Allotment adventures: making flower oils and salves

This year I have made flower oils and salves for the first time.

I grow calendula (pot marigold) on the allotment as a food plant for insects and also because I am fond of the flowers. They give a bright splash of colour across the plot, and I enjoy the simplicity of the daisy flower form. We also use the petals in salads, as a garnish and herb.

This year the calendula grew and flowered particularly prolifically, to the point where I was weeding them out as they encroached on other crops.

It happens that calendula oil and salve are both quite expensive, so I decided to see if I could make them myself. It turns out to be quite easy to do, provided you get the ingredient proportions and the working temperatures right. There are good instructions in various books and websites including those listed below.

Harvesting the calendula petals happened during a particularly hot spell of weather so I just put a jar of petals packed in olive oil on the windowsill, and turned the jar round each day. I forgot to dry the petals first – I am not sure how much difference that will make. The oil turned a dark yellow as the petals gave up their essence. After three weeks, I strained the oil, and bottled it. I bought some beeswax, and melted it in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water, then added the cold strained oil. It instantly set as the cold oil hit the hot wax – that was exciting – so I beat the mixture thoroughly until it went creamy. This ended up with a good textured salve which I ladled into a couple of containers.

Of course I had to test it. I tried it on 3 experimental subjects: my husband, a friend and myself. We’re pleased to report that there were no ill effects, and that the salve does seem to sooth dry, rough or damaged skin. I’m not sure if this is the calendula, or whether it is just the effect of olive oil mixed with beeswax. The smell is quite strange – slightly medicinal, but not offensive.

Next, I tried lavender. A neighbour has a very large lavender bush and asked if I would like to harvest some of the lavender before he cut it back. This time I followed a different recipe, specifically for lavender oil. I dried the heads and stalks and then steeped the lavender in olive oil as before. This time, the weather was cooler and less sunny, so I left the flowers steeping for much longer, about 6 weeks. The recipe for the lavender oil suggested heating the oil with the beeswax, and then pouring the liquid to the storage jars, allowing the mix to set in the jars. So I did that, and the result is a much harder texture than the calendula salve. The smell is lovely, and the texture of the salve when applied to the skin is very good, and it goes into the skin more quickly than the calendula salve. I am not sure if the difference in texture is because the proportions on beeswax to oil are different in this recipe, or if the beating the calendula salve whipped air into it making a more mousse-like texture.

For the lavender salve, I have extended the test group and given small pots to 5 experimental subjects: my husband, 3 friends and myself. Now awaiting reports from the others, but I think it seems to be pleasant to use.

I shall try making more oils and salves next year, and will experiment with changing proportions and methods until I get the texture I like best. I may also try other flowers and herbs from the garden and allotment.

Useful references and recipes:

I looked at two books from the library:

  • Make your own skin care products: how to create a range of nourishing and hydrating skin care products by Sally Hornsey
  • Natural soap by Melinda Coss

And I also looked at various websites and used these recipes: