Our cabin is on the edge of the wilderness, nestled in an evergreen forest. In the spring and summer, the forest floor is covered in native medicinal plants and just outside my door there is an abundance of Arnica, uva-ursi, wild roses, and red root.
But the warm weather is long gone in these woods and winter time provides a stark contrast to the diversity of summer. The forest floor is now covered in snow. The woods are quiet. Shrubs like elder and chokecherry poke out from the snow, sometimes dripping in icicles or with a carefully balanced layer of snow on their branches.
It would be easy for me to whine and complain about the scarcity of plants during these frigid months (…in truth, I sometimes do). So instead, I try to mimic the plants and their slumber. Now is the time to slow down. This time of year also gives me the opportunity to revel in the gifts of the one medicinal plant group that continues to shine: evergreens.
Aptly named, evergreen trees retain their green needles throughout our winter. In my forest we have an abundance of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Both of these trees offer many gifts. Their wood keeps us warm through the winter and many trees from this property were used to build the cabin that we call home. Evergreen trees can also be used as medicine. When the tree is wounded, it exudes a thick resinous pitch which makes an antimicrobial and pain-relieving salve that is also reputably good for drawing out splinters.
In this recipe we are going to be using the green needles. High in vitamin C, they make a delicious fresh tea (I am partial to Douglas-fir tea) that is also a great stimulating expectorant for congested mucus in the lungs.
They also simply smell wonderful. Because of holiday wreaths or Christmas trees, you may equate the resinous balsam smell of conifers with the season. For me, it’s simply the smell of home and the forest that has surrounded me for the past decade. The festive homemade lip balm in today’s recipe is attempting to bottle up that heady scent so that you can slather your lips in it any time of year.
You can use practically any evergreen needles for this recipe, with a few cautions. While most evergreen needles are safe to use, the needles from the yew tree (Taxus spp.) are not. Be sure to know the identity of your needles to make sure they are safe. If you would like to use the needles from your Christmas tree or holiday wreath, check with your supplier to make sure the trees or boughs weren’t sprayed with any strange chemicals.
Evergreen Homemade Lip Balm
Nourish your lips with this festive holiday homemade lip balm. It will protect your lips from the harsh elements of winter while smelling like the rich and resinous boughs of an evergreen tree. For the carrier oil you can use jojoba oil, almond oil, grape seed oil, or apricot kernel oil.
What you’ll need…
- 4 ounces carrier oil (measured by volume)
- 1/2 cup chopped evergreen needles
- 30 grams shea butter (roughly 1 ounce)
- 45 grams beeswax (roughly 1 1/2 ounces)
- 40 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
- Place the carrier oil and evergreen needles into a double boiler (or a pot with a metal bowl sitting on top of it).
- Heat the ingredients until they are fairly warm to the touch. Turn off the heat and let stand. Every couple of hours, reheat the oil, and then let stand. Continue this for 24 to 48 hours. When the oil is finished, it should smell like the the evergreen needles you are using.
- Strain off the evergreen needles from the oil using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Compost the needles.
- Place the shea butter and beeswax into a double boiler and melt until completely liquified. Add 3 ounces (by volume) of the evergreen infused oil. (If you don’t have enough infused oil, then add more carrier oil.) Heat slowly until the butter and wax melts again completely. Remove from heat. Add the optional peppermint essential oil and stir.
- Immediately place the mixture into something with a spout (such as a glass measuring cup) and carefully pour the mixture into lip balm tubes or small glass jars.
- Let stand to cool.
- Label and enjoy.
These make a great gift! This recipe makes approximately 3/4 cup, which filled approximately 32 lip balm tubes.
Now we’d love to hear from you.
Are you planning on making your holiday gifts this year?
Have any other fun ideas for using evergreen needles?
Let us know in the comments below.