Wednesday 28 January 2015

Arthritis Salve

Intro to Salve Making

To understand how to make a salve the way we do; there are a few things you must know first.
You'll be glad you did!
Lets dive right in!

Appropriate sized Crock 
Any bigger and you will have problems
Start by purchasing a slow-cooker, as this is the best cooking vessel to control temperature. This slow-cooker will be absolutely dedicated to making salves as it will severely alter the flavour of food. The slow-cooker should be small to medium size because the middle will not heat, and it will not be cooked evenly and lots will end up wasted.

volatile plant oil extracts (AKA essential oils)
Oil extract (salve)

Hyrdo/Water extract (tea) 
The medicinal qualities of all plants are found in the oils, often referred to as volatile oils. Tea for example is steeping the plant in water so the oils are released and then drinking the water and oils together. Ultimately you are just making the tea to drink the medicinal qualities of the plants, the oils.

Melting Coconut oil in a crock

As far as I know, coconut oil is the best!
 When you make a salve you are essentially doing the same thing as making tea, but instead of water you are using a base oil. I personally prefer coconut oil as a base above all other oils. Your base oil is 'empty' and your job is to 'fill' it will all the oils from your chosen plants. Lets learn how this is done!

When you heat the plants in the base oil, the medicinal oil goes from the plant into the base oil. If you heat it too much the plant oils will evaporate and go into the air which is the most horrible thing that can happen to anyone making a salve. What makes or breaks a salve is the temperature, you must be very watchful as high temperatures can weaken. This is why we arrange the plant ingredients in order of volatility, saving the most volatile for last.
In regards to volatility, each plant is different, some are extremely volatile like mints which yield their oils extremely easily. Some mints will loose 100% of their medicinal oils just upon drying. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have barks and roots. These ingredients need to be cooked at slightly higher temperatures, for longer periods of time.

Thick, bulky willow that has almost no smell
Thin mint leaves that smell fantastic!
Hardy Willow Bark is one of the first ingredients which has to be almost simmered for 2 hours, whereas delicate mint leaves on the other hand only need to be placed in the warm-to-touch oil for a few minutes.

Never use dry ingredients, the moisture is needed to force the medicinal oil out and into the base oil.
My definition of a load:
I will refer to a 'load' quite often and here is what I am referring to. After you have harvested a plant, you must take the part of it that you are going to use for cooking and collect enough of it to make up a 'load'. Basically this is usually just filling the slow cooker up with as much of the plant as possible but there are exceptions.

Properly shaved Willow bark 
For barks you must shave-fluff the bark, however, if the tree is sapping and breaks off in chunks it is too late (early spring) and in order to do it absolutely perfect (which is not always necessary) you have to wait until the next year. Shaving is where you take the blade of the knife and scrape it along the bark. It will 'fluff' out at the end of the knife, this is shave-fluff. It needs to be in shaving-fluff because you are able to pack more of the bark in and you are able to strain absolutely everything out, this is very important. With all other ingredients they are pounded, blended and completely macerated into a unrecognisable pulp, for the same reason. This pulp is placed in the oil until there is so much of it that excess plant matter is not immersed on the surface. This is one load.

Wipe off all condensing water droplets
Cooking instructions are different for each ingredient. When cooking you must constantly wipe off the condensing water droplets on top of the lid as water is what rots a salve regardless of the medicinal qualities of the ingredients. It also causes overflow because the water will sink and push the oil to overflow.
Proper straining is absolutely essential, this is one of the most important steps that needs very special attention. In the canning section of all grocery or department stores you will be able to find jelly bags, these are necessary for an efficient strain. When the ingredient is fully steeped and it has cooled off enough for your hands to handle, fill the jelly bag slightly. Then you wring it out like a wet towel, remember that it is best to wring it out as hot as possible, because the oil is more viscus.
The best medicine is still locked inside the plant, you must wring out not only the base oil but also what is left from the plants own oil. This is what makes the salves potency different than all other traditionally cooked salves. If you have any input in this regard it would be much appreciated, although I have tried a large variety of different methods and this is what works best for me.
Lets get started...

