Homemade Herbal Tallow Balm

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.

Suet ready to be rendered into tallow

Suet ready to be rendered into tallow

What’s Tallow?

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.

Suet melting in the rendering process

Suet melting in the rendering process

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)

tallow balm.jpg

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!

Learn More Here

Maitake & Burdock Immune-Boosting Soup

maitake soup.jpg

Lately, this soup has been saving my life! So much so that I just had to share the recipe. During seasonal transitions, especially our current one from late summer to fall (and the on-coming fall to winter), our immune systems need some extra support. And it seems like just about everyone I know is either navigating through or has already dealt with their first cold of the season, myself included! Twice over the past two weeks I’ve caught a small cold. Both times I made a big pot of this soup, had 2-3 hearty-sized bowls of it in the afternoon and evening, and woke-up the following morning with my cold completely gone. Like magic. Only its not magic, it’s food as medicine at its finest! Soups lend themselves incredibly well to healing spices, nourishing roots, regenerative seaweeds, and immune-modulating mushrooms. Read-on for my recipe for the perfect fall soup to nourish your immune system and tend to your health during this seasonal transition.

Maitake, Burdock & Daikon Soup

1 lb (3-4 cups) Maitake Mushroom/Hen of the Woods* (Grifola frondosa), shredded into bite-sized pieces (*use Shiitake if Maitake aren’t available!)
1 c Burdock Rt (also known as Gobo), chopped
1 1/2 c Daikon Radish, chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 Onion, chopped
3 tbsp fresh Ginger, grated
4 cloves Garlic
3 tbsp Tamari
8 cups water, chicken broth, bone broth, or veggie broth
6 inch strip Kombu or Kelp
1 bunch Scallions
Sea Salt and Black Pepper (to taste)
Lemon (optional)

NOTE: If some of these ingredients are new to you don't worry! They are available at most co-ops, health food stores, and grocery stores with good produce sections. Burdock is also often readily available at many Asian food stores under the name Gobo. Maitake is often available dried and you can use this form of it- simply re-hydrate by soaking in water for about 1/2 hr and then cook it as specified in the directions. And you can also use dried burdock for this recipe, just cook it longer than the directions specify to be sure it's nice and soft when you eat it, and use 1/4 cup dried instead of a full cup of fresh!

maitake soup pot.jpg

Start by sauteing the garlic, onion, ginger, and maitake in olive oil or ghee until soft.  Next add the burdock, daikon, tamari, kombu or kelp, and water and/or broth. Bring to a low simmer and cook about 10 minutes until the daikon and burdock are cooked. Garnish with 2-3 tbsp of chopped scallions. This soup has a rich, earthy flavor and the addition of a squeeze of lemon will brighten it up a bit, if desired, but it's not necessary. For folks who don't like to eat mushrooms, simply simmer the maitake whole in the broth and remove before serving (best to cook it all for longer-30-45 minutes). It doesn't make the broth "mushroomy," just rich and delicious!

Medicinal Use
This soup is building and supportive to your immune system. Turn to it when you feel like you're coming down with something or when you're already sick and need some strong immune support. I also love making it when I'm at the tail-end of a cold or flu and want a strong final boost to my immune system to really get the remnants of that virus or bacteria totally out of my system. It can also be relied on as a powerful preventative during the fall and winter months to keep the immune system ready and primed. Try making it once a week for this use.  Maitake mushroom has a long tradition of use as an immune-stimulating and modulating herb, and has even been shown to have some cancer-fighting effects. Burdock Rt (Arcticum lappa) is another "food as medicine" from herbalism that can be eaten or taken in the tea to help support all the eliminatory pathways in the body, especially the liver, kidneys, and skin. It’s also extremely nourishing, rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, and many trace minerals. Daikon radish is pungent in nature, aiding digestion, and is also extremely rich in vitamin c, providing still more of an immune system boost! Garlic, onions, and ginger add immune-boosting essential oils, anti-bacterial and anti-viral support, and in combination this soup makes a delicious and medicinal brew. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in learning more about kitchen medicine our winter of 2019 online course, Spice Rack Medicine, will be open for registration soon! Topics will cover all the same subjects in our in-person course (currently full for 2019), including the medicinal uses of the culinary herbs, medicinal mushrooms, seaweeds, food and herbal energetics, cooking with the tonic herbs, eating with the seasons, medicine-making, and more.

Learn more about Spice Rack Medicine Online here!

Autumn Olive & Apple Fruit Leather

autumn olive in hand.jpg

Have you met Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata) yet? I absolutely love this plant. It’s abundant, easy to harvest, is insanely good for you, and is wild plant we can harvest without concern of overharvest since it’slisted as “invasive” in many states (I prefer to call it “opportunistic”). Also called Autumn Berry and Japanese Silver Berry, this northeast superfood was introduced to the US in the 1830's. It’s endemic to eastern and central Asia, including parts of the Himalayas where it is a traditional food, and has now thoroughly made itself a part of the northeast ecosystem. But they’re not just in New England! Autumn Olives can be found growing south to Florida, in the Great Lakes Region, and west to the Mississippi River. The Pacific Northwest also is home to these prolific shrubs.

