I formulated this bruise salve recipe several years ago because I accumulate quite a few bumps and bruises in the normal work of the farm.
Then I gave some to my grandmother, who has thin skin and bruises easily, and later to my dad, who sustains perhaps the worst bruises of all of us from working with our sheep. From there, he’s passed it along to coworkers who swear by it, and it was a fixture on my table when I was vending at the farmers market. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really want to manufacture herbal products in any significant quantity, so I figured it’s high time I started sharing this bruise salve recipe, along with others, so you can make your own.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) are standard ingredients in bruise formulas, but I reached into the history books for the third herb, elder (Sambucus canadensis), spurred by some contemporary anecdotes from Rosemary Gladstar and Matthew Wood. Elder leaf was used frequently for swellings and contusions, but this usage seems to have fallen out of favor in more recent years. My suspicion is that this occurred because most modern herbalists (including myself!) do a lot of their early learning from books instead of an experienced mentor–and in many contemporary herbals, elder leaf and bark are listed as toxic. This is true, of course, but the books are lacking in nuance. Elder leaf can cause vomiting when ingested, but it’s quite safe used topically.
Yarrow and elder are strong movers of stagnant fluids, and in the case of a bruise they help disperse the blood and lymph fluid that pooled underneath the skin in response to the original trauma. Comfrey is not as strong of a mover (though it does contribute), but its strength in this formula lies in it ability to spur rapid healing by promoting cell regeneration in the area. And on that note, a word of warning: I do not recommend using this salve on broken skin because of the comfrey oil, which can heal open wounds so quickly that it traps bacteria inside and causes an abscess.
Infusing the Oils
I infuse all three of these oils–elder, comfrey, and yarrow–with fresh wilted herbs over direct heat for about two weeks, stirring every day. I don’t press the herbs when straining to avoid expelling any moisture into the oil, and then I decant the oil twice before storing. For the elder oil I use the leaves, for the comfrey oil I use the leaves, and for the yarrow oil I use the leaves and flowers. I infuse most of my medicinal oils in extra virgin olive oil because it has a long shelf life, but you can use other carrier oils–I like infusing yarrow in coconut oil sometimes because it seems to pick up the herb’s unique fragrance more than olive oil.
Recipe: Bang Up Bruise Salve
3 oz. elder leaf infused oil
2 oz. comfrey leaf infused oil
2 oz. yarrow leaf + flower infused oil
1 oz. jojoba oil
1 oz. beeswax (pastilles or grated)
20 drops rosemary essential oil (optional)
20 drops eucalyptus essential oil (optional)
Sanitize all of your equipment before you start, from your measuring cups and spoons to the pot you’ll use to heat the oils and wax to the salve tins or jars. You can use rubbing alcohol or you can mix up your own alcohol spray (I use a 70% solution) and use a clean muslin cloth to wipe everything down. (Don’t use paper towels as they can leave tiny fibers behind.)
Line a baking sheet with wax paper and place your open salve containers on top. This will allow for easy clean-up because you will spill some salve when you pour. (It took me way longer than it should have to figure this out.)
Many herbalists melt their oils and wax together in a double boiler, and this is a wonderful method. If you do this, I highly recommend using an actual double boiler instead of a homemade rig–I’ll never forget being in a medicine-making class at a conference and watching the instructors create a double boiler out of a metal pot and a Pyrex bowl, only for the bowl to shatter in the middle of the process. You really don’t want glass in your salve.
I use a small, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot for salve-making; this requires more care than a double boiler to make sure you don’t overheat your oils–you can’t walk away from it at any point, and especially not after you add the beeswax–but it works well for me.
Measure your infused oils and joboba oil by weight and add them one by one to your pot or double boiler. Measure your beeswax by weight and reserve it in a small bowl. If you’re using essential oils, measure them out into a glass bowl or cup (don’t use plastic vessels with essential oils, as they will absorb the smell) and put them in a safe place away from the stove top.
Warm the liquid oils over medium-low heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beeswax to the liquid oils and stir the mixture gently but frequently. If you’re new to making salves I recommend keeping the heat at medium-low and melt the beeswax very slowly. If you’re a seasoned pro, you can turn the heat up to medium. Either way, keep stirring so that the beeswax dissolves evenly. You’ll reach a point where the beeswax is visibly melting and dispersing; keep stirring until it’s entirely dissolved and immediately remove the pot from direct heat.
If you’re using essential oils, add them to the bruise salve mixture at this point. Usually you’ll want to avoid heating essential oils because they evaporate so easily, but they bond with fats quickly so I’ve never had a problem adding them to the warm oils and wax.
You can pour the liquid bruise salve into your containers directly from the pot if it has a spout, but I always transfer the mixture to a Pyrex measuring cup and use that to pour. (I like putting the measuring cup in the oven at 200 degrees to warm a bit while I’m making the salve, which buys me some extra time before the mixture solidifies–this isn’t necessary, but can be helpful when making a large batch of salve.) Leave a little headspace at the top of your container; overfilled tins/jars make a mess on the inside of the lid when capped and that mess often migrates to the outside, leaving you with a slippery, greasy container of salve.
Once you’ve filled your containers, wipe the salve pot down immediately with a paper towel, along with any other utensils that came into contact with the oil + beeswax mixture. If you wait until it hardens it’ll be a lot more work to clean up and it’s probably not the kind of thing you want going down your drain.
Allow the bruise salve to cool and harden completely before you move the containers or put the lids on. When you’re in a rush it’s incredibly tempting to do it as soon as the top forms a skin, but it’s no fun to slosh hot liquid salve everywhere because you were impatient. Once the salve is completely cool, check the sides of the tins/jars for drips; if you find any, wet a fresh piece of muslin with rubbing alcohol/alcohol solution and wipe them away. Finally, you can put the lids on your containers and label them.
I try to use salves up within a year of making them, but the shelf life of your salve depends on how well you sanitized your equipment and how you dispense the salve (fingers dipped directly into the container shorten the shelf life considerably). This recipe yields approximately nine (9) 1 ounce containers of bruise salve.