In these little (adorable, tiny, hard to find) jars is the result of the spring's worth of salve-making. Just a little dab of this stuff on bites, stings, cuts or burns soothes, kills itch, and helps healing. It's green kindness in a jar, and served up along with a kiss, dries up tears too.
So how is it made?
Basically, salve (which is interchangeable, as far as I can tell, with the word "ointment") is oil thickened with wax. Before the oil is thickened with wax, we can steep herbs in it and strain them out, leaving the goodies from the herbs in the oil. Kind of like an oil tea. Which sounds disgusting. Then we can thicken it with wax so it's easy to put on skin, more like chapstick, and less like, you know, oil tea.
I know that there are a lot of recipes out there that call for one part of this and two parts of that. My own recipe is very carefully considered and goes like this: I put in what I have growing when I decide to make salve. This year I had less plantain and more chickweed, less comfrey and more lavender, and next year the proportions will be different.
So here's my cast of characters:
Clockwise, from top left:
Plantain: Stops itching from bug bites, draws out poison from bee stings, draws out infection
Chickweed: Soothes irritated skin, rashes, eczema
Lavender: Antiseptic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, heals burns, pain relief
Calendula: Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, for sunburn, cuts, rashes, bites
Peppermint: Cooling, pain relief, smells nice
Comfrey: Promotes rapid healing of cuts, burns, bruises
A pretty decent lineup, I'd say.
I use extra virgin olive oil for my salve. I know other oils can be used, but I can get my hands on olive oil, so I don't bother with others. My mother used lard. There are several ways to infuse the oil with the herb goodies. You can heat it all, in a low oven (200 degrees) or in a crockpot (I have a tiny one that holds a quart that I use), or you can pack it all in a jar and leave it in the sun for several weeks.
In previous years, I've done the crockpot method, leaving the crockpot on low (or warm, if the crockpot has it) all day or a day and a night. This worked well when all I had to work with was plantian, and I just went out and got leaves all in one day. I was concerned, this spring, that the things I had to use would come available at different times, so I tried the jar-on-the-windowsill method.
I needn't have worried. One packet of calendula flowers produced way more petals than I could use, and by the time they were flowering strongly, everything else was ready too. As I kept packing things into the olive oil standing on my counter, I would from time to time have to skim out things that had floated to the top and stuck out a bit, and then molded. This was unpleasant, and could have been avoided by using one of the faster heating methods. Everything I read says to cover your herbs with 1/2" or so of oil, and that would have worked fine, had the herbs stayed down in the oil instead of wanting to come to the top. Perhaps a holder-downer of some kind would have helped. At any rate, since everything is available at the same time, next spring I'll simply use the crockpot.
The first thing to do, then, when you've got your herbs in the house is rinse them and spread them out on a towel. They need to wilt, perhaps overnight or all day if it's warmish, to reduce the amount of water that ends up in the finished salve. Once I made chickweed ointment and plantain ointment at the same time, but separately. The plantain, which is a very dry leaf, lasted a year or so, the chickweed, which is very juicy, molded in a couple of months. Let them wilt and almost dry up a bit.
Then do your crockpot thing, like I said above. Or put it in a casserole dish in the oven at 200 degrees for 3 hours or so. As for amounts, as I said, I throw in what I have, cover it in oil, and let it go. Keep in mind that one of those 1/2 cup jars up there will probably more than keep a family covered for a year, unless there's some major injury that requires buckets of the stuff. In which case you might need medical help anyway, you know.
Strain out the herbs and send that mess to the compost bin.
Then, grate up or cut up some beeswax. This is a very indefinite recipe because you have to fiddle with it to get it like you like it. Here's a piece of beeswax I've had forever and will probably have forever. Because making a quart jar's worth of salve takes, oh, maybe, a couple of tablespoons of wax.
Warm the oil up, on very low heat, to melt the wax in.
Now, last year when I made plantain ointment, I put too much beeswax in, and ended up with a hard-chapstick consistency to my salve. Since I store it in the fridge (and so should you, it lasts longer that way, and is cold when you put it on) it was even harder than it was at room temperature.
