It’s dewberry season around here which means we have stained fingernails and small thorns in our hands. We should wear gloves, I’m not sure exactly what it is about gloves that we don’t like when we pick berries but there’s something…and so we don’t wear them. We just deal with dirty looking fingernails; eventually they’ll be pretty again. But the thorns are another story. Most of them can be removed with tweezers but some get buried in the skin and it’s time to turn to our homemade black drawing salve.
Drawing salve is one of the salves I try to keep on hand. It can be used for a wide variety of things such as drawing out thorns or splinters, toxins from a bug bite, and infections. According to Amy Fewell in The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion it can also be used on frostbitten rooster combs. (I have a review of The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion below.) My teens will sometimes use it if they have a particularly painful and deep pimple.
I can whip it up really fast (in under an hour) so I only make a small batch at a time. Drawing salve is made just like a general use salve with infused oils, essential oils (optional) and beeswax, but with the addition of activated charcoal, bentonite clay, and castor oil.
Activated charcoal is used medicinally to draw out toxins. In fact, it’s used in emergency rooms for many patients who have been poisoned. This is not the same charcoal that is used to cook with, so don’t raid the BBQ supplies. You can find activated charcoal online or at your local pharmacy.
When most people hear “castor oil” they usually think of the stories their parents or grandparents told of having to take a spoonful when ever they were sick. But castor oil is also a great for external use. It has some anti-inflammatory and mild anti-microbial properties and it’s wonderful for coating and soothing skin. It can be left out of this recipe if you don’t have it, but I like to add it to drawing salves.
Plantain is well known as a skin healer, among other amazing properties. From The Herbal Academy’s Herbarium plantain monograph, “Plantain has been referred to by a Cherokee Elder as ‘Indian band aid,’ because it is an effective remedy for bites, stings, cuts, and scrapes, and it helps to draw out slivers, splinters, or stingers.”
“Calendula is a powerful wound and tissue healer (vulnerary) both externally and internally. It has long been used to soothe and heal cuts, burns, bites, sprains, bruises, rashes, sunburns, and abrasions due to its antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic, and tissue-healing actions. Calendula also contains salicylic acid so works as an analgesic to help relieve the pain associated with these types of wounds and skin irritations.” from The Herbal Academy’s Herbarium calendula monograph.
Keeping notes on the herbs your learning about is super important. If you want a printable form to help you get started just fill out the form below and it will be emailed to you.
How to make a black drawing salve
I used coconut oil to infuse the herbs but sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, or even olive oil would be good choices. If you use one of these oils you might need to add a bit more beeswax to make it the consistency you like.
- 3 Tbsp plantain infused coconut oil
- 3 Tbsp calendula infused coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp castor oil
- 2 Tbsp beeswax
- 1 Tbsp activated charcoal
- 1 Tbsp bentonite clay
- 25 drops lavender essential oil
- 15 drops tea tree essential oil
- Infuse coconut oil with dried herbs. You can do them in separate jars or together. I like to just make a makeshift double boiler with a mason jar and a pan of water. If you need help deciding how much herbs and oils to infuse you can find more information for infusing oil here.
- Put the strained infused oil into a one cup mason jar. Add castor oil and beeswax. Put mason jar in pan with with a bit of water and melt beeswax over medium heat. Be careful that none of the water gets into the jar with the oil and beeswax.
- Once the beeswax is melted, remove the jar from the pan and stir in activated charcoal, bentonite clay, lavender and tea tree oils.
As the salve cools it will firm up. I usually just leave it in the jar I made it in but it can be transferred into smaller tins while it’s still warm.
Over time all oils go rancid so use the drawing salve up within a year and don’t use it if it smells rancid before a year’s time.
To use – put drawing salve on thorns, splinters, bug bites, rashes, or any other skin issue where you need to draw something out. You can leave it on for up to 12 hours. The charcoal can stain things so be sure to put a bandage over the black drawing salve.
Review of The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion by Amy Fewell
A couple of months ago I received a lovely pre-release copy of The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion by Amy Fewell in the mail to review and after the book was published the publisher sent me a paperback copy. I have fallen in love with this book. In fact, I purchased the kindle edition too because I wanted to have the recipes available even if I loaned out my physical book.
Amy is a homesteader and it the organizer of the Homesteader’s of America conference, which I’ve heard wonderful things about and one day hope to make it there. I was pleased to find out that she has taken courses at both Vintage Remedies and The Herbal Academy – two of my favorite online herbal schools. Amy isn’t just a fly by night author, she knows her stuff.
There are fifteen chapters in the book along with beautiful photographs. The first part of the book covers the basics of herbalism, growing and foraging herbs, and drying and storing herbs and seeds. Then it moves on to the basics of making teas and tinctures, medicinal syrups, infused oils and salves, and then beauty products. I was surprised to find a chapter on essential oil use in an herbal book, but as the line between herbalism and aromatherapy gets fuzzier every year I shouldn’t have been. The last part of the book is full recipes for cooking with herbs and using herbs on livestock. I appreciate the last chapter where Amy shares what’s in her herbal (and aromatic) medicine cabinet and pantry. The list isn’t overwhelming and yet she’s able to meet her family’s needs.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is beginning their herbal journey, it’s not just a recipe book and it’s not just a reference book – it’s a combination of the two. I think anyone who has animals and wants to care for them in a more natural way would also enjoy this book. If you’ve been on your herbal journey for a while you might want to check this book out from the library first to see if it’s something you need in your personal library before you purchase it. That’s what I do with almost every book I want because we only have so much space for me to keep my library.
Lastly, Amy has a recipe for black drawing salve in her book. It’s a little different than mine but just as effective I’m sure. That’s the thing about herbal recipes is that they are versatile. There are usually several ways of making a remedy and they all work just as effectively.
Do you use black drawing salve? If what are your favorite uses for it?