I had originally planned on rendering lard to make an ointment but I honestly couldn’t find a reference to this being a Celtic practice, although I feel almost certain that it was done. I did find an interesting description of a healing salve made with golden rod, self-heal and butter. (Hopman, 2010, p. 143) Unfortunately I couldn’t find the exact process, so I was forced to experiment. My first attempt was atrocious. I tried making an infused oil by melting down the butter and adding the goldenrod and self-heal. It was less than successful. The butter clarified and it seemed to cook the herbs rather than draw any of the constituents out of them. The other day some friends and I were chatting about a method for making an infused milk preparation.
I decided that if an infusion could be made with milk, I could infuse cream and then make the butter from the infused cream So I put 2 cups of whipping cream and some fresh goldenrod and self-heal leaves in a small pan and turned the burner on to the lowest setting and just let it sit there, overnight.
In the morning you can see that the cream had taken on some of the goldenrod’s color. Seeing that as a good sign, I strained the cream and whipped it into butter. I won’t lie to you here, I used my kitchen aid. Churning butter is one of the chores I don’t miss from my youth. But it could be done if necessary. After the butter solids formed. I strained them and let them drain for a while.
Then I paddled the butter to get out the excess moisture. The yellow color here is not the natural color of butter, it is actually quite pale unless annatto has been added. I ended up with five ounces of goldenrod-self-heal ointment and eight ounces of buttermilk that I am going to save to make face cream with later in the week.
I am actually really excited by how well this turned out. Ointment making is usually pretty costly because it involves using oils that you have to order in and beeswax. This is a low cost alternative. Butter freezes well, so this would keep indefinitely without the worry of the salve going rancid. Of course this first batch wasn’t a very economical use of time given the trial-and-error process which resulted in the first botched batch. The fact that I started with a very small amount of cream so as not to waste it if it didn’t turn out properly, also made it less cost effective. I would want to do this in larger batches in the future.
It is also amazing because I made it entirely from local products. I knew that this had to be possible because traditional use of ointments occurred long before trade routes would have been established for procuring oils. I am going to continue to look for a reference which discusses making ointments from rendered animal fats, due to concerns I have about people with dairy sensitivities using this product.
I have heard a theory that short-chain fatty acids have a greater trans-dermal effect, meaning that they are absorbed more easily. I decided to research the size of the fatty acid chains present in butter and was pleased to find that it has a “larger amount of short-chain fatty acids” (Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2013) This may account for more effective results, but I want to test that theory further. I am going to give the one ounce testers out for some feedback. If it is positive, I might start making more ointments this way. I am probably a little too excited about this prospect.