My Dear Readers, I have been really excited about herbal
medicine lately. I feel very drawn
to learn as much as I can about herbs, to learn how to grow them, and to learn
how to use them for both food and medicine. Just as the processes of cooking and preparing tasty things
from our gardens allow us an excellent way to get in touch with what nature provides,
herbal medicine making gives us yet another wonderful way to interact with
nature by giving us some very important resources to help our bodies heal and
bring about greater balance from within.
Herbal medicine is what many consider to be “the people’s
medicine,” as it puts the power to heal back into our own hands in an age when
many of us have given that power away to others. We can grow our own herbal medicine right in our own
backyards and balconies, which I personally find very empowering.
I will emphasize here,
as many others have, if you have a particular health condition or concern,
please consult with a qualified health practitioner to ensure that certain
herbs will not negatively affect you or any medications that you may be taking.
Also, based upon my personal experience
traveling through the world of alternative medicine seeking answers for my own
health issues, sometimes we just need to enlist the help of others who have
greater knowledge than ourselves.
While I certainly believe that we all need to pay close attention to our
own intuition and listen to the signals that our bodies give us concerning our
health, we all can reach points when we need that extra help beyond our own
knowledge and insight.
I also believe that health care (I actually prefer to say
“wellness care” instead, as I believe that we should be focused most on
prevention and lifestyle when it comes to health) should be holistic and
integrative, and so I personally favor practitioners with a deep knowledge of
many wellness areas, including herbs and supplements. Ultimately, you must do what is right
for you and your family and what you are comfortable with.
Everyone has unique needs and situations when it comes to
their health. Some things will
resonate with you, and other things won’t. Pay attention to that and be true to yourself, but please seek
outside help when you need it.
And, if you don’t find what you need in the first practitioner you visit,
or even the second, third, or more, don’t stop until you get the help that you
need to bring about true healing.
It took me about eight years to get to the bottom of my own health
issues, so I want to encourage you that if you are struggling to find answers
to your health problems, keep looking until you find someone who can partner with you and help you to truly
heal. I believe that partnership
is where it is at with health practitioners. Any other arrangement gives our empowerment away.
With all of that said, when used appropriately, herbs can be wonderful tools to help bring the body into a greater place of balance,
and to help your body heal itself from the inside out. Since many herbs (note that I am saying many, not all herbs) can
be used by our bodies as food, and many
are very safe and have very few side effects. Again, I urge you to please use common
sense and learn as much as you can about the herbs you wish to use.
Herbs are wonderful holistic health packages. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, where the
medications are commonly isolated compounds that tend to have multiple side
effects, herbs contain a plethora of plant compounds and co-factors that often
work together much more holistically on the body, and this can help to prevent
many of the nasty side effects that pharmaceutical drugs can have (Also please read: I am not telling you to just go off your medications if you are taking them. Some people certainly still need such medicines.). Some folks simply do not tolerate a lot
of chemicals well, including many pharmaceutical drugs. For such individuals, herbs,
nutritional supplements, and homeopathic remedies tend to agree with our systems
Recently, I read a book on herbalism for beginners, Rosemary
Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s
Guide, and I was inspired to prepare many types of herbal remedies
myself. So far, I have made
alcohol-based herbal tinctures (and for those of you who are waiting for my
post on making a Holy Basil tincture, I should be writing it within the next
couple of weeks. Your wait is
almost over!), and I have also made teas from both dried and fresh herbs.
After reading Rosemary’s book, the frontier was open for me
to explore other herbal medicine making techniques as well, such as salves and
ointments, and I felt empowered to try making new things of herbal goodness.
My Adventures with
Making a Comfrey Salve
Little did I know that I would soon have a great opportunity
(although not so great for my husband) to further explore herbal medicine
making when my husband experienced a bad fall while mountain biking two
weekends ago. He got some bad
cuts, scrapes, bruises and swelling.
Fortunately, he is now well on his way to mending and there
was no emergency situation (thank
goodness for bike helmets!), but right after he came home after being injured,
I got right to work helping my sweetie by cleaning all of the wounds very well. Then, I applied a conventional salve
that my husband grew up with to all of the open wounds, put gauze over the
wounds, and wrapped them with a bandage until the open wounds had closed up. Unfortunately, that particular
salve is not as holistic as I would prefer, but I’m hoping to explore this area
much more in the future. I also
initially applied some homeopathic arnica gel to other injured areas without
open wounds to help with the trauma and the sore muscles.
After the open wounds had healed enough and they had closed
up fully, it was time for some herbal comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) magic. I was excited to make an herbal salve to help him, and over
the last few years, I have been hearing about comfrey over and over again for
healing injuries, almost to the point of a legendary reputation.
The one thing to keep in mind is that you should not apply comfrey in any form to open wounds, as it will
make everything heal up way too quickly, including over infected wounds. Therefore, do not apply comfrey until the wound has fully closed up,
and then the comfrey can be free to do its healing work. Also, I have come across many warnings
about ingesting comfrey, so for our purposes, I would advise using it for
external use only.
After searching online for directions for how to make a
comfrey salve, I made my very first herbal salve from dried comfrey roots and
leaves based on the directions from this
I do not grow comfrey myself at present,
comfrey was purchased at one of my local health food stores in their bulk herb
The only ingredients used to make
the salve were some beeswax, some comfrey and some olive oil.
Like so many other things, we are often afraid to try to
make many of these things ourselves, as if we tell ourselves, “The manufacturers know best
.” Perhaps in
certain cases this may be true, but in many cases, we can make just as good, if
not better, things ourselves, and often such things end up costing us a lot
less in the end.
This is often the
case with quality food (check out my post on making
homemade granola bars
), and it can certainly be the case with herbal
remedies as well.
We also ask ourselves, “Will
this really work?” or “Will this kill
someone?” or even, “You mean, I can
make that myself?” Well, my
answer to these questions is that humans have been making and using herbal
remedies since long before pharmaceutical drugs ever existed. Just do your research, use common sense
and be brave enough to give making these things a try. I bet that once you try and make your
first herbal remedy at home, you’ll feel so empowered that you’ll soon leave no
herb unturned and you’ll want to make a lot more of them.
Not only did I make a comfrey salve myself, which seems to
be helping my husband’s bruises and other injuries to heal quite efficiently,
but within the same week, I made my own elderberry-echinacea syrup, which is
definitely not cheap if you purchase any of the prepared commercial brands out
there (I’ll post on that process soon as well). In fact, because of the cost of those elderberry
syrups, I never even tried it until I made my own.
Here are some of the pictures from my salve making adventure
The three ingredients for the comfrey salve: beeswax beads (you could
also use chucks of beeswax or grate it yourself), olive oil (I used extra
virgin), and dried comfrey leaves and roots (either one will work).
Heating up the dried comfrey in the olive oil within a double boiler
situation on the lowest heat setting on the stove top. I don’t have a double boiler, so I was able
to rest a smaller pot on the lip of the lower larger pot containing water. The idea here is to avoid overheating
the oil and maintaining the integrity of both the oil and the herbs.
Still heating, making sure the oil maintains a temperature between
100 and 140 degrees F for 3 to 5 hours. This process is essentially making an
herbal infused oil. Stir
At the end of the heating process, the oil smelled very strongly of
herbs, and it had turned a very deep green color from the comfrey.
Straining the spent comfrey over a glass container using a
fine mesh stainless steel strainer.
This strained out the majority of the herbs, but I still had to fish out
a few stray herb pieces after this step by using a spoon.
The dark green comfrey infused oil.
Pouring the comfrey infused oil into a stainless steel pot
with beeswax beads.
Heating on low and stirring until all of the beeswax melts and dissolves
into the oil.
The melted and dissolved beeswax and oil. Almost a salve!
After pouring the finished warm salve into clean and dry tins. You could use other containers, such as
shallow glass jars with lids. I do
not recommend using plastic containers to pour this warm liquid into, however,
as plastic could be absorbed by the warm liquid and might contaminate your
remedies. The idea here is to
avoid putting any additional toxins on or in your body or the bodies of the
people you care about.
The comfrey salve after cooling and hardening in the tins. We are done! Hooray for homemade herbal medicine salves that we made ourselves!!! I feel much more empowered now, how
about you? This wasn’t so hard,
was it? Say it with me now: I
can do this!
My homemade labels for the salve tins, made from a paper bag. Obviously, you can make your labels
look as professional or down-to-earth as you wish. Have fun with it!
These two tins were just for my own home use, so I wasn’t too worried
about being fancy. Make sure that
you write what the remedy is, which
ingredients you used to make it, when
you made your homemade remedies, and any
special instructions for using the remedies, such as “For external use
only” or any suggested dosage instructions.
One tip to keep in mind is that for homemade herbal salves, you will
probably want to keep them in the refrigerator or another cool dark place to
avoid the oils turning rancid.
This can easily occur with remedies made from oils.
According to Rosemary
Gladstar, these types of salves should last for several months at least, but
some can last much longer when stored under ideal conditions. If the color of the remedy has faded
and the oil starts to smell rancid, you will know that it is no longer usable.
This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop