Mar 302008

Making most all of my salves in animal fat is this past year’s herbal experiment. Lard is an interesting substance, lovely and white and creamy and… so very smelly. At the moment, I’m having to use plain ol’ storebought lard since I haven’t found a good source for easily obtainable and affordable organic lard and I’m out of bear fat just now (I’m going to try making lard with the next beaver tail I get though). Regular lard from pork smells kind of like bacon, but weirder. Considering the aroma, I tend use an equally strong smelling herbs in order to balance the aroma effect. Nevertheless, the salve still usually ends up smelling a bit like food.

Why use lard, you ask. For a few reasons, not the least of which is how easily absorbed into human skin it is, making for a better vehicle of healing than plant based oils. Another is the fact that one can easily make lard from available animal fat, and I haven’t figured out how to make almond or olive oil yet. Also, you don’t have to ad beeswax to lard salves, making it a cheaper alternative to the normal olive oil and beeswax method. Animal fat, often bear fat, is the traditional way of making salves for many primitive peoples because it works well and is easily made from available resources.

You can likely make lard salves with a crockpot or double boiler or any other standard warm infusion method. I generally use the method taught to me by a cantankerous old Mexican though, which is to melt a bunch of lard in a pot, and crush up a bunch of some dried smelly, traditional healing herb like Sage or Sweet Clover and toss that in. Keep the temp fairly low, you don’t want crackling, you just want very warm fat. Stir frequently and let infuse with the lid on for at least forty five minutes, or until the plant matter begins to lose its color. For fresh plants like Estafiate (Wild Mugwort) or Indian Tobacco (that’s Mullein to all you non-local gringos), chop the plant up and toss into hot fat, but leave the lid off or at least cracked so that the water can evaporate out. It’s done with the plants are crispy (deep fried Mullein anyone?), usually in about forty five minutes to an hour. After removing the fat from the heat, let sit for about ten or fifteen minutes, then strain very carefully (animal fat gets hot hot hot and burns like hell if you’re not careful). Pour into appropriate containers and allow to set in a cool place. I was not taught with any particular proportions but the well known 1:5 for dry plants and 1:2 for fresh plants works fine.

When you’re all done, you have a nice traditional form of salve that works tremendously well. I expect that many of you, my esteemed readers, will not like the peculiar smell. And no, I can’t say that bear or beaver fat smells that much better either, different but not necessarily better. Beaver fat from winter killed beaver can sometimes taste/smell a bit like gamey cottonwood buds though, which might be better than bacon, depending on your viewpoint. I however, have grown rather fond of the scent of White Sage and bacon.

You can also make a good fat based salve with ghee, which at this point in time might actually be more cost effective than olive oil and beeswax. Either way, I find these animal fat based salves to be very therapeutically effective, and a great option for those who hunt, farm or otherwise have access to good lard or butter.

  10 Responses to “White Sage & Bacon: Adventures in Traditional Salve Making”

  1. This is so perfect for me. I make a lot of tisanes and want to make salves. I even make lip balms with beeswax. I have a ton of leaf lard, that wonderful fat from around the pigs kidneys that has been slow rendered and filtered so it doesnt really smell like bacon. The ladies at the organic pig farm sell it to me for 1.50 a kilo! I love making pies with it, but now you have inspired me to make some salves! thank you!!

  2. Woo-hoo, I just found an online source for leaf lard at 2.49/lb which will work nicely until I find a local source. Sweet Briar Farms I’ll let you know how it is….

    Riana, I’m excited to try the higher quality leaf lard and glad to know it smells better. Wild animal fat tends to smell regardless of what you do to it, so I’m impressed to know that the pig smell can be eliminated.

    White Sage without bacon, hmmm.

  3. Actually, with shipping, it doesn’t turn out so well…. I’m going to Silver City tomorrow so I’ll maybe I’ll check out what they have there, perhaps a potential local source as well….

  4. perfect timing on this post! since we still have the woodstove going, and have been enjoying a lot of organic local bacon, i’ve saved up quite a bit of grease and have been thinking about experimenting with it in salve. thanks for the informative post (as always)!

  5. Hey girl!
    I would love to send you some of our hand rendered lard from our happy pastured pigs…….if you want to email me your addy I will get some right out to you as a big thanks for your blog and all I have learned from reading and enjoying it! (I realize that its not exactly sustainable to ship it so far but it’ll hold you through until you find a good local source, I also have some goat fat you may enjoy playing with)
    I have actually been spending the last couple years immersed in the land of traditional fats as medicine and in herbal preps….there is not much info out there but it just plain makes sense. I’ve also noticed absolutely NO rancidity problems or plant infused oils going moldy which is really cool. And I think the spirit and essence of the animal becomes part of the medicine which adds another interesting element….
    Many green blessings!

  6. Hi Kiva,

    How do you use your white sage salve?
    I think I might try this since I have an excess of sage right now.
    I once mixed powdered herb in with lard to make a salve, but I’ve
    never tried infusing in lard before.


  7. Shawna, you have email!

    Hi Cory, I use it a lot like Lavender, it’s strongly anti-bacterial, helps with pain and healing etc, nice for burns after the heat is gone and for any general wound care including sprains and strains.

  8. cool thanks.. I was thinking wound care.

  9. Thank you so much for your blog. I’d like to share my method of rendering smell-free, pure white lard (works for beef suet as well).
    I use fresh trimmings from the local butcher (he thinks I’m nuts for asking him to save 5lbs of fat). After it’s melted down in the crock pot, I strain it through cheesecloth, but then (here’s the secret), I pour it into a big stainless pot and add a LOT of water. Then it goes in the fridge overnight. In the am, the particulates have all sunk to the bottom and the absolutely clean white lard has floated to the top and solidified into a nice solid cake. Just take it out and dry it off. I don’t use store-bought lard because it’s pumped full of hydrogen to keep it solid at room temp. Cheers!

  10. […] using extra virgin olive oil.  (If you think lard is gross to use for a salve base, read this and this.  As soon as I can find some, I’m going to try […]

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