Saturday, 4 April 2009

Healing Cottonwood Salve

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

A well stocked medicine cabinet should include some homemade soothing, and healing ointments and salves. Making your own salve allows you to control the ingredients, and keeps the expense down. A common salve that is easy to make is Calendula salve, but I'm going to show you how to make Cottonwood Salve today.

Supplies needed:
Dormant Cottonwood Buds
Olive Oil (organic, extra virgin is best for your skin)
Beeswax
wide mouth jar to make infused oil
assorted small jars and lids for salve
double boiler or a small and large kettle and canning rings


A popular European and Native American remedy for burns, it is just as useful today. Containing salicylates (think aspirin) it is also useful for pain, sprains and inflamation. Known for its natural antiseptic properties, it also helps with tissue regeneration.

Commonly known as Cottonwood or Balsam Poplar, Populus balsamifera, Populus trichocarpa.
A tall vigorous tree, look for it next to rivers, lakes and streams or in any moist area. If you are not sure if you have found the right tree, rub a leaf between your fingers, and an aromatic sweet scent will tell you if you have hit paydirt. But, mark the location, as the buds need to be gathered while the tree is dormant, in late winter through early spring.



How to gather buds from a 100' tree? Let Mother Nature help you. With cottonwood being a somewhat brittle tree, winter wind and ice storms will take their toll, and bring down limbs for you. I am not too keen on widespread wildcrafting, because if everybody is out foraging, the natural landscape will suffer, but Cottonwood trees are prolific and can take losing a cup of buds here and there. Look for tight, pointy buds that haven't started to open yet. They should be a little sticky and very aromatic. The scent is heavenly.



There are many ways to make infusions. The easiest is to place your buds in a wide mouth jar and completely cover with oil, so the buds do not mold. I prefer not to use heat, and I leave the buds in oil for a year, in the dry pantry. If you are in a hurry, you can heat the oil and buds gently and strain when the oil smells strong enough to you.

Cottonwood buds are antioxidant so no vitamin E or gum benzoin is needed. Good olive oil also is not prone to rancidity, so this infused oil keeps at least a year or more and is useful in itself. The addition of beeswax adds to the keeping qualities of the cottonwood, so you can expect this salve to keep several years.

Cast of characters: Beeswax, and infused cottonwood oil.


Decanted oil, I used wide mouth pint canning jars. That way I know at a glance how much oil I have, so I can measure my beeswax accordingly.



I wanted to make a firm salve, and the general salve recipe is 1 oz of beeswax to 5 oz of oil. Firm salves form a protective barrier, softer salves (less beeswax) will allow for more absorbency of the herbal properties. If this is your first salve making experience, use half the recommended amount of beeswax, when the wax and oil have melted, pour a little into one of your containers and let it set up. If you like the consistency, you're done. If it is too soft, reheat and add the rest of the beeswax and continue.
To get my beeswax down to a manageable size, I chopped it with a hatchet. I use beeswax in my some of my soap recipes too, so I can eyeball 1 oz sizes. I do weigh the beeswax though, after I have it in smaller pieces.


I made a double boiler with a large kettle, and some canning rings. The oil and beeswax should be gently heated to preserve the herbal qualities of the cottonwood.



While the oil and wax is heating, wash and dry your jars and have them ready for pouring. For this batch, I used an assortment of jars: 4 oz jelly jars, wide mouth 1/2 pint, recycled mustard jars (for the barn) and a real salve jar so I can share some salve as a gift. Always try to have a extra jar or two, I always do this when I am canning too, just so I don't have to go looking for one more jar when I have hot food waiting. Put down some newpaper too, if you pour like I do.



Pour the warm oil into your jars...


While the salve is cooling, you can wipe your pan to clean it. If the salve in the pan starts to harden just put the pan back in the water bath to remelt and wipe again, and then you can wash with warm soapy water.

When the salve has cooled, you can scrape the paper, (if you're as messy as me) and the jar threads and add the cleanings to your jars. Let cool overnight, or all day and wipe the rims clean and put the lids on for long term storage. Too soon and it may sweat and add moisture to your jars.

Once you have made and used some of this salve, you will love it!