By Catherine Winter
I can’t believe it’s the end of November already. So much has happened over the last few weeks that I was shocked to wake up this morning and discover that there’s only a week left before December rolls on in. Winter will arrive in full swing shortly thereafter, and with it will undoubtedly come the colds and flus that inevitably show up as soon as temperatures plummet.
Since I tend to eschew store-bought medicines in favour of those I make myself, I put together a few pots of this chest salve every year. Normally half a dozen people I care about will come down with bronchitis or a nasty head cold, and this rub does wonders to help people breathe. It also does wonders for asthma attacks, and I’ve even been known to massage it into my temples and forehead to ease migraines.
When it comes to making homemade salves, it’s important to use the highest quality ingredients you can afford. Much like how food nourishes your body, medicines that are meant to heal you on a cellular level should be as nurturing as possible.
Chest Salve for Coughs, Colds, and Flus
I base my salve on a recipe in one of Rosemary Gladstar’s books, but have tweaked it as I’ve determined what works best for me. You may wish to make a few versions of it with different essential oil (EO) proportions, and see which you like best. These oils in particular have wonderful decongestant and antiviral properties, and also help you smell pretty fabulous when you’re feeling sickly and gross.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon beeswax pellets (you can use carnauba wax if you’d like to make yours vegan)
- 12-15 drops eucalyptus EO
- 10-12 drops pine EO
- 8-10 drops camphor EO (use fewer drops if making this for children)
- 5-7 drops peppermint EO
- 5 drops rosemary EO
- 2 drops wintergreen EO*(if this is for kids, eliminate wintergreen and increase peppermint – see the note at the end of this article)
- A small, clean jar to pour it into (I use the 50ml amber glass jars from Mountain Rose Herbs for my salves, but mini jam jars can also be used in a pinch
Heat your olive oil on very low heat in a small glass, ceramic, or enameled saucepan. You can also use a double-boiler method for this, as long as you’re careful not to let any water get into the oil mixture.
Once the oil has warmed, add in the beeswax pellets and use a small whisk or spoon to stir them around thoroughly. When they’re just about melted completely, remove the saucepan from the heat and keep stirring to ensure a homogeneous mixture.
Let this cool for just a minute or two before adding in the essential oils. Stir constantly as you mix them so they’re distributed evenly, then pour the mixture into your jar. You may need a spatula to scrape down the inside of the pot if it has cooled enough that the salve has started to congeal around the edges.
Close the jar’s lid and either set aside in a cool place to set, or place it right in the fridge. It’ll firm up a fair bit once cooled, but still be fluid enough that it will spread easily if you dip a finger into it. Take note of the texture: if you find it too squidgy, add more wax to your next batch, or add less wax if you find it a bit too firm.
Keeping it refrigerated doesn’t just extend its shelf life: it’s incredibly soothing to slather on a cool balm when you have a sore throat or if you’re sore and feverish. This salve works wonders to ease coughs and breathing difficulties when rubbed into one’s chest and upper back, and it’s great on the outer nostrils and across the forehead for sinus colds.
*Note: wintergreen oil is very powerful, and can be toxic in even moderate doses: if you choose to use this oil in your salve, be very sparing with it, and use it with care. Don’t add this oil to the salve if you’re planning to use it on children—either omit it entirely, or use a couple of extra drops of peppermint or even a bit of lavender instead.
Photos by the author, and Flickr creative commons.