Intuitive Solstice Salves – Herbalism for the Sacred Wheel of the Year

I find my practice of herbalism swinging into full gear around the Summer Solstice for the simple reason that the land is literally bursting with good medicine.  This is when, where I live, our elderflowers come in, St. Johns is in bloom, the Chamomile is producing her lovely flowers, the roses are blooming–it is a time of beautiful medicine!  Today I want to share a practice that I started back at the Winter Solstice and have continued through the Spring Equinox and now into the Summer Solstice–creating a season-appropriate, intuitive herbal salve.  This is part of my summer solstice series of posts – for more summer solstice posts, you can see: A Summer Solstice Sunrise Observance Ritual, Intuitive Herbal Sun Teas for Summer Solstice Healing, A 21st Century Wheel of the Year: Re-Visioning at the Summer Solstice, Living the Wheel of the Year: Spiritual and Sustainable Practices for the Summer Solstice, The Summer Solstice Sunrise: A Journey and Ritual of Illumination, Sacred Beekeeping at the Summer Solstice!  This is also tied to my earlier post on intuitive ceremony.

When we think of plant medicine, we often think of plant medicine in two categories: either to help us when we are sick or injured or have something wrong or to keep us well functioning.  So for example, if I’m super sick and running a fever with a sore throat, I might grab some Echinacea root or flower tincture and reishi mushroom double-extracted tincture to support my immune system, boneset, and elderflower to support a healthy fever response (including the elderflower cordial I make each summer solstice), and whatever other herbs were necessary to support the specific cold was manifesting in my body.  But I also take herbs daily to support well functioning, and for me that includes plant allies like New England Aster for my asthma, Reishi for just about everything, and Hawthorn for supporting a healthy cardiovascular system.

But there’s another use for herbs that often gets overlooked–using herbs simply for the pleasure of them and to connect more deeply with the wisdom of the green. It is to this third use that today’s post is about. Yes, plants are medicinal, but their medicine extends to not only our bodies but our minds, spirits, and hearts. Plants can heal us on any level, and their medicine can be joyful and wise. We can use them not only when we *need* them but also just to build deeper relationships with them. When you craft an intuitive solstice salve, you aren’t going for a specific physical medicinal benefit, but rather crafting something that when you use, aligns you powerfully with the season and the energy of the season. This means that a winter solstice salve may help you slow down and rest, while the summer solstice salve full of its zing and high energy from the sun will encourage you to keep on going!

I am grateful to my two herbalist friends who did this with me over the last three seasons and who helped me craft this practice.  I crafted the Summer Solstice salve (pictured here and below) with AC Stauble of the Traveling Herb Farmer and co-host of the Plant Cunning Podcast and the amazing Plant Cunning Conference (happening in New York at the end of July!) I crafted the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox salves with Sue J Morris from Sues Salves; Sue also has a great new book out on Astrological Botanical Perfumery which is just fantastic! I’m grateful for both of these amazing women for being on this intuitive herbal journey with me.

Seasonal Herbs and Trees

Some of our summer solstice herbs!
Some of our summer solstice herbs!

Each medicine has a season and bringing in the energy of the season through what is growing in the ecosystem can be a powerful tool for connection.  I like to harvest the medicines of the land in the season and also when they are at the height of their energy.

For Spring, think leafy greens and green plants just popping up as well as conifer tips–any new growth!  For Summer, as the list in the next section shows, this is the time of leafy green matter and flowers! For Fall, nuts, berries, fruits, roots, and seeds are where you want to focus your time. For winter, you can harvest things like rose hips still out in the land, nannyberry, conifer needles, wintergreen, birch twigs, warm seasonal spices (ginger, cinnamon), or even use a bit of your Yule tree and put it in the salve (I did that last year and it was incredible)! Now you might not live in a temperate area in the world, and if so, use your own wildcrafted seasonal wheel to consider what seasons you want to mark with an intuitive salve practice.

Selecting and Accessing Plants for the Salve

To begin to make your solstice salve, you will want to think about your specific circumstances and choose your approach: are you wildharvesting from the land around you? Are you harvesting from your own garden, a community garden, or a friend’s garden? You can even do this inside your house using kitchen herbs (ginger, rosemary, basil, and cinnamon will work wonderfully!).  You could also go to a local farmer’s market and pick up some bunches of fresh herbs or to a local herb shop with their many jars of fragrant plants.  You can also wild harvest herbs from urban areas–in fact, I’ve had great luck foraging in many urban areas for both wild food and wild medicine, but these take some additional special consideration to make sure you are not overharvesting on public lands.  I have ethical foraging guidelines and graphics here.  Regardless, I think that you can make these wonderful salves in so many ways.

Wildharvesting Herbs on the Land

A bowl full of spring equinox medicinal plants for salve
A bowl full of spring equinox medicinal plants for salve

To harvest out on the broader land, it helps to know about the medicine on your landscape and what may be in season.  Thus, to do this well, you will need to have some understanding of the wild medicinal herbs in your ecosystem. If you haven’t yet started to learn herbalism and study plant botany, this is a great time to learn–and see if a friend who already knows about plant medicine can go with you.  Get a few plant ID books and take them out.  Apps work too, although they aren’t my jam, and I don’t think they are better than books for knowledge building.  If you are new, you could target finding just one or two abundant plants that are easy to identify. If you already know a lot about plant medicine, you are ready to go!

Here are some potential plants you could look for at the Summer Solstice, assuming a temperate northern hemisphere ecosystem in North America (with a good deal of crossover in Europe):

  • Lawn Plants for Spring/Summer/Fall: Lawn plants are typically the most robust in spring and fall, but you can still harvest many of them at summer solstice: Plantain, Ground Ivy, Chickweed, All Heal,  Dandelion, Burdock.
  • Summer Solstice Garden Plants: St. John’s Wort, Mountain Mint, Monarda/Bee Balm, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage (of all kinds), Basil, Dill, Fennel, Yarrow, Chamomile
  • Forested Edge and Hedge plants: Elderflower, Mugwort, Rose, Wild berries of all kinds
  • Trees: Trees are in their prime at the summer solstice, so you could harvest leaves from medicinal trees or sacred trees: Oak, hickory, maple, birch, tulip poplar.

Any herb that you can either eat or use as a medicine is fine in a salve.  Obviously, you want to stay away from anyone who is poisonous or even unknown to you.  Be 100% with your identification!

Garden Harvest

Another great place to harvest is in your own or your friend’s herb garden.  Go out with a basket and a sickle in hand and harvest the garden herbs of your choice. Culinary herbs also have very potent medicinal actions, so feel free to include any basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and so forth  Look also for edible and medicinal flowers–you’d be surprised how many are edible!

Purchasing Herbs

Spring Salve Herb pot!
Spring Salve Herb pot!

You could go to an herb shop and as part of your intuitive ritual (see below), select the herbs that resonate with you. You can also go to the farmer’s market and purchase fresh herbs (and some flowers) from the farmers–and pick up some local beeswax while you are at it for your salve. Another option is to go to the tea aisle in the grocery store or the herb section and simply see what calls to you.  There are a lot of cool possibilities to try!

Selecting from Your Kitchen or Apothecary

If you are already well stocked, you can instead select what resonates with you (again, see below).  Select spices from your kitchen cabinet, and herbs you have purchased or harvested before, and work your magic! Some possibilities from the kitchen include Thyme, Rosemary, Ginger, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Anise, Nutmeg, Cardamom, and so on!

And Intuitively Harvest: Go with Love to the Land

Now, go to the place where you will begin. I will start by saying if you have other things you want to do on the solstice, you can do this along with those things–like this could be the end part of your solstice ritual, part of a sacred day of celebration, and so on. The steps are basically the same, so I’m going to write this from my perspective of harvesting from an existing herb garden and a broader sacred land brimming with healing medicine.

I suggest you begin by opening up a ceremony or sacred space in some way–it can be very simple: ringing a bell, doing a Sphere of Protection ritual, drumming the quarters, etc.  If you are out in public, you can simply take a quiet moment to offer thanks and take a few breaths.

Some of the winter solstice salve herbs - harvested and also gathered from the apothecary
Some of the winter solstice salve herbs – harvested and also gathered from the apothecary in the darkest point of the year

Next, make offerings and set your intentions.  Setting your intentions, wherever you are, is important–speak them aloud if you can, or project them to the plant matter that is nearby.  Setting intentions also helps you focus your intuition on a specific kind of energy. The plants may also have their own ideas and intentions for your healing that differ from your own. Since they are master healers, I always respect their wisdom.  Maybe I think I need some zippy energy and then the plants think differently, and I end up with a salve full of Catnip, Hops, and Valerian–which is a very clear “slow down and rest” message.  I make offerings as I am setting my intention.  Offerings–of your gratitude, of music, song, joy, a pinch of plant matter, a nice incense, blessed seed balls–help nourish the land and give back.  These put you in a place of reciprocation.

Now begins the harvest (or selection of plants!). Take a few deep breaths and check in with yourself. Quiet your mind.  Then pay attention to your solar plexus and your inner knowing–this knowing is body-based and is in our gut.  Look around the landscape observing both with your physical senses as well as using your intuition.  You will likely be drawn–it is almost like a cord stretching between you and the plant ally.  Follow that tug.  When you get there, if you are harvesting, stop and offer your gratitude and blessing to the plant. Ask permission to harvest, and if you are given permission, ask how much.  Some plants may give you an abundant amount and others may only give a single leaf.  This is spirit medicine more than physical medicine, so it does not matter how much (although it will certainly affect the smell and potentially color of your salve!)

Harvest only as much as you need. I like to build these recipes in parts. So if I am harvesting mugwort, I will harvest 1 part mugwort.  I see about how much that is (a small handful is enough) and then I base my harvests on that.  You can also harvest more herbs for other things (e.g. I also want some dried mugwort, so some goes in my salve pot and some goes in the air dehydrator or into smoke clearing sticks).

Go about the land and keep harvesting until you feel the work is complete. You may have many herbs or only a few. My basket tends to brim with many different herbs!

You can also do something to bless your herbs after you gather them–we took our herb basket to the stone circle and did further blessings and magic before making the salve.

Make Your Salve

The first part of the salve-making process is called garbling. This is where you sort through the plant matter, checking your plant ID again and making sure you only have the plant matter you want.

Finished salves in tins and jars ready to share with others!
Finished salves in tins and jars, cooling before being ready to share with others!

Next, lightly chop your plant matter. At this stage, you can also weigh it with a kitchen/postal scale or just measure it out. It is nice to keep a record of the recipe in case you like it–and often these come out really delightful and you will want to make more of it!

Next, get a large mason jar, copper pot, enamel pot, or some similar container to brew your salve in.  Place your herbs into the jar and then add a good quality organic oil.  You can use a number of oils, but the two most easily available are either olive oil or coconut oil.  Olive oil is generally warming and coconut oil is generally cooling, olive oil is also much more neutral while coconut oil has a unique smell that will weave into the salve (always nice).  Coconut oil also goes liquid when above 80 degrees but is solid under that, which means you need to make some accommodations if you will be using your salve in hot temperatures.  Olive oil will need to have beeswax (a small amount, about 1 tbsp per cup of oil).

Place your oil in the jar, singing, humming, chanting, or doing whatever it is to bring the good energy for the good medicine.

Now, place your jar in the summer sun or somewhere the jar can get warm.  In the spring, summer, and fall, I usually put mine in the greenhouse for this–it is super sunny and warm there and the salves infuse beautifully! I usually leave my salve for about 1-2 weeks.  You can alternatively just put it in the sun one afternoon and then finish it on a double boiler on your stove in a few hours, which is what I did at the winter solstice.  Keep the salve pot hot but not hot enough that it doesn’t crisp or fry the plant matter!

Straining salve through a jelly bag
Straining salve through a jelly bag

Fresh plant matter will evaporate water and if the water can’t escape it may show up on the bottom of your salve looking a different color–make sure that doesn’t end up in your salve tins!

Strain your plant matter and add beeswax if you need to thicken an olive oil-based salve. I prefer using a jelly bag for this, but a strainer will work too.  You want to avoid getting any residual plant matter in your salve–that can make the salve go rancid much faster.  Usually, these salves can have a year or more of shelf life!

You can also add essential oils if you would like, but with these salves, I have never found the need.

Pour into jars or tins.  You can save old candy tins, old jelly jars, or even spice jars for your finished salve. I love to look at yard sales or thrift stores for cool small jars and tins to put in my special and magical salves!   Let the slaves cool, and then label them and share!

And there you have it!  A beautiful solstice salve for aligning you with the seasons.

The Summer Solstice Salve – Slather that on your body!

Our summer solstice salve just after it went into the greenhouse to bask in the summer sun
Our summer solstice salve just after it went into the greenhouse to bask in the summer sun

AC and I went with an herbalist friend into the Druid’s Gardens and land two weeks before the solstice. We gathered up the plants as we wandered the land, taking only a little bit of each as we were called, offering gratitude and asking permission.  Many plants entered our basket – rose petals, mugwort, yarrow in bloom, elderflower, sages, oregano, sweetgrass, sweet clover, sweet fern…and more!  We also added a good amount of the St. Johns Wort oil I had made last summer (as my flowers weren’t yet in bloom).  We each took half the salve to finish at the solstice–even from the beginning it had a magical smell.

I left my salve out in the greenhouse getting the summer sun’s beautiful and energizing rays and warming each day. On the solstice on Thursday, we strained the salves.  I added beeswax and poured it into small tins. The salve turned out beautifully, infused with so much good plant medicine and solar energy.  After making it, I rubbed it all over my body and laid in the sunlight to soak up the rays for a bit! I look forward to using this until the Fall Equinox when I will hopefully craft my final salve in the wheel of the year with yet another herbalist friend.

Each of these salves is distinct and unique. It amazes me how they smell and the energies they contain! I like to use the salve on my hands and face either after I take a bath before I go to bed, or even to anoint things or to rub on my special wooden objects such as spoons, wands, and my staff. There’s no real limit to how to use the salve.  I have also passed out many of these salves to friends to enjoy!

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Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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2 Comments

  1. I truly love all of your posts. You’ve really helped me discover my druid path and your art inspires me so much! I’d love to buy your decks and books and everything one day

    1. Hi Jsstarvingart! So glad my work inspires you! I’m glad that you have found the druid path! Are you also an artist? (Wondering based on the name!) 🙂

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