The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, October 21, 2013

Victorian experiments: salve for sore joints

_Victorian Farm_ book.  Photo:
Elizabeth Urbach
I've been noticing quite a bit of soreness and stiffness in various joints in my body -- especially my hands and my knees -- in the past few years, and since that's where the women in my family have gotten arthritis, I think that's what's beginning to happen with me.  It's not extreme yet, but it is really annoying, especially when the seasons change and the weather turns colder, so I've been looking for ways to minimize the discomfort.  Painkillers seem a bit much at this point, and being a historian, I've been looking online and through my books for ideas for healing and soothing salves.  Yet another great tidbit of information in my _Victorian Farm_ book, from the ever-interesting Ruth Goodman, is a recipe for making your own lip salve by melting lard, almond oil, and a few other things.  On the _Victorian Farm_ program Ruth makes a few other home remedies, so I decided to modify her lip salve recipe by using some of the other herbal information in the _Victorian Farm_ book and my other Victorian domestic manuals, to make an herbal salve to soothe my soreness.  Many sources say that comfrey is a good herb to include in healing salves, and there happens to be some growing in the herb garden at History Park in San Jose, where I work.  Between that garden, and my garden at home, and my mom's garden, I have access to several good culinary and medicinal herbs, and decided to add basil and a few drops of tea tree oil to the salve.

_Victorian Farm_ lip salve recipe.  Photo:
Elizabeth Urbach
Finding the other ingredients was a bit more challenging.  I decided to use coconut oil instead of the lard in the lip salve recipe (because I had a jar of it in my pantry), and olive oil instead of almond oil (because I'm allergic to it), and I thought that the beeswax would be easy to find, but it wasn't!  The honey and beeswax candle vendor that I've seen at my local farmer's market hasn't been there for the past few months, and even at the Renaissance Faire (where I know I've seen beeswax candles for sale) I couldn't find any.  I ended up using the broken-up bits of the beeswax disc that I've been using to wax my hand-sewing thread to smooth it out, and it looks like it worked fine.

Homemade comfrey and basil
salve.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
I started out by cutting up about 5 fresh comfrey leaves, putting them into a small jar, covering them with about a tablespoon of coconut oil and a tablespoon of olive oil, and setting the jar on a sunny windowsill.  I let it sit for about 2 weeks, shaking the jar every day, until the oil started to look green (from the leaves, not mold!). Then, I put the jar in a saucepan of simmering water, let it simmer for 15 minutes, and poured the oil and leaves through a strainer lined with muslin to strain the leaves out.  I had about 5 more comfrey leaves, that had air-dried, so I tore them up, put them into the jar and poured the infused oil over them.  I put the jar back in the saucepan with the new leaves, let it simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes, and then strained those leaves out.  Then I got several fresh basil leaves from my garden, put them in the jar with an extra tablespoon of coconut oil (since so much oil had soaked into the muslin strainer), poured the comfrey-infused oil over them, and let them simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  I strained them out through muslin, added about 5 drops of tea tree oil, put the broken chunk of beeswax (about tablespoon worth) in the oil in the jar to melt, and then poured the mixture into a tin to cool and set.  This made a soft and oily ointment that takes a while to soak into the skin, and has a sort of musty, herbal scent, which is not unpleasant.  I'll have to see if my herbal infused oil is strong enough to do any good for my sore joints!  

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)