Natural healing has skyrocketed in recent years. From essential oils to the use of tree resins and even altering our diets; there has been a shift away from man-made medicines. I for one am all about reducing my reliance on big pharmaceuticals to keep my family and my animals healthy.
One way I’ve started to explore natural medicine is by making Balm of Gilead. By using what we have here on the farm, I can create something safe enough to use on babies as well as my birds. Not only is the balm anti-microbial but it’s also an amazing analgesic. As a bonus, some find the smell a pleasant reminder of spring. AND, it’s free!
I found a great page online that breaks down some of the historical uses, properties and benefits of using Balm of Gilead. Herbs with Rosalie details a bit about cottonwood and why it is so beneficial. If you Google “Balm of Gilead” or “Cottonwood Balm”, you’ll find a load of information and recipes.
Cottonwood trees grow all over our 25 acre farm. In the spring they graciously drop plenty of small branches studded with precious resin laden buds. The key is harvesting buds with plenty of sticky resin in the early spring. By picking up wind shed branches I’m not reducing any newly erupting foliage. A good tip is to use gloves and choose clean, dirt-free branches. Preferably it’s best to not wash the buds in order to reduce the water content in your finished balm. I seek out plump green buds with drops of resin clearly visible.
I’ve personally used a couple of different recipes – one with bee’s wax and one without. Depending on what your intended use is, this will determine the consistency you will require. This year I wanted a softer, easier to apply version of the balm.
Gilead Oil Rub
- 1 Cup Extra Virgin Organic Olive Oil
- 1 Cup Organic Coconut Oil (solid at room temp)
- 4 Cups Cottonwood Buds
Combine and heat all ingredients on low heat for 1-2 hours. Stir regularly to make sure sap resins are absorbed into the oil. Pour slowly or use cheese cloth to strain, place the finished oil in a sealed glass jar. The used buds can be discarded or composted.
IMPORTANT – Use an OLD pot and utensils when making your balm. My wax melting pot worked well but the bud resin residue required a bit of elbow grease and an SOS pad to remove. If you get sticky resin on your hands, you can use rubbing alcohol or lemon essential oil to remove it.
The result of this year’s recipe yielded only 1 jar of very concentrated Gilead Oil Rub. In comparison to last year’s Balm it has a much looser consistency. I plan on storing it in the fridge for cold application after a long day of summertime garden work. The difference in color is mainly due to the olive oil but by comparing the scent I can already tell it is stronger.
My 2016 Balm of Gilead was made in much the same manner but with a Organic Coconut Oil and bee’s wax base. Over this past year I’ve used it to help heal up Bumblefoot in one of my hens. It was also a great chicken comb moisturizer and to ward off comb & wattle frostbite as the weather got cold. On myself it has been a great on chapped skin, as an antibiotic ointment substitute and as a muscle pain reliever. The only drawback is that repeat application can cause the skin to be tinged a slight yellow color.