Most Tallow Balm recipes I’ve seen out there just add essential oils to tallow, which doesn’t appeal to me on many levels. It’s much harder to make a truly local medicine, you’re missing-out on all the other medicinal constituents found within the herb other than simply the essential (aka volatile) oils, plus it often takes massive amounts of plant material to make just a few drops of essential oil making it highly unsustainable. So I created a recipe for Tallow Balm that works with plants in their whole, full-spectrum, unadulterated form. I love making tallow balm because its such potent kitchen medicine and the process of making it is quite nourishing unto itself. Read on to learn about the amazing medicine of tallow and how to make your own nutritious, non-toxic skin balm.
Simply put, tallow is a pure form of animal fat (generally beef or sheep) that is made by cooking down (also known as rendering) suet, separating the pure fat from the leftover connective tissue. It’s been revered as a cooking fat and topical medicinal for centuries, and for good reason!
Some tallow benefits- it can be used as a high-heat cooking fat and is rich in palmitolic oil which is highly antibacterial and antiviral, so it’s immune-boosting. It’s also nutrient rich, containing high levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), niacin, vitamins B6, B12, K2, selenium, iron, phosphorous, riboflavin, and potassium.
There’s an old herbal adage- “Don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put into your mouth.” Your skin readily absorbs anything and everything you put on it, and in the case of tallow, this is a good thing meaning your skin care products can actually be nutritious. Plus it has a super long shelf-life, I have a rose-infused tallow balm from a friend that’s just so amazing that I use on my face often (it’s heavenly!) and has lasted for years and still never gone bad, even unrefrigerated.
Another HUGE benefit- tallow is extremely compatible with our own skin’s physiology. It’s made-up of 50-55% saturated fats, the same proportion of fat as our cell membranes, making it extremely absorbable. Isn’t that amazing!? Another cool fact- the word “sebum” actually means “tallow” in Latin! And its super easy to make your own, which is the first step to making you own tallow balm.
How Render Your Own Tallow
Purchase suet from pasture-raised/grass-fed beef at a local farm stand, farmers market or coop. If you don’t see it out don’t be afraid to ask, as most farmers have it available even if its not always in their meat cases! It’s usually frozen, which is fine. Thaw for at least day in the fridge and when you’re ready to make your tallow take it out of the fridge and start by chopping it into small cubes. It’s nice to give the cubes a quick zoom in the food processor to additionally break them up into smaller peices. This step can be skipped but it will move the whole process along faster. Next put it all in a pan on low on the stove and stir now and then. The fat (tallow) will begin melting and separating from the meat and connective tissue (called the cracklin’s, which are totally edible!). This process can take a little while, so be patient. I suggest doing this while you already have to be in the kitchen, ie cooking dinner, making ghee, etc. You’ll know it’s done when the cracklin’s start to brown. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool a bit then strain through cheesecloth into a wide mouth mason jar. Having a metal canning funnel and a strainer that fits into it will make this job very simple, since canning funnels fit into all sizes of mason jar and you’ll want to be straining either into metal or tempered glass because the tallow will be hot! I recommend straining into a pan if you’re making tallow balm, because then you can easily do the next step by just adding your herbs to that pot of tallow. It will solidify at room temp and can be stored refrigerated or frozen for years and several years (if not more) unrefrigerated.
Homemade Herbal Tallow Balm
1 cup tallow
1 cup dried herbs (by volume)
1.5 tbsp olive or coconut oil (optional)
Melt your pure, rendered tallow in a pot on the stove on low. Next add 1 cup of dried herbs (by volume, not weight) for every cup of tallow you add. You may choose to add olive or coconut oil if you’d like the balm to have a softer consistency, but over-all tallow balms have a hard consistency. This is one of its benefits in my opinion, because a little really goes a long way and these balms last forever! When adding oil I generally choose to add coconut oil because that has a high flash point just like tallow and can take heat without becoming rancid, unlike olive oil.
There are any number of herbs you can add. For an all-purpose tallow balm choose herbs that are categorized as vulneraries, meaning they are known for their wound-healing properties. Common examples in the herbal materia medica include Plantain (Plantago spp), Rose Lf & Petals (Rosa spp), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Violet Lf (Viola spp), Goldenrod flowering tops (Solidego spp), and Calendula Fl (Calendula officinalis). It’s also always important to add antimicrobial and antiseptic herbs to an all-purpose balm. Common and effective herbs that come to mind include Lavender Fl (Lavendula spp), Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), and Bee Balm (Monarda spp). There is no right or wrong here as long as you choose herbs with these herbal actions so I recommend using herbs common in your garden or bioregion, or are easy to purchase in your local herb shop. You will also definitely notice that tallow has a strong smell and smells like the animal fat it is! So I recommend choosing herbs that smell nice, which is how you can avoid adding essential oils, since the tallow will take-on the smell of the herbs. And to be clear- there’s no issue with adding some essential oils if you like! For my balm I chose to use roughly 1 part Calendula Fl, 1 part Plantain lf, 1 part Rose Lf & Fl, and 1/2 part Lavender Fl to make-up the herbs. You can make 1 part any amount you want, so for instance if you need one cup of herbs (8 oz) and were using the ratio of herbs I used then you would use approximately 2.25 oz by volume for 1 part of each herb and for the half part you would use approximately 1.125 ounces. But remember this is kitchen medicine and exact measurements are really not necessary for this preparation. That being said, glass pyrex measuring cups are a wonderful kitchen medicine-making tool to have and list ounces on their sides- I highly recommend them!
Next infuse the herbs into the tallow (and oil if using) on low for hours- the longer the better! It’s ok if the tallow is on a low simmer because it can take some heat. The idea is that you want the tallow to take on the aroma of the herbs but without burning the herbs! If you have a crockpot with a low setting you could also do this in the crockpot, but I prefer the stove. My favorite trick to get it on a nice low temperature and infuse for hours is to stack two of the burners from my gas stove so they’re criss-crossed and stable and set the burner to the lowest setting possible and infuse the pot of tallow and herbs on there. I’ll often let the balm infuse all day this way while I’m home, turn it off at night, and then infuse another day or so, however, you get quite a nice balm with even just 4 hrs of heat. Be sure the oil smells like the herbs before your strain it- let your nose be your guide! When its ready, strain through cheesecloth into a pyrex measuring cup using your canning funnel/strainer set-up if you have one (which I highly recommend!). Then have your tins or glass salve jars ready and pour out your balm and let cool!
Tallow is an amazing skin-healer, perfect for folks with dry, chapped hands or skin. It also makes a wonderful facial moisturizer, which is my favorite way to use it. It’s especially wonderful for folks whose skin suffers in the cold, dry winter air (which is all of us) and is an excellent supportive winter skin care product that nourishes the skin with all the nutrients we discussed above. Our skin is our largest organ of elimination and absorption and is how we take-in much of our sensory information, and when its dry and frazzled our nervous system can often feel frazzled too! Nourishing this literal first-line of defense supports our health-including our mental health- immensely. It also makes an excellent all-purpose salve for common household bumps, scrapes and abrasions. Lastly, tallow balm often helps clear-up, or at least give much relief, to stubborn flare-ups of eczema and psoriasis when nothing else works!
Wishing you all happy medicine-making and healthy winter!
For folks wanting to dive deeper into medicine-making, local fats, and all things kitchen medicine, my upcoming online class, Spice Rack Medicine Winter Online Series, will be opening for registration soon! We’ll be covering food as medicine, the medicinal use of the culinary herbs, food and herbal energetics, healing the gut, remineralizing, medicinal mushrooms in the kitchen, nourishing soups and broths, medicine-making, and so much more!