Springtime brings with it sunshine, warmth, and growth. It’s an opportunity to feel new energy and start over, both inside and out. But just because winter hibernation has passed doesn’t mean that cold-weather self-care rituals should be forgotten, especially with gardening season in full swing. Spending more time outside digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and re-potting plants are all wonderful ways to wake up to the new season, but they can take a toll on your hands. Even beginner gardeners often have a pair of gardening gloves around, if you’re anything like me, chances are that you often forget to bring them outside, and might even secretly relish the feel of the soil on your bare hands. To restore your hands after a long day of work of any sort, I recommend treating your skin to some soothing calendula salve.
I cannot recommend this natural medicine enough to keep your skin soft and healed all year round. Whether my hands are feeling rough from washing dishes, commuting in cold weather, or screening compost, I’ll use a dollop or three so that my hands stay hydrated almost every day.
Calendula salve is incredibly versatile for so much more than just hand care. You can use it for treating dry lips, cracked cuticles, scraped knuckles, ashy elbows, or scaly knees. And gentle ingredients mean it’s suitable for everyone in your family and can go on (just about) any chapped or chafed body parts. It’s amazing that a simple mixture of beeswax, food-grade carrier oils, healing calendula, and essential oils (if you like) can do so much to heal.
As if this salve wasn’t already a miracle worker, it’s quick and easy to make and much cheaper to do yourself than buying retail, especially if you tend to use a lot of it.
To make calendula salve, you first need calendula oil. You can purchase carrier oils already infused with calendula, but it’s also quite simple to make your own.
Buy dried organic calendula petals in bulk, either online or from your friendly neighborhood herbalist; a grocery co-op or natural foods store may be able to special order it for you if they don’t carry it already. Calendula also makes a soothing tea that can be used to treat everything from acne breakouts and pinkeye to ulcers and leaky gut syndrome, so it’s worthwhile to stock up.
If your garden, you can grow calendula flowers quite easily: sowing the coil-shaped seeds in spring will give you several opportunities to harvest the flower heads and dry the petals (the part you’ll need to infuse oil) through fall. And, it’s easy to establish a perennial patch of this wondrous plant. If you just leave enough of the pretty yellow and orange flower heads on the plants at the end of the season, calendula plants will reseed themselves by dropping seeds to germinate the following spring. These lovely flowers also attract honeybees and other pollinators.
Once you’ve sourced the petals, you’ll infuse a carrier oil, like olive, walnut, coconut, jojoba, grapeseed, or shea butter, with calendula’s essential oil, then use that to make your salve.
Carrier oils that are liquid at room temperature, even with the beeswax in the finished recipe, will make a much softer salve that smooths on easily, but might feel a little greasy and insubstantial on the hands. I prefer to combine liquid infused carrier oils like olive or grapeseed with infused coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and will give your salve a little more body while still feeling soft and smooth to the touch. I like a ratio of 1:1; adjusting that will give you a softer or firmer texture to your salve.
The slow (and more traditional) way to infuse is to fill a quart jar with calendula petals, pour the carrier oil over them to cover, put a lid on it, and leave the jar in a cool, dark place for about a month before straining. The quicker way? Place your jar of petals and carrier oil in your slow cooker (stick a folded towel under the jar to keep the heat indirect), fill partway up the jar with water, cover, and set to low for about 4 hours. Then, strain and use.
Once your calendula oil is ready to go, the rest of the recipe is a snap: less than 30 minutes of melting, mixing, pouring, and cooling, and you’ve got a supply of skin-soothing salve on your hands (literally). Double or triple the recipe if you’re looking to stock up or give gifts.
If you’ve got a good-sized essential oil collection, it can be fun to make several single batches and add a different aromatic oils to each one. I’m partial to the heady, relaxing scent and skin-soothing properties of lavender, but others like rose, ylang ylang, and geranium work well. After decanting, decorate the surface of the calendula salve with an artful tuft of petals before it hardens, if you like.
There you have it: a new tool in your self-care kit to carry you from spring planting to winter walks.
Healing Calendula Salve
Makes 3 four-ounce jars
Recipe by Alex Jones
- 4 ounces by volume calendula-infused coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter (or another carrier oil that’s solid at room temperature)
- 4 ounces by volume calendula-infused grapeseed, walnut, jojoba, olive oil (or another carrier oil that’s liquid at room temperature)
- 1 ounce by weight organic beeswax
- 40-100 drops of essential oil like lavender, rose absolute, geranium, or ylang ylang
Prepare a double boiler with about an inch of water in the pot and set it over medium heat. Place the beeswax in the bowl of the double boiler and let it melt. Stir in your carrier oils (I like to use a silicon spatula to stir and scrape the salve mixture). The cooler temperature of the oils will momentarily cause the wax to seize up, but another minute or two over the heat will give you a lovely golden, melted mixture.
Remove the bowl from the heat and allow it to cool for a minute. Now is the time to stir in any essential oils for their aroma or healing properties. Use anywhere from 20-50 drops of essential oil to four ounces of calendula oil. For a milder scent or effect, use less; for a stronger one, use more.
Once your essential oils are added, it’s time to decant. Don’t wait too long, as the salve will start to firm up in the bowl, especially if you’ve used a firmer carrier oil like coconut or shea. Gently pour your salve into a small storage vessel with a lid, like clean quarter-pint canning jars or two-ounce metal tins. Allow the salve to cool undisturbed until it’s solid. Close the containers and label before storing, using, or decorating the package for gift giving.