In an attempt to compensate for that previous failure, this year I didn't put in enough beeswax, and ended up with something just a little too soupy:
It melts right off the skin when it's put on. Not stiff enough.
Luckily it's easier to put more wax in than to take any out, so I poured it all back in the pot and tried again. I ended up with something more soft-chapstick, and I'm happy with that.
Okay. I'm ready. Somebody get hurt. But don't really. But if you did, I'd be ready. But don't. Okay?
p.s. I am not a doctor. (I know you thought I was.) This is not medical advice. This stuff is for minor skin irritations and little scrapes, bites, rashes and scratches only. Don't apply salve, or anything fat-based, to a new burn. It'll make things worse. You can, I believe, apply it to a burn that is healing, but only after a day or two. Happy healing!
More of our writing notebooks today, this time a written conversation with Emily Fiona Stringer, age 10.
Had I a font with stars dotting each "i", you'd get more of the flavor of the actual composition here. Also, I am going to correct spelling here because as precious as I think the misspellings are, it's the content I'd like to focus on. The spellings can stay, with the precious handwriting, in their notebooks.
Momma: What is your favorite time of day?
Emily: I have a few favorite times of day: reading time, when I get up, lunch time, when Daddy comes home, and Bedtime.
-What makes you excited? p.s. Will you write in print?
Momma: I think what excites me most is planning a project I'm going to do. I love to create things, like clothes and bookshelves and so on. So planning a project to do is very exciting for me because I get to think about how to do it, and how much fun I'll get to have doing it.
-Which is your favorite fairy book and why?
Emily: To a question like that, there is no answer. (Well, maybe it's the pink fairy book because it has the story about two cats (it's a very nice story indeed.)
-What makes you feel sad? p.s. I don't know the date, but I know it's the morning after archery Friday. p.p.s. Thank you for writing in print. (We were dating our entries. -MB)
Momma: One of the things that makes me feel the saddest is when people who are hungry burn their mouths on food that's too hot because they were too hungry to wait. I just feel so sorry for them! It makes me feel sad to know that another person feels afraid, or hurt, or lonely. It makes me feel very sad to know that it's my fault they feel that way. Hearing that a disaster has happened and people's families have been broken up is very sad to me. For some reason, when I am sad it isn't as sad to me as when others are sad. I want to help them, hug them and wipe their tears and make it better, and when I can't or they won't let me, I feel saddest of all.
-What are you afraid of?
Emily: Rattlesnakes, coyotes, bad dreams, bees, volcanoes, earthquakes, rotten skeletons, poison ivy, and bullies are some of the things I am afraid of.
-What if we had a swimming pool? Would you go in it?
Momma: If we had a swimming pool I would definitely go in it. That would be so fun, especially in the summertime when it's hot. I would like to swim in the afternoons when we're done with our chores. I would like to swim on Saturdays when Daddy is home. Would I like to go in the pool after dark, I wonder?
-What if it really did rain cats and dogs?
Emily: If they were wild, then I would probably try to stay away from them, but if they were tame I might keep a few, but I would certainly be freaked out!
-What would you grow if you could grow anything?
Momma: If I could grow anything, I think I would grow a shoe tree. I would plant a worn-out insole, and it would grow into a tree with all kinds of shoes for fruits. When the shoe tree bloomed, the flowers would smell like new leather. When the flowers died and the fruits began to grow, I could pick them at just the right size for whichever feet needed them. Pick them very young, and they would fit a baby. Wait several months, and they'd grow all the way into shoes big enough for Daddy. If you let them get overripe, though, they'd be too big for anybody's feet and you'd have to pick them and compost them.
I think my favorite time of year would be when the tree was covered with shoes too tiny for anybody to wear. They would be so cute, and so useless! There would be a time of year that everyone got his shoes, too. (The baby) would get hers in late spring, but Daddy would have to wait until late autumn. You would get yours in mid-summer or so. Yes, I think a shoe tree would be very nice indeed!
