all that to really make sure I'd gotten all the good stuff out of the petals that I could.

I strained the petals out of the oil using a piece of cheesecloth set over a metal strainer. Then it was time to add beeswax. I measured my oil:I had between 2.25 and 2.5 cups of oil. I used three of these 1.5 oz pats of beeswax from Big Dipper waxworks, a local beeswax company (so, 4.5 oz total - I was following this recipe that states that you want to use about 4 parts infused oil to 1 part beeswax to make salve). I grated the three pats on a regular cheese grater and then added them into the oil on the stove. If you are interested in making salve and are allergic to beeswax, there are other natural oils that you can use to thicken up your oil: try shea butter or cocoa butter. Here in Seattle, these products can be found at Dandelion Apothecary in Ballard. Many natural food/natural lifestyle supply stores will carry these oils and waxes.
Heat the oil and wax over the lowest possible heat setting or use a double boiler to prevent scorching. Stir frequently, and attend the wax constantly. As soon as the wax has entirely melted into the oil, give the whole lot a good stir or two. Now is the time to add a bit of essential oil to scent if you would like. Mountain Rose Herbs (their recipe linked above) recommends adding 40 drops (per half cup oil - so since I'm doing a quadruple batch here, 80 drops) of lavender essential oil as it will help act as a natural preservative. I didn't have lavender on hand, but I did have bergamot oil, which is also beneficial in a salve like this as it has natural antiseptic and antifungal properties. However, it's quite potent (like lavender oil, I should add), so I only added 40 drops to the whole batch.
Now, I should probably mention that I have a metal pan, a metal bowl, and a glass measuring cup which I've devoted entirely to use with beeswax. If you are thinking about making salve, I highly recommend picking up some tools that you can reserve for just this purpose (or this and candle-making!). I found mine at Goodwill for a couple dollars.
I then poured the hot liquid into a glass measuring cup (with a spout) and used a small funnel to pour it into my tins to set. I actually didn't have nearly enough tins, so tonight I'm going to experiment with either whipping the remaining salve and then transferring it into new tins, or else remelting and repouring it - I have a 16 oz mason jar full absolutely to the brim with leftover salve! (Actually, it's a good thing - so many of my friends want to try this out, and now I'll be able to send a tin to everyone!)
The little glass vial next to the tins is full of infused calendula oil for a friend who is sensitive to waxes and butters, and who is interested to try calendula's healing, calming properties on her own skin. I bought this at Dandelion as well (it has a little rollerball/roll-on applicator top inside) and just poured off some of the oil for her before I measured out the rest for the salve.
So! Almost ready to ship out, and then we'll see if this experiment was truly a success or not - I'll decide whether to embark on this long process again next year based on whether I get demands for more salve in 2013.

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