On balms


There was a time when I had beautifully manicured nails.  That time has passed, as has the time of business attire and an obsession with shoes.  I don’t necessarily miss my dry cleaning bills or shoe habit, but my hands could use some help.

Our little Christmas gift experiment was fun:  we made lots of lip balm, bath salts and hand cream for friends.  The kitchen got messy, but canning season sees a lot more general untidiness and stickiness, so I knew I would eventually get back to making more salves and balms.  And vegetable preservation season (also known as Tomato Madness) has not begun in earnest, but the flowers and herbs are truly exploding out there.  Time to mess up the kitchen!

Calendula (pot marigold, Calendula officinalis) is one of those self-seeding wonders that I allow into the vegetable garden.  Their seedlings are readily identifiable in the early spring, and they’re easily removed and/or transplanted to where you might need more color.  They’re not quite the pollinator-attracting darlings that, say, borage is, but selfishly, I love gold and orange, so these guys are allowed to stay.  They have many wonderful properties, too:  the petals are edible, and they contain antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and rash-healing magic within them.  In fact, I had used a calendula-based diaper rash cream on our kid when she was a bulky cloth diaper-clad babe.  Huh!  Well, now, I D.I.Y., with an olive oil, shea butter and beeswax salve.


Pretty, huh?  Will it bring me back to those lacquered nails and perfect cuticles of my city days?  Doubtful, but…it’s a step.

22 responses to “On balms

  1. Slapdash recipe as follows:

    Take about a cup of petals and add it to a cup of olive oil. Either set, sealed, in the sun for two weeks to steep, or place in small pan and heat to under a boil, stirring, for 20-30 minutes. Cool slightly, strain out the petals, then add 1/4 cup of shaved beeswax and 2 heaping tablespoons of shea butter, stir to melt, place in clean jars and let cool completely.

  2. El, you are uncanny. I was just wondering how to use all the calendula out there, figuring there must be some good medicinal use for them. Thanks, once again!

  3. This is the year I should have planted calendula. It would have like it in Virginia this year – instead of expiring in June as it normally does because it’s too hot- since we are actually having balmy (pun intended) weather.

    What a lovely color!

  4. Ahhh manicured nails. I recently went on vacation and didn’t work out in the yard for a week. To my amazement, my fingernails got clean. Once trimmed and filed, they actually looked presentable. Now that I’m back to work in the garden, my hands are back to their disreputable look. I can live with that.

  5. I am anxious to try this, as I have planted many of these little girls and want to use thier properties.

    Thank you

  6. Ah, calendula balm, is truly miraculous. I love making it. The calendula flowers steeping in the oil remind of jewels. My mother, a non-glove wearing gardener, swears by this balm. It’s part of her garden kit. The calendula infused oil is also good to use.

    Give me the hands of a gardener any day….but I’ve never been a manicured kind of gal.

  7. I never knew that about marigolds 🙂 I love them for the orange/yellow color (all blossoms of that color actually) so this is good to know that they can be helpful in other ways too. Where do you get the shea butter? And seal the jars? Is it okay just to screw on the lids, or do they have to be sealed like jam in a water bath?

    • I just realized I forgot to type “pot marigold” in my last post.. whoops. Time to actually wake up and shake off the brain fog to get ready for the day… .

  8. manicured nails? what might they be? oh yes, somewhere in the deep recesses a vague recollection….can’t wait to try this slapdash recipe, especially since slapdash is my middle name. Thanks El~

  9. Kate, I’m here to serve!! Actually the stuff SMELLS fantastic, and it’s right up your alley. You can skip the shea butter but I put it in because it makes the salve a touch creamier.

    Sylvie, you have to plant the stuff? It so reliably self-seeds I guess I don’t have that problem. I love how it’s the last thing to die back in the winter too: it’s a win-win. Next year?

    WS, we could go on and on about how manicured hands are the trappings of a pampered life, but we won’t, will we now? I’m a glove-wearing gardener and mine are still a mess, but it’s mainly the work I do indoors with the produce that really messes them up. Like blackberries, which stain the UNDERSIDES of nails, yuck. Glad to hear you stepped away for a bit of vaca! I am sure you’re glad to be back though.

    Hi Linda! I think you’ll like it. It’s so golden when it’s steeping, it will make you happy.