-What would happen if animals could talk? What are some of the questions you would like to ask them?
Habit can be very good. When we have a habit of eating dinner together, for instance, or of doing chores at a certain time of day, something feels wrong until we've gotten those things done.
Habit can be leveraged, as parents know, to help children adhere to good things. But habit, as my bowl of dead flowers illustrates, can go hilariously wrong.
Friday morning I cut flowers and stuck them into the pin frog in the bottom of this bowl of water, and set the whole thing on the coffee table. It was lovely. Until our 2-year-old explorer destroyed the arrangement, scattering the flowers all over. Whoever was in charge of cleaning up the living room that evening took the still-living flowers and stuck them back in the bowl.
The scattering happened again, the next day. And the flowers, now more-or-less alive, were stuck back in. The next day the flowers dried out, but were still stuck back in.
Now we have a habit, folks. And we have a bowl, on the coffee table, which is where the dead flowers "go". Day after day, they're scattered, and gathered back up. How long can this go on before somebody realizes that the point was missed back on, oh, the second gathering-up or so?
Dare I point it out to them? Nah. Where would be the fun in that? Now it's a social experiment, see.
Suddenly I'm worried about my own childhood. How much of that was a social experiment?
If we could eat lizards, we'd be sitting pretty. This place is covered with them. I just don't see there being a lot of meat on those little bitty skeletons.
Now, over in May, there's a second (but only just a second) to catch our breath. The vegetable garden is planted, and the rains have more or less stopped, which means that for the most part, the weeds in unirrigated areas will also stop growing.
So how are things going with said garden?
So glad you asked.
We planted artichokes last spring, and they stayed small and puny and pathetic until it started raining in the fall. Then, boys howdy, did they take off. They grew into these behemoth bushes as tall as my 6-year-old's shoulder. With great anticipation we awaited the show that these monsters were surely gearing up to put on, and we weren't disappointed. Only problem is, they're being attacked from above by aphids, and from below by gophers. The ladybugs are sedulously working away at the former problem, but, having planted the artichokes inside chicken wire baskets, we're at a loss as to what else we should have done.
Artichokes also seem to be very, very greedy for water. We don't have a hose that reaches out to their particular location, and the drip irrigation can't keep up, so we haul buckets of water out there whenever they wilt. Which is any day that it's not cool and overcast. I'm beginning to think we should have gotten a dog instead of a row of artichokes.
The lettuce, alas, grew too bitter, and we pulled it up and sent it to the compost bin. I wonder, each year when we do this, whether there's a way (that's not too labor-intensive) to extend the non-bitter lettuce season. Let me know if you know the answer to this.
In their place we planted Albion everbearing strawberries. As these reproduce, we'll plant the babies out in the next bed down the terrace, and so on.
The blueberries are doing well, with the exception of one Sharpblue and the Misty. Odd, since one Sharpblue is going strong, and the other just lost its leaves and is miserable looking.
Oh, my, look at these tomato plants. We planted them deep and watched over the next few weeks as they just got...stockier. They didn't grow up as much as they just got thicker stems and lusher leaves for a while. I'll take it. Looks like a strong start.
One of our trial plantings this year, brussels sprouts actually have done very well. They're also a favorite of the aphids, unfortunately, but they don't seem to be bothered by them. At last we get to taste real brussels sprouts! My daughter has been waiting impatiently for them to be edible, because they seem to be everyone's most hated food in all the books she's read, and she wanted to know what was so horrible about them.
We picked just this one (buggy) handful:
...washed and steamed them, salted and peppered them, and offered them to everyone to try. "They're not bad," she said. "I don't see what all the fuss is about." She's never been one to waste praise.
And look! I can grow snapdragons. From seed. This is a heartening discovery, since the of the packet of stock I planted one single plant sprouted and grew flowers. Snapdragons, however, seem to like this spot (or me, personally?!?) more.
That's all that's noteworthy, really, for now, although there will certainly be more to come. A garden is always changing, isn't it? And now I'm going to go put my feet up.
(That last sentence was a blatant falsehood. But it felt nice to say it.)