As winter settles in and holiday decorations pop up all over, the thought of summer flowers is far from most people’s minds. Maybe some are still looking out at tucked in gardens and reminiscing about the previous season, but many of us are wishing for snow and a nice winter day to put on our skis or snowshoes and go tromping through the woods. As I long for a good snowy winter, though, this is precisely the time that certain flowers and herbs pop back into my mind. I pull out the infused oils of calendula, lemon balm, plantain and comfrey I made in the summer, and take stock of the dried herbs and flowers in half-gallon jars on the shelf: it’s time to make presents!
As a farmer, it can be hard to find the time and space it takes to process medicinal flowers and herbs amidst the demands of seeding, transplanting, weeding and harvesting all the vegetables. I’ve found that harvesting and processing in small batches works well for me, especially since I live in a yurt and have limited space. Throughout the summer, I dry a range of herbs and make infused oils with fresh plant material, but that’s as far as I get—the next steps don’t begin until the fields are put to rest and free time creeps back into each day as the season shifts to winter.
Let’s start with dried herbs: spearmint, chamomile, sacred basil, lemon balm, calendula, sage, and more. You can make tea mixes, or spoon each herb into a separate glass jar, and you have a simple and sweet herbal tea mix ready to wrap.
Next come the salves. These start with infused oils, which I made this past summer. To make an infused oil, harvest fresh plant material, pour enough good quality olive oil to cover it, and heat it slowly using a double-boiler, keeping it warm for about thirty minutes so the plant constituents slowly infuse into the oil. Pour the oil through a strainer, and keep stored in a dark, cool place. At this point, you can use the oil itself, or you can turn it into salve.
For a long time, the thought of making my own salve was slightly mystifying, and though I had heard it was easy, it was not until I took an herb course where we made salve together step by step that I realized how wonderfully simply it is. All you need is infused oil, beeswax, and containers. You can find beeswax at most coops and farmers markets, and containers can be purchased online at Mountain Rose Herbals or at the Tulsi Tea Room in Montpelier, VT.
To begin, pour the desired amount of oil into the top of a double boiler, slowly heat, and add beeswax so the two melt together. The ratio of oil to wax depends on the consistency you are going for. A ratio of 1 ounce oil to 1 Tbs wax will yield a firm salve, and adding more oil will give you a softer, more scoopable salve. Once the beeswax has completely melted, remove the mixture from the heat. You can do a quick test to see how firm or soft your salve will be: simply take a small spoonful of the hot salve, put it on a plate and place the plate in the fridge, or outside on a cold day, for a few minutes to harden. Go back to test the consistency and adjust as needed (more oil for a softer salve, more beeswax for a firmer one). While the salve is still warm and in liquid form, pour into your containers and let set. Once all your salves are made, label and store them in a cool place until gift-giving time arrives.
The most important thing to remember is this: have fun, relax, and let yourself enjoy the process! The process, after all, can be just as healing as the end product–warming infused oils and bringing those summer herbs back to life on a cold day is sure to bring a smile to your face.
I hope you all have a lovely holiday!