Identification: ID is easy- the medium to large shrubs have alternate leaves that are silver on their undersides, sometimes have thorns, and bear small, fragrant, cream-colored, 4-petaled flowers in the spring. The berries are red with silver speckles- one of our favorite nicknames for them is “Sparkle Berries”! One poisonous look-alike is Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp)- but those shrubs don't have silver leaves and the berries don't have the silver speckles, plus Honeysuckle berries ripen in the summer not the fall. If you find a bush with silver, alternate leaves with silver-seckled berries, you’ve got Autumn Olive.

Harvest: Autumn Olives ripen in the fall-Sept through Oct here in New England. They are sour and sweet (like most berries) and get sweeter with cool nights and a frost. Flavor can vary quite a lot from bush to bush, so taste each one to see which is to your liking and harvest from that one. You will find them growing everywhere! But they especially like hedgerows, old fields and farms, and any area that was disturbed in the past. They are an early successional species and are especially abundant in fields in my area that are transitioning from meadow to forest. Be sure you’re harvesting from an area free of chemicals and remember to practice reciprocity in your harvest. For more on this look to my article “Wildcrafting, Wildtending, and Reciprocity” on this blog.

autumn olive underside.jpg

Nutritional Value: Nutritionally, these berries are just awesome. Amazingly, they are the highest known source of the potent antioxidant lycopene, which is cancer protective, anti-inflammatory and promotes longevity. The primary way the average American gets lycopene in their diet in by eating tomatoes, however Autumn Olives have been shown to contain up to 17x more lycopene than tomatoes! The berries are also rich in vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids and essential fatty acids. And they're free.

What to Do With Them: There are sooooo many ways to preserve the abundant Autumn. I’ve made jams, added them to applesauce, made into and incredible sweet and warming fall cordial, frozen for smoothies and baking, and of course they’re also just super yummy and safe to eat raw. They also make a great substitute for tomatoes for folks with Nightshade sensitivities. But one of my favorite ways to preserve them is in fruit leather and I’ve found that their sour flavor profile combines especially well with the sweetness of apples, which also happen to be in season the same time as Autumn Olives, making an amazing bioregional, localvore treat!

autumn olive fruit leather.jpg

Autumn Olive & Apple Fruit Leather

Autumn Olives 2 cups
Chopped Apple 1 cup

Food Mill (optional, but will make your job easier if you want to remove the Autumn Olive seeds- see details below)
Parchment Paper
Baking Sheet or Pyrex Baking Dish
Blender or Food Processor

Step 1: Start by combining your Autumn Olives and Apples in a pan with just a tiny bit of water. Chop the apples into small 1-2 inch pieces. It’s ok if some of your Autumn Olives have stems attached to the berries but be sure not to include larger twigs or leaves. If you have more than 2 cups of Autumn Olives, then use a ratio of roughly 2/3rds Autumn Olive and 1/3rd Apple. Cook it all down on low with a little water, stirring often to make sure there's no burning happening on the bottom.

autumn olive bowl.jpg

Step 2: Once it’s all cooked put the entire mixture through a food mill to remove the apple seeds and Autumn Olive seeds. NOTE: You don’t have to do this part. If you don’t have a food mill then be sure not to include any apple cores since otherwise you won’t be able to easily remove the seeds. And having the seeds of the Autumn Olives is simply a matter of preference. They likely have some nutritional value and are not at all harmful. For some folks they just like the texture better with or without. The picture here of my fruit leather contains the seeds- if you look close you can see them!

Step 3: Put the entire mix (whether or not you used a food mill) into a blender or food processor and puree well

Step 4: Line a baking tray or oven safe pyrex dish with parchment paper and spread your pureed Autumn Olive and Apple mix thinly (1/2-1 inch thick) onto the paper. Bake at 170 degrees for about 6 to 7 hours, being sure to check it often, since sometimes the edges burn a little bit...if the edges are burning and the center is still moist keep cooking it, knowing that you’ll just have to trim off the edges but the majority of your fruit leather will be perfect. Try it as you go, since it’s "to taste" in terms of how leathery you want your fruit leather to be. I like mine still pliable and not crisp. Basically you’re going for the consistency of fruit roll-ups! NOTE: if you have a food dehydrator you could use that for this recipe instead of the oven!

Store it between wax paper in the fridge where it will stay fresh for weeks, or freeze and take-out as needed. Enjoy your local, free, nutrient-dense, antioxidant rich super- food fruit leather!

And if you want to learn more about food as medicine, the medicinal use of the culinary herbs, medicinal mushrooms and soooooo much more, check-out my Spice Rack Medicine Winter Series. Class meets 1 sunday/mo January- March and registration is OPEN! It will fill-up so sign-up soon if you’d like to join us!

Autumn Olive & Sassafrass Lf Cordial

Autumn Olive & Sassafrass Lf Cordial

And One More Thing!

If you’re super-psyched on Autumn Olives and want to learn how to make them into a sweet and amazing fall cordial for sipping on in the cool fall and winter months, check-out our guide to making your own D.I.Y Sweet Fall Cordials!