It was June 24th.
I was biking back home after a late afternoon, post-work gym session. The scenery, ever changing throughout the seasons week after week, is astounding here. I bike through sunflower fields, vegetable gardens, and an overgrowth of alfalfa – so, so wonderfully perfumed if let flower – equisetum, and lemon balm. There is even a little water stream in the trench below that did not succumb to this season’s blistering heat, and gargles joyful, adding its voice to that of cicadas and sparrows.
A little bush of gold catches my attention as I quickly ride past it. I turn back, hunch over it, and can hardly believe my eyes.
A tiny, tiny bouquet of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) timidly sat, half-hidden, to the edge of the road.
I had looked for it through and through around the surrounding fields, only to find a good bunch of nothing. And now that little cluster of golden flowers was there, looking at me, all cute and bright.
I didn’t even have time to snap a photo of it. I picked it, making sure not to damage the roots, brought it home and immediately infused it in some olive oil.
Now that fresh herbs are so vastly available, I re-stocked my pantry with all sorts of herbal infusions (including jams and liquors you might have seen through my Instagram stories). Recently I got back to using essential oils and making concoctions of all sorts, and all the beekepers around here have fresh honey and beeswax, now that the bees are restlessly swarming on all sorts of flowers. So I got back to making balms – including an extremely useful one against mosquito bites – using my newly infused herbal oils. I shared a face mask on this blog before and it was successful, so here is my natural beauty section opening again!
Depending on the kind of ingredients used, this balm has several uses:
- alleviates mosquitoes stings (see recipe below!);
- deeply nourishes the skin (try it on dry hands, or sensitive areas like elbows and heels – do not use on face!);
- relieves pain from light bruises and burns, especially if made with soothing herbal oils like arnica, marigold or chamomile and maybe a few drops of mint or eucalyptus oil;
- As a lip balm, if only made with beeswax (or, even BETTER, cacao butter!!) + oil (herbal or neutral) and maybe just a very few drops of essential oils you love to lightly perfume it.
BASIC FORMULA FOR CREATING A BEESWAX BALM
For a basic balm, you only need two ingredients, plus some add-ons which are not really necessary anyway.
- 15% ORGANIC VIRGIN BEESWAX (Cera Alba)
Beeswax is rich in vitamin A as well as other vitamins, and is known for its nourishing and repairing properties. Make sure it is organic, or residual pesticides might release into the fat the wax will be melted in.
If you buy it from a beekeeper, the wax might not be virgin and be of a dark brownish color. In this case, melt it very gently on a bain-marie until melted. The dirt will float to the surface. Scoop if off and let cool. The wax should now be much paler. This process is just like making ghee.
Vegan Subs: shea butter | Cacao butter | coconut oil (see more info below)
85% OIL or HERBAL OIL
Again, use organic, virgin oils. Olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower, and pumpkin seed, almond oils are some of the best oils to use for this kind of preparations.
By infusing these oils with specific herbs, you can make herbal oils with more medicinal properties. You can buy pre-made herbal oils or you can make your own if you have access to organic fresh herbs.
All these oils are only intended for external use.
The best nourishing and healing plants to use for this purpose are those with repairing, antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which are:
Arnica (Arnica Montana) – the most used against bruises and muscular pains.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) – thus called because its golden flowers reach their balsamic peak during St.John’s day, June 24th. It produces a deep red oil. Do not use if pregnant or if taking medication of any kind.
Marigold (Calendula Officinalis) & Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla) – two plants known for their calming, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Do not underestimate the power of these herbs. Their properties are strong and extremely effective, so make sure you are not sensitive to any of them. St.John’s Wort is so strong that it is advised against its use if on birth control or other medication. Oils like calendula and chamomile are considered the safest and can be used by mostly anyone.
See here my tutorial for making infused chamomile vanilla oil!
The best oils to use, both for infusion and to use as is, are those rich in antioxidants and vitamins, preferably odorless: almond, jojoba, sunflower, pumpkin seed. Olive oil is great too but it has more of a smell. Pick the one that is easiest for you to find or afford (I like sunflower as I can get an odorless version that is quite cheap).
Essential oils are wonderful concentrations of nature. They make me think of a game I once played called Legend of Mana, where the ‘Mana’ was the quintessential spirit of plants and beings. Well, essential oils are pretty much the same thing. They are not really ‘oils’, but they are soluble in oil and not in water. Each oil has wonderful properties, but must be used carefully. No E.O should be used directly on your skin, and not all are food grade. Some can be even toxic. But, when diluted in oils or alcohol, they give the best of themselves and can be used for many, many purposes. They are a bit of an investment but once you have them they will last a long time and can be used for balms, perfumes, salves, and even recipes provided they’re food grade (it should be written on the package, otherwise ask when buying them).
