Monday, September 25, 2017

Kitchen Witchery: Making an Arnica Salve

My husband has been suffering from a pinched nerve that has made his entire arm and shoulder feel as if lit on fire. For nearly two weeks he's been wrought with constant pain from the nerve and associated muscle soreness and tightness. Prescriptions and over-the-counter muscle creams couldn't touch it. A few days ago he reminded me of an arnica salve that I'd made a couple of years ago - I had totally forgotten! (The helenalin in arnica montana serves as a powerful topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic*) So I set out to make another, and was pleased to find that I had everything I needed on hand:

A cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of beeswax
Dried arnica montana flowers (about a half cup)
Rosemary essential oil 

There are a couple of ways to create herb oils, and due to time I chose the short method: letting the dried flowers steep in hot oil for 30 minutes (being very careful to keep the stovetop heat low so as not to cook the herbs).
While the oil was doing its thing, I set about chopping up the beeswax (you can use beeswax beads which work perfectly well, but raw beeswax is something special!)
I paused halfway through and lit a green candle for the healing goddess Eir. May this salve effectively help ease Jorge's pain. Since my arnica wasn't extra fresh, I also asked for a little boost in the potency of the herb itself. I thanked the plant, and its source. I opened my heart to Eir in invitation.
I traced the runes Uruz and Kenaz over the heating oil, and chanted their names quietly. After 30 minutes I strained the oil into a saucepan.

Then, at very low heat, I added in the beeswax and about five drops of essential oil. As the beeswax melted, I used a wooden chopstick to stir.
As I was preparing this salve rather out of the blue, I didn't have a jar or other receptacle ready to receive it. I decided to use a small glass storage bowl that has a fitted lid. As soon as the beeswax was fully integrated, I poured the salve into the bowl to cool.
Cooling is a surprisingly fast process, almost as if the wax desperately wants to be solid and is trying to return to that state as quickly as possible. Within an hour (probably less) I was spreading it over Jorge's back and shoulder and arm.
There is something truly magical-feeling about creating medicines out of such simple and natural ingredients. When it works, it almost seems like an accident, or something too good to be true. It's silly to feel that way, but we are so trained to rely on pharmaceuticals (most of which are based on plants anyway!). And so I found myself entirely warmed over and thoroughly pleased when Jorge reported to me a couple of days later that this arnica salve has been the only medicine to make a substantial difference in his pain level (his exact words were: "You should label this stuff 'miracle salve'"). It is this rather humble blend of plants and oils and wax that has managed to provide true relief.

*Arnica is toxic to consume orally unless specially prepared by a certified homeopathic practitioner. 


  1. So happy to hear Jorge is feeling better now. I loved reading about the whole process of salve making, espicially the magical part of it. It sounds definitely a lot healthier than the painkillers I got from the doctor when I had a pinched nerve :)
    Well done!!

    1. Thanks, Ellen!! I remember when you were suffering from that pinched nerve and were in quite a bit of pain for a while! Yes, I was very glad to find I still had a stash of arnica in my herb pot!

  2. This is so beautiful! I love that you brought spirit into the making of your salve, too, a wonderful reminder. My hubby pulled a muscle a couple of days ago, and now you have me wondering what I could do/make to help :D

    1. Thanks, Chloe! Hey, if you can find arnica this would be a great recipe for him! : ) I hope he feels better soon!