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Local Limelight: Weeklyish Articles Of Interest

Gifts From The Garden: Salves
By: Laura Altvater

Whether money is tight or not, it is always wonderful to give gifts from your garden.  Winter is the best time to plan your garden for growing next year’s creations.  It is easy, therapeutic, economical and good for the environment.  Some of my favorite garden grown gifts include herbal wreaths, potpourri, tea blends, smudge kits and salves.  The second part of the Gifts From The Garden series will look at some of the plants you can grow for salves, as well as instructions on how to make them.
 Salves are fantastic gifts for a variety of people.  Calendula and comfrey salves are great for healing wounds.  St. John’s Wort and poplar buds are great for pain, and arnica works wonders for healing bumps and bruises.  All of these herbs are easy to grow in the home garden, though you may want to avoid the popular tree due to its massive size and root system.  Calendula, comfrey and several arnica species are available through Mostly Medicinals and other local nurseries and farmer’s markets.  They all prefer full sun to part shade.  Calendula and comfrey can grow in just about any soil with minimal water.  Comfrey must be contained or else it will take over when you begin to harvest the roots.  Calendula is a reseeding annual and will yield a bigger crop if well watered and fertilized.  A productive arnica patch will take a few years to establish.  Arnica chamissonis grows 6-8” tall and spreads by runners.  It grows best in full sun and is drought tolerant once established.  Arnica amplexicaulis is our native stream side species and prefers dappled sun and moist soil.  It will grow 1-2’ tall and wide.  Arnica species are interchangeable for medicinal uses.  

St. John’s Wort plants are not sold in the state of Oregon.  It is easy enough to find stands and bring a few seeds home (just a few, some need to stay to keep the wild populations going). Although I found that it volunteered in my garden after a year.

All salves start by making oil infused with the plant material.  Most oils are made with dried plant material because the water content in the plant will make the oil go rancid.  St. John’s Wort is made from fresh flowers and buds, and arnica is made from lightly wilted flowers.  I recommend starting with Calendula and Comfrey because it is easy to grow the amount of plant material needed for oil and it is easier to start learning oil making with dried material.

You can customize this recipe for any dried herb good for the skin.  You can combine several herbs in one salve by making individual or mixed oils.  One of my favorite salve combinations for an active household is arnica, calendula and St. John’s wort.

Recipe for Calendula Salve

1/4 cup dried calendula flowers
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 cup grated beeswax
40 drops lavender essential oil (optional)

Put calendula flowers and oil in a blender.  Pulse the blender for 15 seconds or until lightly chopped.  Pour the mixture into a pint canning jar and cover with a lid.  Place the jar in an area out of the sunlight and shake once every day.  When the oil turns a deep golden yellow (this generally takes one to two weeks), strain the oil through several layers of cheesecloth to remove the flowers.

Once you have strained the oil combine the grated beeswax in a small, heavy saucepan (you may want to dedicate this sauce pan to salve making as beeswax is hard to remove entirely).  On a low heat melt the beeswax.  Add lavender essential oil (antibacterial and good for healing scars). Pour the mixture into wide-mouth glass or plastic jars. Let the salve cool, and cover with a lid. When stored in a cool, dark place, calendula salve will stay fresh for approximately one year.


The majority of the plants in this article are available through Mostly Medicinals, LLC.  We are a small backyard business in SE Portland.  Our mission is to provide the community with “groovy grown” herbs and medicinals that are also beautiful in the landscape.  “Groovy Grown” is our term for describing our sustainable growing and business practices.  We use organic products whenever possible and buy as local as possible.  Come spring you can find our plants at Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU on Saturdays, Portland Nurseries, A-Boy on Barbur Blvd, Blue Heron Herbary, Artemesia, and Yesterday and Tomorrow in North Portland.  

Please visit our web site for a full listing of our plants and volunteer opportunities.  Our website will be updated in the new year with exciting new plants, recipes for making your favorite medicine, plant lists for specific sites and classes and special plant sales for 2009.  Please email or call us to set up an appointment for a visit or ask questions.  (503) 788-1829 or

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