The evening is humid as you are enjoying fresh squeezed lemonade on a newly stained, covered porch. Gentle scents of pine and dye rivaling hydrangeas, primrose, hibiscus and ornamental lemongrass emanating from your prized garden. A soothing breeze mixes the neighbors mowed lawn into the aroma sparking an uncalming thought, "I have to cut my own lawn in the morning before it gets too hot!" Despite burning citronella candles and applying a generous amount of bug repellant, defenses are penetrated. In between one of those deep gulps of perfectly sweetened lemonade, a determined mosquito finds untreaded skin.
Every summer whether we mow our own lawns or watch the county do it through the comfort of our own homes, there is a guarantee many beneficial plants/herbs end up in lawn bags. Many herbs are referred to as "weeds", so we regard them as useless. Some of these herbs are so tiny in structure that they are hidden by blades of grass. Though small in stature these herbs possess a powerful punch, their constituents considered miracle workers. We will take a closer look at these "backyard herbs" and put together a skin salve that will rival any one the shelf. In most cases these salves will be better simply because they do not include preservatives and you know exactly what went in it.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Available at MossySituation.com in Herbs Section
Uses: May Help Itching due to insect bites, Soothing, Calming, Astringent, Antifungal, Minor Cuts, Skin Inflammation, Cooling, Eczema, Psoriasis, Wrinkles & More...
The botanical name Stellaria media refers to the star like flower produced by the herb, chickweed. The white flowers have 5 petals, each with 2 lobes. The herb usually grows in mat like formations but can sometimes grow erect. A good identifier is a single line of hair that runs down the stem. Be sure to have this plant correctly identified as it does have a poisonous look alike. Books, phone apps and foraging with a professional is encouraged until you become comfortable with plant identification!
Chickweed has several medicinal applications which classify it as an herb, but today we will be concentrating on its effect on the skin. Chickweed has high antioxidant properties due to its elevated levels of Bet-Carotene, Bioflavonoids and Vitamin C. Its soothing properties due to rich mineral contents such as Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Zinc. If you forage your own chickweed, be sure to separate all vegetation that is not chickweed. This can be a tedious process but necessary for a clean product. Ordering from a trusted source will eliminate the separation process and will usually arrive as a dried herb. We prefer dried herbs at Mossy Situation LLC for most preparations, but you can use fresh. Do your research on fresh preparations vs. dry herb so you know the differences.
Plantain Leaf (Broad & Narrow)
Plantago major & Plantago lanceolata
Available at MossySituation.com in Herbs Section
Uses: May Assist with Dermatitis, Inflamed Skin, Minor Wounds, Insect Bites, Reduces Scarring, Skin Disorders/Defects, Acne, Wrinkles, New Cell Growth, Antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory, Itching, Bruises & More...
Both species of Plantain are high in Vitamin A, Allantoin, Apigenin, Aucubin, Baicalein, Linoleic Acid, Oleanolic Acid Sorbitol and Tannin. All of these constituents promote wound healing and may speed up cell regeneration as well as make the skin appear soft and supple. These herbs are often found all throughout the yard and boarders, often popping up as a weed in the garden. Broadleaf Plantain can be easily identified by its rosette flower pattern and prominent parallel veins. It also shoots a long central flower spike covered in very small four petaled transparent flowers.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Available at MossySituation.com in Herb Section
Uses: May assist or be Antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory, Wound Healing, Anti-Wrinkle, Skin Softness, Astringent, Tightening, Antiseptic, Acne, Pore Shrinking, Soothing, Analgesic (Mild Pain Relief), Stop Bleeding, Reduce Redness, Unclog Pores, Sunburn, Puffy eyes...
You can find Yarrow in the yard and its boarders if you accidentally let your lawn grow too tall. It is widely found roadside but for herbal preparations you want to stick with your yard, that is if it has not been fertilized or treated in any form. I like to gather my Yarrow on trail walks or in pristine fields that I may encounter. In Greek Mythology the Hero Achilles used Yarrow to heal many of his battle wounds including his heel, hence the scientific name Achillea millefolium.
The most ancient uses for Yarrow are skin related, however in modern times its uses are extensive. The antimicrobial and pain-relieving properties of this herb make it superior for soothing skin irritations. Yarrow flowers have been cultivated to show in many different colors, but the white flowers are known to have the most potent medicinal qualities.
Available: at MossySituation.com in Herb Section
Uses: May Regenerate Skin Cells, Reduce Inflammation, Skin Health, Bruises, Boost Collagen Production, Tighten Skin, Anti-Aging, Keratinolytic, Antibacterial, Protect from UV Damage...
Comfrey is another herb with ancient uses dating back to 400BC. Both the root and leaves contain allantoin which is used to help new cells grow. It is also used to mend broken bones and heal bad bruises, sprains and strains. Comfrey regenerates and mends so well that it is not recommended to be used on open wounds/cuts. It will heal the outer layer of skin before the wound itself is ready to close providing ground for serious infection. Topical uses for this herb are most common due to its high toxicity on the liver.
