Here are two lovely recipes from my book Wild Medicine – Spring, published by Aeon Books. I hope you enjoy them – if you like these recipes, why not consider buying the book to add to your bookshelf? It’s a handy more or less pocket sized book filled with recipes and anecdotes, plus plant photographs.
Birch Infused Oil
A pint of freshly picked, dry birch leaves, loosely packed
Organic seed oil
Check over the leaves for livestock and any damp bits – discard any insect marked or discoloured leaves. Use a clean, dry cloth to mop off any water, as I know gathering herbs for oil making in the spring can be difficult with the amount of rain we get over here in the UK! If you have a few damp leaves, I suggest wiping them off as much as you can then laying them out in a basket in a warm, dry place for a few hours to get the last bit to evaporate off. One easy way to dry the leaves is to lay out a clean, dry tea towel, lay out a single layer of the leaves, then place another tea towel over the top and pat it down using gentle but firm motions, making sure you cover the whole tea towel. Once you are sure the leaves are all dry, use a mezzaluna or even a food processor to finely chop them, and pile them into the top of a double boiler.
Cover the herbs with the vegetable or seed oil, allowing a half centimeter of oil on top and, making sure there is water in the bottom of the pot, put them on a low to moderate heat for at least an hour, keeping an eye on the water level to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. By the time an hour has gone by, the oil should have turned a deep green colour, at which point the herbs can be filtered out. You can make a double infused batch if you want to, by gathering and chopping a second batch of leaves and repeating the process using the already infused oil instead of fresh. If you have a wood burning stove, this is a lovely way to make the oil as you will warm your home at the same time.
You can also make this infused oil in a slow cooker if you want to – just make sure it is on the low setting and leave it to infuse for at least four hours, longer if possible. If you have any concerns about the possible presence of water in your finished oil, stand it overnight in a pyrex jug or bowl. You will often find that any water in the finished product will sink to the bottom and can then be discarded.
100mls of infused Birch oil as per recipe above
12g of beeswax per 100mls of oil – beeswax pellets work well.
Essential oils as preferred. Mint works beautifully here, as does orange – if you go for these two, use 10 drops of orange and 5 of mint per 100mls.
Pour the infused oil and the beeswax into the top of the clean, dry double boiler and put the whole thing on to warm through gently, stirring occasionally. Once the beeswax pellets have melted, stir it again thoroughly and add the essential oils. Up to 15 drops of essential oil per 100mls of oil makes for a pleasant, not overpowering fragrance, but the quantity really depends on which oil you want to use and what the purpose of the final salve is. Stir the mixture again briefly and pour it into clean, dry jars, putting the lid on once the salve has cooled slightly. I like to rest the lid on as soon as the salves have been poured, to stop too much of the fragrance from evaporating off.
Birch salve and infused oil are both wonderful for cellulitis and any conditions where muscles and joints are sore and inflamed – rheumatism, arthritis, sports injuries and strained muscles, for example. If you wanted to, you could smear a generous layer of birch salve onto a clean cloth and bandage it lightly over a painful joint or muscle to really allow the salve to soak in steadily.