If you have skin sensitivities or take medication, make sure to ask your doctor before using them.
Now I have about 10 different ones and love using them!
The combination of these 3 elements gives you a great formula for basic balms. If you use less beeswax, you will get a creamier consistency. If you use more, you’ll get a stiffer balm. If using vegan alternatives, I recommend using 50% butters + 50% oil.
MY BALM POST-MOSQUITO BITES
When last year we gathered for our Gradara Workshops, Betty Liu constantly kept pulling out this wonderful Chinese balm that she’d smother on her mosquitoes stings (sorry for all the Italian mosquitoes, Betty!) that would work magic, and I thought about creating something similar. I clearly remember its strong minty smell, slightly reminiscent of a classic Italian remedy called Olio 31, an oil made out of 31 herbs. This balm uses less than that, but the oils here are perfect for this purpose: lavender is soothing, tea tree has very strong antibacterial properties, mint is refreshing, and bergamot is a great antiseptic, to which you can substitute lemon. Rosemary helps keep insects away and is a good antiseptic (and, IMO, makes this concoction smell fantastic).
If you do not have rosemary EO or do not like it, feel free to omit it.
If you wish, you can sub lavender EO for basil EO.
You can sub Cajeput EO for Tea Tree EO (both have similar functions, but cajeput has less of a strong smell)
VEGAN OPTIONS FOR BEESWAX: if you do not want to use bee products, there can be some alternatives.Two great options are Shea butter and cacao butter, which will get you more of a cream than a balm. I would also say coconut oil, if you’re ok with it being liquid with the heat. In this case, use 45 g coconut oil instead of the wax.
You can also do it in an alcohol solution: make a 85% alcohol solution by combining – with – water, and add the essential oils mentioned below. Store in a dark bottle away from sunlight, and dab on mosquito bites with some cotton.
This amount makes two small lip balm-like containers, or one larger 40 ml jar. Just double the amounts if making more, but if it’s your first time using these ingredients just make a little and see how your skin reacts. Though this works for me and actually helps against insect stings, it might not be the same for you. But I love it regardless because of the smell!
- A 250ml / 1 cup clean jar
- ½ cup active plant parts (flowers, leaves) of one of the following: chamomile or marigold (flowers only), or St.John's Wort (flowers & leaves)
- Enough organic virgin oil to cover. Olive oil is great, or choose sunflower, almond or rapeseed for options with less odor.
- 7 g (about 2 heaping teaspoons) virgin beeswax (See note above for VEGAN alternatives)
- 30 g (about 2 tablespoons) herbal oil or virgin, organic, odorless oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or almond
- 20 drops Lavender Essential Oil
- 20 drops Tea Tree EO
- 10 drops Mint EO
- 10 drops Bergamot or Lemon EO
- 5 drops rosemary EO
- EXTRA: 5 drops, or a capsule, tocopherol (vitamin E)
- Add the herbs to the jar and cover with oil. The herbs should take up about half the jar, while the oil should get up to ¾. Store in a cool, dark place for about 30 days, then filter through a muslin cloth into a clean jar. Store in a dark, cool place.
- ST.JOHN'S WORT OIL IS THE EXCEPTION: this plant is fully activated by the sun, so leave it to infuse in full sunlight. After a few days, the oil will start to turn red. Once ready, after 30 days, and filtered, store in a dark place.
- melt the beeswax gently over a bain-marie. Make sure you do it this way, or too harsh a heat might ruin its properties.
- Once the wax is melted (stir it every now and then), remove from the bain-marie and add the oil. The wax will probably form some lumps but it will smooth off as it cools. Wait for it to get to a slightly creamy consistency, and add the essential oils and extras if using. Transfer to a small glass container (I used a small Weck jar with a clip lid), and let solidify completely.
- Store preferably in a dark place (even your bag is fine), and it will keep for quite a long time, especially if you added tocopherol.
- Add 10 drops geranium oil, and 10 drops citronella oil. Do not skip the lavender!
Do you make any DIY beauty products? Let me know!
This recipe was possible thanks to these (unsponsored) sources (most info is in Italian!)
Marco Valussi – Oli Essenziali Istruzioni per l’Uso
Eden Style Magazine
Essential oils sources: ZenStore | Erbamea | Puress.Oil