Springtime in a bottle: How to make an easy balsam salve (Balm of Gilead)

Balm of Gilead Recipe // via thebotanical.ca

We all know there is something simply intoxicating about the smell of springtime air.

What if you could actually capture that smell in a bottle? The fresh, the intoxicating, the healing — that’s exactly what we’re going to do with this easy balsam salve.

Around this time last year, I participated in a wildcrafting workshop with the majorly inspiring Laura Reeves of Prairie Shore Botanicals. It was a blustery spring day, the wind turning up black dirt and howling at our backs as we searched for balsam buds to harvest for our salve, also known as Balm of Gilead. In addition to boasting tons of healing properties, I’m convinced balsam buds are the smell of the spring. 

This powerful healing salve does not require a long list of ingredients, nor is it overly involved. That’s why this is the perfect project to welcome spring and capture the healing effects of spring for the year to come. 


Balsam (Black Poplar) Salve, or 'Balm of Gilead'

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of infused oil 
  • 1-2 tablespoons beeswax

Other supplies you'll need include glass jar to infuse oil, an old pot, sieve, cheesecloth, and glass or tin container(s) for the final product.

The first and most important ingredient in any salve is always infused oil. As we’re using balsam buds for this project, ask around if you’re not sure where to find balsam, or black poplar, trees in your area. Black poplar has darker, more textured bark than does white poplar. Its buds are noticeably larger, and are incredibly sticky to touch. A quick sniff test will let you know for sure.

Balsam Buds // via thebotanical.ca

As with harvesting and wild plants, take care to only collect what you need. Collect only a few buds from each branch, remembering that this will inhibit the tree’s new growth, and avoid taking the end bud. Better yet, look out for twigs and branches already fallen from the fierce springtime winds. Offer thanks to the trees and the land for what is collected, and honour this gift by putting its medicines to good use.

How many buds will you need? A small tin of salve will last some an entire year, and only requires a few tablespoons of oil. The method here is the same whether you have two tablespoons of oil or two cups — simply adjust the amount of beeswax you add later.

Method:

  1. To make infused oil, place harvested buds in a jar and cover with oil (I use olive oil). Steep for up to six weeks, a full moon cycle, or longer (mine have been infusing for a full year!). Keep checking to ensure that the buds are fully submerged in oil so that they are not prone to mold. When ready to use, simply use a sieve and cheesecloth to strain the oil from the buds, pressing out every last drop from the soggy buds — seriously, this stuff is liquid gold!
  2. Heat the infused oil on low heat on the stove. (You’re best off to use an old or dedicated salve pot, as the stickiness of the buds combined with beeswax make for a challenging cleaning task.)
  3. Slowly melt the beeswax into the oil by adding one chunk or shaving of wax at a time. Use more or less beeswax depending on the desired firmness of the salve. You can test the salve's consistency by cooling a small portion in the fridge or freezer. Keep adding beeswax until you reach your desired consistency.
  4. Pour the liquid salve into tins or jars and let cool.  

Now you have a beautiful wildcrafted healing salve that can be used for so many purposes — chapped hands, lips, cuts and scrapes. Or, you know, just as a little dose of springtime for whenever you need it. Plant therapy at its finest!

Balm of Gilead Recipe // via thebotanical.ca

For more on the healing effects of balsam, and for more great herbal remedies, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Laura Reeves' Guide to Useful Plants