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Healing Traditions: All-purpose Summer Salve Recipe

Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
Published: July 18, 2022
summer-salve-ila
Comfrey and plantain are the key ingredients in this healing summer salve, that can actually be used all year round. (Image: Ila Bonczek, Vision Times)

No matter how careful we are, most of us manage to damage ourselves here and there, now and then. For these occasions, I will share a recipe for a fabulous summer salve that promotes healing for everything from abrasions to fractures, soothes insect bites and other itches, rejuvenates dry and irritated skin, and helps prevent infection.

Each of the natural ingredients in this recipe contribute to its magical healing power. The key component is comfrey, well known for its ability to heal both skin and bones; while the other herbs and emollients boost its effectiveness with their own healing properties. You can grow the herbs at home, but they are also readily available online.  

Comfrey has been used for centuries as a potent healer both internally and externally. Studies showing that large doses of the herb can cause liver damage in rats has caused many herbalists to recommend the herb for topical-use-only in recent decades. (Image: Dinkum via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Comfrey 

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial herb in the Borage (Boraginaceae) family. If you cut back the spent flower stalks, this robust plant will continue to bloom throughout the summer, attracting many pollinators to its bell-shaped flowers. 

Comfrey’s large hairy leaves and thick roots contain the compound allantoin, a major contributor to the plant’s healing properties. While internal use of comfrey is considered controversial, as the pyrrolizidine alkaloids present in the plant may cause damage to the liver; topical applications are widely recommended for quick healing of a variety of conditions.

As a natural cell proliferant, comfrey promotes cell growth and rejuvenation. Enhanced with anti-inflammatory properties, it also provides quick relief from burns, abrasions, bruises and insect bites. 

Comfrey is easy to grow and hard to kill, but you can hardly run out of reasons to cultivate this useful herb. The flowers are edible, while the leaves and roots are medicinal. The whole plant is full of nutrients that will enhance your compost pile to the benefit of the rest of your garden; and leaves and roots can be dried or frozen for year-round use. 

With comfrey’s quick-healing properties, it is important to be sure that bones are properly set, and wounds are properly cleansed before applying the herb, lest you lock in something undesirable.  To avoid trapping infection under the skin, comfrey is not recommended for deep wounds.

Plantain is commonly found in disturbed areas like driveways or roadsides. This unassuming “weed” is surprisingly useful in many ways and contributes to our summer salve with its unique drawing capabilities. (Image: Robert Flogaus-Faust via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

Plantain

This herb has nothing to do with banana-like fruit you may be familiar with; rather, you might recognize plantain as the classic driveway weed. This leafy perennial is commonly found in barren soils but is worth a bit of space in your garden, where it can reach its full magnificence. 

Native to Europe and Asia, but naturalized around the world, plantain is a nutritious wild edible, high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium.  

Like comfrey, plantain possesses soothing anti-inflammatory properties, and contains allantoin to shorten healing time. Vitamin K is known to promote blood clotting in wounds, and plantain is antimicrobial to boot, making it ideal for poultices; yet the most remarkable quality that makes this herb unique is its “drawing” abilities. It can pull toxins from your skin when applied topically, and from your body when ingested. 

Plantain is known to be effective in treating stings, rashes and wounds; it is even said to be helpful in removing splinters or pulling snake venom. Internally, plantain acts as a blood purifier, cleansing toxins from your body. It provides mucilage to benefit the respiratory system, and stimulates the liver to aid digestion.

Virgin coconut oil is both medicinal and fragrant. (Image: Phu Thinh Co via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nutrient-rich virgin oils

Olive oil is amazing even outside the kitchen — it is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants, and rich in vitamins, minerals and fatty acids beneficial to the skin.

Avocado oil nourishes the skin with vitamins D and E and the essential nutrient potassium — an element labeled K on the periodic table, but not the same as vitamin K. Avocado oil is anti-inflammatory, provides antioxidants, and can promote collagen synthesis (aid in healing).

Coconut oil is made of various fatty acids that have antimicrobial, anti fungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also provides a natural moisturizing effect and is deliciously fragrant. 

Beeswax

A natural way to lock in moisture, beeswax is great for preventing and healing chapped skin. Rich in vitamin A, it is effective against acne, and its anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce pain. 

Borage has similar healing properties to its cousin comfrey. The oil extracted from its seeds is commonly recommended to reduce inflammation. (Image: Mareefe via pexels)

Essential oils

An antimicrobial essential oil like rosemary, basil, lavender, patchouli, eucalyptus, bergamot, buchu or oregano will help preserve the salve and give it a fresh scent. For your salve, choose one — or a combination — that you find pleasant and appropriate for topical use.

All-purpose summer salve recipe

(adapted from Natural Homestead)

To make this salve, collect and dry several leaves of comfrey and plantain. You can use a dehydrator or a warm (not hot) oven, or let them dry gradually in a warm, dry place out of direct sun. Once the leaves are crispy, crumple them up, and they are ready to use. 

You can also purchase organic dried herbs for the recipe. If shopping online, a four-ounce package of each should be more than enough for one batch.

  • 1 cup dry comfrey leaves 
  • 1 cup dry plantain leaves 
  • 2 cups virgin olive, avocado, or coconut oil; or a combination of all three. (Since coconut oil is solid at room temperature it requires less beeswax to set.)
  • ½ cup (more or less) grated beeswax or beeswax pastilles
  • 30 drops essential oil (just under ½ tsp)
  • 4 half-cup jars with lids or 8 quarter-cup jars.

Instructions:

  • In a glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine the dried herbs and oil. Place the bowl in a small crockpot and cook the mixture on low heat for 3 hours. 
  • Using a double layer of fine cheesecloth, strain the infused oil into another bowl. 
  • Place this bowl back into the warm crockpot and add ¾ of the beeswax, stirring until it melts. 
  • Add your chosen essential oil, stir, and place the stirring spoon in the fridge. 
  • After a few minutes, check the consistency and scent of the cooled salve on the spoon. If you think it’s too soft, add more beeswax. If you would like to adjust the fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil.
  • When you’re happy with final product on a cooled spoon, pour the warm salve into clean jars. 

This salve can help improve just about any skin condition on people, pets and livestock. Packed in pretty jars, summer salve also makes a nice gift in the winter.  

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