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Balsam salve ointment was an old favorite.

Countryside: My 95-year-old mother-in-law has been searching for a recipe for balsam salve for a long time with no results. She has found lots of old time medicinal remedies in Countryside, but no balsam salve. I would be most appreciative if someone could help us with this. -- Marjorie, Vermillion; marjoriemv@msn.

Certified Herbalist, Ernestina Parziale sent us this reply:

I suspect Marjorie's mother-in-law remembers a salve made from the resinous buds of American Poplar, a.k.a. Balm (or Balsam) of Gilead, or else one made from Balsam Pears. Native Americans used an ointment of poplar buds for wounds and old-time quilters concocted a quilter's salve for their fingers from Balsam Pears.

I give general instructions on my website ( index, htm) on how to make salves and ointments, but for your purposes will try to be specific. I have updated the equipment needed from older more arduous methods.

Equipment needed: top of a stainless steel double boiler and an electric skillet, plus a cooking thermometer. Largemouthed jar or suitable container to hold salve.

 1 to 2 oz. poplar buds (available at
 herb stores locally or on-line)
 4 to 6 oz. of olive oil (or enough to
 cover buds well)
 3/4 oz. beeswax (or more if needed to

The process is
simple and lard
can be substituted
for the olive oil. In
that case, the beeswax
is unnecessary.
Also, the
recipe doesn't have
to be this large. 1/2
oz. of buds with 2
to 3 oz. of oil will
also give a fine
product--just remember
to reduce
the beeswax to 1/2
to 1/4 oz.

Buds are
placed in the top
of the double
boiler and covered
with oil. Set the
pan in the center
of the electric skillet
with the thermometer
to the inside and
resting in the oil.
Place about 1/2
inch of water in the
skillet to protect
the finish (replenish
if needed). Fiddle with the control of
the electric skillet (halfway to "warm"
setting is a good place to start). You want
the oil to maintain an even temperature of
95 [degrees] F for 12 to 14 hours, or until the herbs
look "used up."

Strain out buds and return oil to double
boiler and place back in skillet. Add beeswax
and increase heat to 150 [degrees] F. As soon
as the wax is melted, test a drop or two of
the liquid salve in the bottom of your jar.
It will set up in moments. Test for consistency.
If suitable, pour the liquid into jar
and allow to set up. If it isn't suitable, add
more beeswax or a drop or two of oil as

Since poplar buds have some preservative qualities, shelf life is long. How long, I can't be certain. It quite literally depends on the weather and climatic conditions and how well it is stored. All homemade herbal products should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct light.

Another useful salve is made with lavender. At the end of the process, just before pouring it out, a small amount of tea tree oil is added and stirred into the product. This salve works well on skin complaints for dogs as well as humans since tea tree oil is bactericidal and fungicidal.

On poplar buds

The size of the buds are dependent on the poplar variety. They are picked in late winter or early spring before they open and are slightly resinous and aromatic. If you are just starting out, then get a good field guide and spend the summer learning how to identify the various types of poplar. When you are certain of the identification, mark that tree and come back to it in late winter or early spring. I don't recommend wildcrafting without a guide or some serious self-education on the subject.

Two books I can recommend are The Herb Book by John Lust and The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown. Also, Herbal Preparations and Their Natural Recipes by Debra Nuzzi is a video/book combo that might be in your library and, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
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Author:Vermillion, Marjorie
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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