You would be most likely to find this plant along your fence line in the backyard as it grows larger than Chickweed for example.
*Fun Fact* Comfrey's (Comfrey officinale) surname "officinale, officinalis" means that this herb is found in the Materia Medica concerning medicinal herbs that have time proven, tested results concerning natural medications!
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) aka Pot Marigold
Available at MossySituation.com in Herb Section
Uses: May prevent or act as an as Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Antibacterial, Wound Healing, Soothing, Antiseptic, Dark Spots, Blemishes, Acne, Scars, Restore Elasticity, Burns, Cuts, Diaper Rash...
Calendula (check Fun Fact, it's officinalis!) is a very good ally for skin hydration and health. It contains an array of phytochemicals that are essential for the skin such as flavonoids and carotenoids. The flowers are rich in both alpha and beta amyrin combined with lupeol, quercetin and other constituents to make Calendula an excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb. A regular skin routine with Calendula can rejuvenate the skin making it softer in appearance. People have reported Calendula giving them a younger look with a dewy-fresh radiance.
Be sure to properly identify Calendula from its close relative Common Marigold as the two do not share the same medicinal properties. Marigolds and other ornamentals in this family have been breed for decoration (or were never truly medicinal) and usually are in the Tagetes genus although Tagetes Marigold is an excellent medicinal essential oil.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Available at MossySituation.com in Herb Section
Uses: Astringent, May treat Dry Skin, Greasy Skin, Soothe Insect Bites, Clear Acne, Clear Eczema, Reduce Sebum, Relieve Redness/Rosacea & Dermatitis, Chicken Pox...
Stinging Nettle would be the last herb one would suspect to benefit the skin. This is mostly because of its painful "sting", (a chemical reaction due to the release of the plants venom via fine hairs that act as hypodermic needles). The chemicals, (one being formic acid) produces a rash that may burn and be severely irritating, similar to a bee sting to some. That very sting is responsible for inducing a histamine response from the body which reduces inflammation. Constituents of Nettle also induce a Serotonin and Acetylcholine response both responsible for wound healing and brain function to name a few. By using dry herb, we have negated the stinging effect of this plant. When using fresh, a quick blanching or rinse under warm water will render the hairs harmless. Nettles are one of the most nutritious herbs in the field, and to me, one of the most delicious. They are packed with amino acids, protein, flavonoids, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. No wonder why they need a rather aggressive self-preservation method!
There are many other herbs you could use for your own version of an 'Ultimate Backyard Skin Salve' such as lavender, jewelweed, burdock, peppermint, basil, rose and chamomile to name a couple. I selected a few high performing ones that would be readily available in most American yards and land plots. You can always make a few different versions to see which herbal combination works best for you, just be sure not to over complicate the formulation. Pick no more than 6-7 herbs, but even a 2-3 herb combination could be tremendously effective. Select the best herbs that will work best in the formula you are creating for your own specific wellness goal. Research, research, research and always keep allergies and herbal contradictions in mind!
Both essential oils and scents can boost your final product both in function and aromatics. Some essential oils can act as scents; however, the majority of natural aromas serve just that purpose. When using either, it is very important to use the correct amount so that you do not further any skin irritation. Essential oils and scents are highly concentrated so a little goes a long way. In line with that same theory, it would only take a little to irritate the skin of a person with sensitivities or who is suffering a skin ailment. Choosing the right essential oil in these cases are critical, scents for products meant to assist in skin healing is not suggested. Lavender, Geranium, Rose, Roman Chamomile, Neroli and Helichrysum (Available at MossySituation.com in essential oils)
are all good essential oils to add to your skin salves. You can blend but be sure again to know the precise amount of each essential oil for the amount of product you are making. I allow my essential oils to carry the scent of my product naturally without any additional scent in most skin products.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have selected the herbs you will use in your 'Ultimate Backyard Skin Salve', it is time to begin. If using fresh herbs, you can use one of the 2 methods we routinely use at the apothecary. One would be the traditional hang dry. Tie your herbs upside down and hang by stem to help volatile oils distribute throughout the herb. Do this in a well ventilated, dark room. Total drying can take up to 2 weeks depending on conditions, maybe longer if using a lot of plant matter. For several factors at Mossy Situation LLC, we normally use dry herbs for our products but other herbalist swear upon fresh, so again do your own personal research. These following steps are for a dried herb salve preparation.
1) Oil Infuse Your Dried Herbs
To achieve this process, we use two different methods. One requires a 5-to-6-week infusion process under the "Folk" method which I slightly elevated, and the low heat 72-hour infusion. Weighing the herb and menstruum (oil used to extract) is the only thing that "elevates" this traditional method. If using a 16oz Mason jar, weigh out 2 to 2.5 ounces of the dried plant material and place in a sterile jar. Tare your scale and then add your oil of choice until it covers the herb (Approx 10-13 ounces). Your oil will be at a 1/5 Ratio which is 1 part herb to 5 parts oil. This is a decent ratio for your skin salve, however, do not worry yourself with the mathematics/ratios at this point. You are not going directly into retail where these calculations would be necessary.
