The following is an excerpt from “The Urban Farm Handbook” by Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols (Skipstone, 2011). The excerpt is from Chapter 17: Soaps and Other Sundries.
Lotions, Salves and Balms
Making your own lotions and salves is fun and rewarding. They make thoughtful gifts and can be infused with flowers or healing herbs from your own garden.
Either make your own infused oils (see above) or purchase essential oils to add at the end of the mixing process. They are all lovely: Citrus and mint scents are uplifting, whereas lavender and geranium are calming. My favorite plants for infusing are chamomile, comfrey and calendula, with their soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. At the height of the gardening and canning season, I soothe my hands with chamomile and comfrey lotion and apply peppermint lotion to cool my hot, aching feet.
While it is possible to mix your lotion with a regular blender or food processor, an immersion blender makes it a cinch. I use a recycled quart yogurt container for both mixing and storing, eliminating a lot of clean-up work.
Making lotion is essentially the same process as making mayonnaise: suspending tiny particles of oil in water. The beeswax or emulsifying wax helps stabilize the mixture and prevent separation. You can use any kind of oil, or combine various types. Distilled water will give you the longest shelf life; plain filtered or tap water work too, but your cream or lotion will develop surface mold sooner. Keeping it refrigerated also helps extend shelf life.
Basic Lotion Recipe
Here’s a basic formula for a nice, thick lotion. The choice of individual ingredients is up to you, but stick with these ratios and you’ll get good results. This makes great handmade gifts when poured into half-pint jelly jars. Decorate them with raffia and flowers or sprigs of greenery from your garden.
• A double boiler of some kind (this can consist of a large glass measuring cup sitting in a water bath, or a smaller saucepan that fits into a larger one)
• Immersion blender
• 3 ounces solid oil (coconut oil, cocoa butter, or shea butter)
• 6 ounces liquid oil (olive oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, sunflower oil, including infused oils)
• 1 1/2 ounce beeswax, shaved or grated, or emulsifying wax pellets, or a combination of the two*
• 8 ounces distilled water
• Essential oil (optional)
1. Combine solid oil, liquid oil, and beeswax in top of double boiler. Over medium heat, stir until oils and wax are melted and thoroughly blended.
2. Remove top saucepan or cup, and let cool to body temperature, stirring occasionally to keep oil and wax mixture smooth.
3. When oils have cooled, warm distilled water to body temperature. Pour water into a tall container, and, with immersion blender set to Low, slowly add oil to water in a thin stream. After a few minutes of mixing, a cream will begin to form. Initially it will look like milk curdling, but a little more mixing will produce a nice, smooth lotion.
4. Add essential oil, if using, a few drops at a time until it’s scented as much as you like. Feel free to divide lotion into a few bowls and scent each one differently.
*Substituting emulsifying wax for some of the beeswax helps make the lotion more stable.
Salves and Lip Balms
Salves and lip balms are even simpler than lotions and creams, because you don’t add water. Simply melt wax and liquid oils together in a water bath, add essential oil if you like, and pour the mixture into a convenient container—recycled breath mint tins work perfectly.
Adjust the hardness of your salve to suit you:
• 4 parts oil to 1 part wax = medium soft (my favorite consistency)
• 3 parts oil to 1 part wax = medium hard
• 2 parts oil to 1 part wax = very hard
Salves make wonderful additions to your medicine chest. Menthol and eucalyptus (the active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub) are great for breaking through foggy congestion, while plantain makes a soothing balm for bug bites and rashes.
For lip balm, recycle your lip balm tubes, and choose good-tasting oils or extracts like peppermint or vanilla. To recycle lip balm tubes, simply wash empty tubes in warm, soapy water and let dry completely, then pour the melted salve solution in. Mixture will harden as it cools.