    Nada! So glad you seconded the balm. And I am glad to hear your mum thinks it’s just the best: that’s high praise and a huge endorsement. I like it so far, it’s nice and creamy, feels terribly indulgent…

    MC, like I told Kate, you don’t necessarily need the shea butter, but you can get it in health stores generally (cocoa butter too). I added it because I have found straight beeswax/oil balms to be a bit too hard to just get out and put on my hands; they’re lots better for lip balms. You don’t need to seal them tight. Me, all I have lying around here is canning jars (imagine that) so that’s what I used!

    Randi, I am sure you have more than just calendula around your place to make all manner of lovely things. But yeah, it’s nice on elbows and feet too or wherever a gardener feels he/she needs a bit of pampering. In fact my husband likes it too…

  10. Another reason to try again next year for my Calendula seeds…this year I started too late to get them in, so tried to start the seeds inside. They all damped off. Rotten luck. But I was trying to grow them for just this reason! Will have to hold on to your recipe for the balm–I hope I’ll be able to use it next year!

  11. Oooh I am so trying this! Thanks for a timely post I was just looking at my calendula (and chamomile) and wondering what to do when I trim it back.

  12. Oh, I love the smell of calendula infusing! I like to do it over a low heat for several hours. I can’t decide which I like better, the yellow from calendula, or the green from comfrey. 🙂

  13. Sparow, why not sow a small patch outside now? They’d stil get a chance to bloom. And yeah, it’s pretty magical stuff, that balm. I scratched my (bare) ankle pretty well with some blackberry brambles and the salve has really helped with the itching and redness.

    Sara, chamomile makes wonderful tea, you know! And yes you should also let that chamomile self-seed. Give the balm a try!

    Rurality, I defer to your vast experience in all things herby/botanical, but I agree, I thought the infusion smelled MARVELOUS…at first I thought the olive oil was simply “off” but no, it was the flowery calendula at the beginning of the steeping. And comfrey. Can you believe I don’t grow any? Talk about not having my street cred as an organic gardener! I had it in Minneapolis but didn’t move it. I have a line on some Russian comfrey so that’ll get going this fall too….

  14. Thanks! Now I know what to do with the flowers I’m harvesting today – I was going to just use them in salad, but this is perfect.

    I have some almond oil left over from other mixings and think I’ll try that instead of the olive oil.

    • Hi Jennifer: Almond oil should work pretty well too. The reason olive oil is used is because it takes a while to go rancid, and all oils will eventually go rancid! I know almond oil has a shorter shelf life, so…just wanted to let you know, so you use it up quickly! Good luck.

  15. Thanks for letting me know – I had no idea almond oil has a shorter shelf life than olive…guess I’d better check mine. It’s a cosmetic grade, not food grade, so I wonder if that makes a difference? I’ll look into it now that you said something!

    • No problem. One of my favorite cuticle creams went rancid on me and it’s just such a shame (it was less than a year old, commercially made) because of course almond oil is just heavenly smelling! You know, like little holiday cookies on the ends of your fingers…well, at least it smelled that way at first then phew! Anyway, I haven’t had any issues with 2 year old olive-oil based balms that I have made, but usually they don’t stick around even a year!

  16. How fun! I just made a balm this week with beeswax and olive oil I’d steeped calendula, comfrey & lavender in for a few weeks. A few drops of lavender oil were added for scent. I love this stuff and can’t seem to stop giving it away! It’s soooo wonderful.

  17. Wow! What a find! There just isn’t enough ideas out there on how to make things like balms and our own bath and beauty products. Everyone always wants to sell them in book form. What a great tidbit- PLEASE write on other ideas in this department! I will bookmark this blog for sure!

  18. Hello! My daughter and I just found your mixture online after looking for an easy way to make the calendula balm. We recently visited a living history museum and learned that the Shakers also dried and used calendula in this way. Ours came out great! We used small baby food jars and my daughter made labels with crayon and colored pencils. Lovely! I have to admit that the olive oil smell is a bit much for me…even though it is gone in an hour or so…but the lovely benefits of the cream last on! The beeswax forms a nice barrier on the skin which may even help the dirt from the garden wash off! Do you have any ideas for adding some scent? We were thinking of trying baby oil since we ran out of olive oil. Thanks!

  19. Calendula is my favorite flower and great antiseptic plant. Check Calendula.name – All about calendula blog

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