Herbal Apothecary: Healing Hand Balm

It's officially Super Cold here. When I had to leave the house this morning, it was 9 degrees out, and this evening we are expecting (perhaps) a foot of snow.

The furnace in this drafty old house is getting a major workout, and that leaves us with the driest air this side of Phoenix. Forced hot air from an oil-burning furnace is about the worst of all possible home-heating combination: it’s expensive and it's uncomfortably dry. And with our largely uninsulated old house (we're working on it, I promise), it's running nonstop on days like this.

And that has led to some seriously dry skin, especially for our hands. And for certain residents of this house who tend to pick at hangnails, it can be a painful time of year.

Herbs to the rescue!

I have been very happy with my homemade lotion, but I realize that it isn't very masculine-smelling with its rosewater and other (slightly) girly essential oils. So I decided to make a good, thick, and unscented hand balm that everyone could use over the winter.

I based the recipe on the one I used for lip balm, but added some cocoa butter for additional richness. I also used my new favorite herbal combination of calendula and comfrey for their healing and soothing properties.

First, I made an herb oil by pouring a scant 1/2 cup of olive oil over dried comfrey and calendula. I didn't really measure, but I estimate that I used about half a dozen comfrey leaves and two handfuls of calendula.

I used a spatula to crush and submerge all the herbs into the oil. I used just the very lowest possible heat on the burner until the oil was warm, then turned it off, covered it, and let it sit over night and through until the next afternoon when I got to it again.

After straining the herbal oil, I had about 3/8 of a cup, which I know because I poured it into a liquid measuring cup. I added enough chunks of cocoa butter (which is solid at room temperature) to make the oil rise to the 1/2 cup mark, which was the amount of oil I was looking for.

Then I set the oils to melting in a saucepan over very low heat. While it was warming up, I added 4 tablespoons of beeswax pearls to melt as well:

The beeswax takes longer to melt, but stirring will keep you busy when it gets boring. Once it was melted, I gave it a final stir and poured it into a container: 

I wish I had a better jar, but I really needed something pretty flat, so that you can reach to the bottom to scoop out a handful with no trouble. I ended up using a Chobani yogurt cup. It's a great shape, and this doesn't really need a lid because it's solid once it cools. But I'll be on the lookout for something nicer in for the future.

Once it cools, it looks like a giant, golden lip balm. The first drag through it was kind of hard, but now that I have a finger-width groove carved in it, it's easy to scoop out a little balm to run into your hands when they are dry. It lasts a good long while, so it's great to use right before bed or before you put gloves on when you leave the house.

Not as good to use right before you use your iPhone, though. Like any homemade lotion, it's a little greasy feeling if you're used to store-bought, but that's because it doesn't have any alcohol in it to help it evaporate quickly. But that actually makes it work better, and this one gives you a nice barrier against the elements for a few hours.

And it doesn't smell like anything, which is nice for hands — getting a perfumey "taste" of lotion when you're trying to eat is the worst!


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