Arthritis Salve

Willow is everywhere!
The first ingredient I usually begin with are the willows and I usually start with bebbs willow. I recommend four loads of bebbs willow and four loads of red osier dogwood. These ingredients need to be slightly simmered for two hours. A slight simmer is where the edges of the slow-cooker are barely bubbling and the middle develops a type of foam. Stir constantly but keep the lid on whenever your not stirring. Let it cool slightly then strain until all willow pulp is removed.
Red osier dogwood

These willows relieve pain and inflammation like no other plant. True willows contains salicin, red osier does not as it is not a true willow. This means we are attacking pain and inflammation two different ways, with and without salicin.

Next is one load of Tamarack bark which again you slightly simmered for two hours. This will bring heat to the applied area which attracts healing. It also regenerate and stimulate nerve repair.

Cedar leaf before complete maceration 
Next is five to ten loads of cedar depending on how many additional plants you plan on adding as the oil will fill up. The leaves need to be pounded to a pulp and simmered for one to two hours depending on how fine the pulp. Cedar is what does most of the healing. Antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, sheds excess bone, repairs damaged ligaments and joints, increases bone density... This plant is the star of the salve.

Crystallized spruce resin

Non crystallized spruce resin (best smell ever)
Lastly is your resins as they are the thickest and stickiest. Spruce resin and Balsam Poplar buds need to be harvested from naturally formed resins. The amount of resin is dependant on the size of the salve, but for small-medium size slow cookers I recommend putting two handfuls of crystallized and non crystallized resin in. Fill the slow cooker with about 1/4 poplar buds as the olioresins are thick and it goes a long way.

This is my favourite part of making the salve. As the poplar buds cook they blossom just like a flower to release their inner resin and then the empty blossoms float to the top of the oil. If you put too many buds in they will over flow once they begin to rise to the top so be careful. Finally the spruce resin melts right into the oil and mixes beautifully.

Once it is strained pour it into your favourite jars and enjoy the soothing and healing effects this salve has on arthritis.
I recommend small jars, 60mL or less
Making a salve is a huge commitment as it needs constant attention and can take a while to finish as life gets busy. It is okay to turn off a salve and leave it alone if you get busy and then return to it again when things slow down, it won't go bad.

This is just one example of a salve recipe but there are many other plants that can be added for different desired medicinal qualities especially during the summer months when plant life is in full swing. This arthritis salve can be made all year round however the poplar buds must be harvested in early spring around late March and April depending on your region.
This is going to be a living-blog. Meaning I will be updating this regularly with my own photos and videos and more text so you have a very clear understanding on how to make this incredible arthritis healing salve.
Happy salve making!


  1. This looks great. Thanks for all the work you do and the effort put into this blog post. I am going to share this info.... so good!

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  3. Thank you would love to meet you all. I live in the north as well and have questions about salves with chagall and other wild plants

  4. I love the way you've explained everything, highly approachable and even as someone who works with herbs a lot I learned too!

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  7. Hi Joseph - I'm not sure I am understand the amount that you describe for a one load. Is one load equal to plant material that is equal to one pot full? Also, what I don't understand from this article is - - so with each plant material, the bebbs will and red osier - are these infused into the oil separately or together? When that is done (2 hours) strained and then you set that aside ? Then do you get new oil and then use Tamarack Bark and infuse that into the oil (for 2 hours) strain and set that Tamarack Oil aside. Then get new oil for the cedar and then infuse the cedar into the oil ?? This article isn't specific on this very point or if it is, I am completely missing that. Please inform me on this.

    1. When you strain the oil after each "load", that same oil is what you use next time. Each time it will fill with more medicine and change in colour. Personally I strain it and then pour it back into the crock pot (after wiping out any bits of plant matter) then put the lid on it and leave it to cool and solidify until I'm ready to do the next load. Each plant is infused into the same oil however many times is listed, with freshly harvested plant matter, before straining and setting aside the oil for the next time.

      Joseph does have a YouTube video that is a recording of a zoom session where he described the process of making the salve, you might find it more useful for instructions and this blog entry as more of a recipe to refer back to the specifics of how many loads of each plant and the heat/length of infusing time are needed.

      This is my third time making this salve and I still come back to this page to remind me how many more times I need to do each ingredient.

      Joseph uses Creators Garden as his username for a few social media sites like instagram and Facebook that are more active than this old blog (though he isn't super active on any of them, he's a busy guy!) If you can afford subscribing to his Patreon, he also has some great videos/voice recordings to learn from including ones that talk about some of the ingredients of this salve individually. He hasn't posted new content in a while, but I often go back to rewatch/listen to what's there whenever I'm sitting and shave fluffing bark for a few hours.