For the no heat folk method, screw on the lid either using a plastic screw top or layer of food grade plastic between the product and metal Mason jar lid and shake vigorously. Label with date and ingredients and put in a cool, dark room where temperatures do not fluctuate. Shake 2 to 3 times a day, every day for the next 5/6 weeks checking for any signs of mold or contamination. If you forget to shake for a few days, no worries just get back on schedule. An unshaken product can assist in mold production or not allow the herbs to extract fully. (Resume salve production in 5/6 weeks).
Method #2.... use an incubator set at 130 degrees Fahrenheit and set for 72 hours. It is very important when using this method to unscrew the lid every 3/4 hours on day 1 to release pressure that may have built up during extraction. You do not want seepage or for a top to explode under pressure! After day 1 you will notice less pressure build up and will soon be able to allow the process to continue without unscrewing the lid. (Resume salve making in 3 days).
* Choosing a Carrier Oil* (There are several different oils to use for your salves and other products such as grape seed, sweet almond, avocado, sunflower seed etc. and have different health benefits, absorption rates and use. It would be wise to become familiarized these oils. For this recipe I used Extra Virgin Olive Oil which is great for the skin.
Strain The Herbs
You can be fancy and buy a muslin cloth which is perfectly fine, or utilize clean, sterilized pieces of fabric that you have set aside for herb straining. I have come to like pillowcases and even dry fit fabrics this action. Just make sure the cloth you use is white so that dyes do not leach into your oils.
It is not enough just to let your herbs sit on a cloth over a metal strainer and call it a day. Enter, elbow grease! Once the majority of the oil has passed through, twist the cloth over the container. Continue doing so until you physically cannot twist any more, or until there is no oil being squeezed out. There are MANY useful constituents left behind in the "mark", which is the extracted herb, and we want all of that goodness we can possibly get. Oil presses are useful here but if you do not own one, no problem. If you used 10 ounces of oil, then you can expect a little over 8 ounces of high quality herbal infused oil as a finished product. If you plan to save this oil or what is left, I would preserve it with a natural cosmetic grade preservative such as Optiphen Plus or something similar; full spectrum, so that your oil will not spoil. Preservation is not necessary for the oil you are using in the salve as the finished product does an excellent job preserving itself.
Prepare Beeswax & Warm Oil
There are several different sets that people like for their salves. Some like them thick while other like them softer. After much trial and error, we found at Mossy Situation LLC that using 1 ounce of beeswax to 8 ounces of infused oil (in this case Extra Virgin Olive Oil) makes for a quality set.
Now it's time to make sure you have everything prepared because it goes fast! Place your 1 ounce of beeswax in a double broiler. I use 1 larger pot and a slightly smaller one that sits inside of the bottom one without risk of tipping, moving or spilling, (this is very important to reduce fire risk, waxes and oils are extremely flammable!) You can use beeswax beads, chips or blocks just be sure the weight is right. With bottom pot filled a quarter way with water, pot sitting inside with beeswax in it, turn the eye on high. Be cautious of where the steam escapes. You can move the top pot slightly to adjust steam direction. While the beeswax is melting, I place the infused oil with lid on into a separate pot with warm water. Put that on the stove and turn the eye on high being careful not to allow your oil to boil. (It will not have time to boil if the process is done correctly!) Your wax should be well on its way melting so at this time set up your sterilized tins with screw tops (Available at MossySituation.com). If you are using an essential oil have that ready as well. 5 to 6 drops of essential oil per every 1 ounce of oil is a good rule, so being that we are using 8 ounces of infused oil, 40 to 45 drops give you a good 1% essential to carrier oil ratio.
Adding Essential Oil, Vitamin E & Natural Preservative (Optional)
Swirl with a chopstick making sure all of the wax has melted and quickly (with gloved hand), add the warmed oil being careful not to allow water to drip into the wax from off the jar. If the oil is not warm enough it will harden up but do not worry, just allow it to melt again stirring with the chopstick. Once the mix has melted down fully, add the essential oil drops. Yes, you are counting drop for drop and sometimes they may double, that is ok just stay as close to the 40/45 drop count as possible. Also, during this phase I like to step up my salve with a high-grade Vitamin E (Mossysituation.com). You can follow the recipe for essential oils 40/45 drops. Vitamin E is thick keep that in mind when adding. This would be where you add a natural preservative if you chose. Beeswax and Vitamin E are both effective preservatives for this formula, so preservation is not necessary. Give it all one last stir (make sure Vitamin E has dissolved), with your gloved hand, and transfer the wax into the salve tins, again not allowing water to drip into the salve from pot. Place on a baking pan (use caution because the tins will be hot), and put into the refrigerator for 20 min. Take out and let product reach room temperature. The finish will be a softer set which is easier to apply to the skin!
Ancestors Approve, Ancestors Rejoice!!
Mossy Situation LLC 2023
David G. La Grenade C.M.H
*Mossy Situation LLC and its associates are not medical professionals and suggest seeing a doctor for any medical condition. Please seek medical advice before using any of the products located on MossySituation.com*