Friday, December 9, 2011

Making a Medicated Salve

Last night’s wet snow and then hard freeze here in southeastern West Virginia was a stark warning of the waning of both the sun and the medicinal plants. But beneath this icy veneer of late fall we can still find healing herbs: Wintergreen or pipsissewa's striped lances poke up through the frost from the leaf-littered forest floor; A spray of white pine needles forms a sparkling snow cone in the morning sun.  Today I’ll describe using these two evergreens to make a warming and soothing salve for stiff and sore joints or scaly patches of winter skin on the feet, knees, or elbows – and just in time for those winter solstice stockings.

WINTERGREEN SALVE (Chimaphila  maculata shown here, C. umbellata, Gaultheria procumbens) – a warming and anti-inflammatory salve for dry skin or joint pain and stiffness:

1.   Mold will grow if any water is introduced into the mixture. Be sure plant material as well as pots and measuring cups are thoroughly dried before use;
2.   When extracting dried plants in oil, the material must be completely covered in oil at all times to avoid cooking the plant which results in an offensive beany smell for the salve;
3.   Avoid overharvesting wintergreen and pipsissewa which are dwindling along with the eastern U.S. forests.

wintergreen or pipsissewa leaves (dried) – 1 handful
almond, safflower, or olive oil – 1 cup
bee’s wax – 1 ounce
vitamin E oil – 10 drops
pine essential oil – 5 drops

1. Gather wintergreen leaves and dry them for at least one week in hanging bundles in a sunny window or on a flat screen in a warm dry room;
2. Crumble a handful of the dried leaves into a small pot;
3. Cover the leaves with 1 cup of almond oil (alternatives: safflower oil for a lighter salve; olive oil for simplicity);
4. Place the uncovered pot on a hotplate or in the oven and heat on the lowest possible setting for 3-4 hours (no hotter than 150°);
5. Pour through a strainer into another small pot, pressing the leaves into the strainer to recover as much oil as possible;
6. Add 1 ounce of beeswax (finely chopped, shredded, shaved, or beaded) into the oil and heat on low until dissolved;
7. Add 10 drops of vitamin E oil;
8. Add 5 drops of pine essential oil (juniper or peppermint for joint pain, lavender or chamomile for muscle tension);
9. Pour into small wide-mouthed jars and allow to cool and harden before sealing the lid;
10. Label with the product name, date, and ingredients.

Other herbs for joint and muscle salves:
·  Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis) – warming anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic for joint pain and muscle tension. (garden)
·  Cayenne peppers (Capsicum anuum) – warming analgesic for joint and nerve pain. (garden)
·  Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) – cooling antispasmodic for muscle tension and anti-inflammatory for joint pain. (garden)
·  Goldenrod leaves and flowers (Solidago Canadensis) – cooling anti-inflammatory for muscle tension and joint pain. (fields)
·  Horsetail stems (Equisetum species) – vulnerary (heals wounds) for joint pain. (woods)
·  Juniper berries (Juniperus communis) – warming anti-inflammatory for joint pain. (yard)
·  St. John’s wort flowers (Hypericum perforatum) – warming analgesic and anti-inflammatory for nerve or joint pain. (woods)
·  Willow bark (Salix species) – analgesic and anti-inflammatory for joint pain and stiffness. (yard)

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Persistent joint pain and/or swelling for more than a month should be evaluated by a professional practitioner because it can be caused by certain infections, diseases, or cancers.


  1. I wish I had gotten some wintergreen this year. The season got away from me. Love this recipe though, maybe I will order some.

  2. Hey J, grab your hiking boots and a pair of scissors and get out there to the woods - wintergreen is, afterall, winter green!


  3. Could a salve be prepared the same way but using chamomile flowers? Would it have the same effect as wintergreen?

  4. Phoenix, most definitely, chamomile flowers make a lovely warming salve for joint stiffness but also have the added effect of relieving muscle spasm. You could even stir in a little chamomile essential oil at the end if you like the scent (I don't, it's one of the few herbal scents that I have an aversion to). Let us know if you try it!

  5. Did I say warming? Strike that, chamomile makes a cooling salve that can relieve joint pain. -D :-)