Outside my window, the garden is asleep, the trees a tangle of brown against the gray sky. Yet signs of life appear in colors muted by winter’s breath. The lavender leaves are a beautiful shade of gray-blue; brush across them and the scent of summer is strong. The kitchen garden holds onto the green season as well: rosemary, thyme, and even some sage.
These kitchen herbs — almost evergreens — are hardy and resilient, qualities that mirror their immune-boosting properties.
The medicinal constituents in these plants are at their peak in warmer months, but you can still coax healing properties from them at this time of year. And now is a good time to dry leaves for a balm to protect skin against winter’s harshness. The process is simple. You’ll infuse leaves in oil and melt in beeswax. This salve can be used on lips, face, and body, or to smooth hair and beards — one jar yields many uses.
These instructions take time, so I’ve included tips for speeding things up. But I encourage you to try the slow version; part of the beauty of working with plants is in watching and waiting for them to follow the course of nature. Allow the process to happen and be present in all its stages.
Begin by collecting ingredients from your garden. I recommend any of these herbs alone or in combination: lavender is anodyne, antifungal, and aromatic; rosemary is antiseptic and antioxidant; thyme is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal; sage is antiseptic and soothes the nerves.
Choose a healthy oil that is stable when heated gently — olive oil will work but is a bit greasy; try jojoba, grapeseed, or apricot kernel. The other supplies are not complicated: good beeswax, cheesecloth, and a heat-safe measuring cup for melting the wax and oil. This “recipe” is scalable — use about one part beeswax to three parts of infused oil.
makes about one pint
1 cup herbs
about 1 1/2 cups oil
about 1/2 cup beeswax
Remove leaves from herbs until you have about one cup, thanking each plant as you go along.
Rinse and arrange herbs in a single layer between two clean dishtowels. Press gently to remove excess water. Line a cookie sheet with parchment and arrange herbs in a single layer out of direct sunlight. Rotate leaves often, allowing them to dry completely. This can take a few days in winter’s dry air.
(Test for doneness by placing some leaves in a jar with an airtight lid. Place jar in a sunny window for a few hours. If condensation appears on the inside of the jar, keep drying. To speed things up, you can place the cookie sheet in a very low oven, 100 degrees, until dry.)
Chop the leaves and place them in a clean Mason jar. Cover with the oil of your choice — jojoba, grapeseed, or apricot kernel. Make sure all the plant material is completely covered with oil. Cap the jar and shake well. Allow leaves to settle, adding more oil if needed.
Label and date the jar. Place in a sunny window for at least four weeks — longer if you can stand it. Shake daily. To speed things up, you can place the Mason jar (without the lid) in a water bath and gently — very gently — keep over low heat for 4 to 6 hours. After infusing, strain the oil through cheesecloth into a clean Mason jar. Cap, label, date, and store out of sunlight. This oil can be used as is for moisturizing skin, as well as for the salve.
Put one part beeswax and three parts infused oil in a clean, heat-safe measuring cup and place in a water bath. Melt wax and oil over very low heat until fully incorporated.
Test for consistency like you’re making jam: scoop out a small amount of salve with a clean spoon and place in a jar. Put the jar in the freezer for about five minutes, then test on your skin. If it’s not easy to apply, add a bit more oil to your mixture and melt again. Too greasy? Add a bit more beeswax. Once the proper consistency has been reached and all ingredients are fully incorporated, carefully pour the warm salve into clean jars and allow to cool. Once fully cured, cap with a lid and label.
Save your recipe and make note of the results for your next batch. Enjoy the quiet of winter days. Nourish your skin, tea at the ready, and plan for summer’s garden.