Most of my forays into foraging have thus far been edibility-based (hence the name of this blog). But as our ancestors knew until fairly recently, plants are also incredibly useful when it comes to health and healing. Some plants even rival modern "western" medicines in terms of effectiveness (turkey tail mushrooms, for example, are being used to help treat cancer). One of my new goals is to try creating some of my own natural remedies from plant sources, in addition to my typical adventures in foraging for edibles.
This idea of looking for natural remedies came up rather suddenly, after a friend of mine at work crashed his scooter going 50 mph on a highway. Miraculously, the cars behind him stopped in time and he was able to jump up, grab his bike, and get out of the way of traffic. At that point, the adrenaline wore off and he realized he was seriously messed up. He had broken his foot in three places and had lost most of the skin from mid-thigh to mid-shin on one leg. Thankfully, he sat his ass down before he passed out entirely, and was well taken care of by emergency personnel.
When he returned to work, he showed a few of us some photos of the damage. After succeeding in not simultaneously passing out and vomiting all over myself (there's a reason I'm not a doctor), an article popped into my head that I had just read about how calendula salve has been proven to heal skin incredibly well and very quickly. I decided to give it a try to have on hand for future calamities.
I've grown calendula before in Minnesota, but for some reason my plants in the Midwest were always spindly and sad looking. Possibly I did a bad job growing them, or maybe I had a different type that didn't get very big. Here in our Pacific Northwest garden, there exists a massive field of orange and yellow flowers, but I figured there was no way those majestic and full-petaled specimens were calendula. I asked Meredith, the garden owner, who confirmed that, ...uh yeah, they are. Silly Jessie.
I went over one day and plucked a hefty bunch of flower heads. There were tons of bees and other pollinators going crazy for the flowers, so I tried to avoid grabbing any that they seemed particularly enamored with. Fortunately, picking calendula flower heads actually stimulates more growth, so in a few days the bees should have even more flowers than before.
Traditionally, these flower petals would then be dried in the sun, a method I am testing out with a new batch now. But I am also constantly needing to justify having all my fun kitchen tools, so I busted out the ol' dehydrator and scattered the petals on each level, then set the dehydrator to the lowest setting and let 'er rip. About 30 hours later, the petals were dried out and safe to store. Attempting to store petals before they are dried can, not surprisingly, lead to rot - but more dastardly, if you attempt to mix something like a wet petal with oils (as we will for the salve), it can create botulism or just get really funky. So best to get those petals nice and dry.
Once the petals were all dried up, I put them into a jar with some pure olive oil to infuse the oil with the goodness of the petals. Again, this process can be sped up by using a low heat source, like a crock pot, but the more heat you use for the petals, the more you might decrease their benefits. So for this batch, I let the petals soak in the olive oil for about a week.
When the oil was properly infused, I strained it through a cloth mesh to get the petals and other bits out, then put the oil on very low heat in a little pot on the stove. I added some beeswax and some tea tree oil (which also has some antimicrobial properties), then poured into a container to cool.
Now, we have our very own healing ointment that seems to work pretty great! I've already used it a few times on some minor scrapes, like that time I tackled the thistles over at the garden. I'm also applying it regularly to a few busted/missing toenails (thanks, trail running!) to see if it can work actual miracles. Not super optimistic about that one, but worth a shot.
CALENDULA HEALING SALVE
Recipe Type: Medicinal | Author: Edible Terrain
Prep time: varies | Cook time: 5 minutes | Yield: one jar of salve
1/4 cup tightly-packed dried calendula petals (see above for drying suggestions)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup beeswax pastilles
20-30 drops tea tree essential oil
- Infuse the olive oil with the dried petals for at least a week, if not longer.
- Strain the olive oil through cheese cloth or mesh to remove flower petals.
- Put infused oil in small pan over low heat. Add the beeswax pastilles and stir until they are melted.
- Add tea tree essential oil last. Stir and remove from heat.
- Pour into glass or metal jars and allow to cool completely before placing a lid or cover on the jar.
Use this on scrapes, cuts, minor burns, rashes, or even just dry skin or as chapstick. And feel free to play around with the amount or type of essential oil you prefer.