Salve made from the resin of our native pinon pine tree (Pinus edulis) has an exquisite aroma and is useful as a topical anti-microbial. While the final product is popular these days, the processing of tree resin into a finished product is a bit different than the standard salve making process. It seems like each herbalist has their favorite method for preparing this gift. Here is my version.
Collecting the Resin
First, find the tree. In the Southwest, it usually grows in what is known as the “pinon-juniper zone” around 4500’ to 6500’. I have seen it growing next to creosote bush in the high desert and also above 7000’, mixed in with ponderosa. If you find ponderosa and start losing elevation, you will soon come to pinon.
The resin, sometimes referred to as sap or pitch is found on the tree where there is a wound in the bark. This can be from insects, a broken branch or a gouge in the bark. One reason I prefer pinon for salve making is because the resin of this species is so profuse. It is often found in balls the size of an apricot, sometimes larger.
Simply reach with your hand and pull the semi sticky ball from the tree and place in a container. A paint stick can also be used to scrape the gob from the tree. Use a tin can or a recycled glass jar, something that does not have to be cleaned afterwards.
Be sure to take only the extra resin that has dripped down the trunk or fallen on the ground. Leave the resin that is immediately around the cut in the bark as this is still protecting the tree.
Making the Salve
To make the salve, melt ½ ounce beeswax in a sauce pan over low heat. Then add two ounces of the soft, gooey pine resin. I prefer to use a metal chopstick to scoop the resin from the container. A popsicle stick is also good. Don’t use your favorite spoon.
This combination should not be smoking. The mixture does not need to be cooked, just slowly warmed until the wax and resin are melted together.
Next, slowly drizzle in four ounces of oil while continually stirring. The oil can be almond, olive, jojoba or any other oil suitable for skin care. One option is to add an oil that has been infused with calendula flower as this is one of the very best herbs for skin conditions.
All that is left at this point is to pour the melted mixture into salve containers. This needs to be done before it begins to thicken.
Some debris from the resin may make its way into the saucepan mixture. These are bits of tree bark that were stuck to the resin during the collection process. If the pouring is done slowly, the debris will sink to the bottom of the pan and stay there. It will not contaminate what is in the actual salve jars.
Energetics, Chemistry and Therapeutics of Pine Resin
The energy is warming, stimulating and moving. It increases blood flow to a localized area and may be helpful for sore muscles and stiff joints. It is also helpful as a chest rub to break up lung congestion.
The chemistry of this resin gives insight into its therapeutics. Depending on the tree and individual batch, the resin may contain more than 50% pinene. This monoterpene is broadly anti-microbial for both topical use and when inhaled as part of an essential oil. In commerce, it is used as a disinfectant in household cleaning products.
When combined with a quality carrier oil, pine resin salve has been used for many irritated and infected skin conditions, as a lip balm and generally dry, itchy skin.
An often overlooked quality of the salve is the aroma, which is light, uplifting and stimulating. Who doesn’t love the smell of conifers, especially during the darker season of winter? Many people use this salve simply for its exquisite aroma without being aware of the other benefits.
A few words of caution…
Working with resin, beeswax and oil can be messy; sometimes so messy you won’t want to do it again. Some hard earned wisdom I have learned along the way:
Resin on your skin comes off easily with any type of oil or fat – butter, lip balm, sunscreen or cooking oil.
Resin on your clothes comes off with a high proof of alcohol. You may have to scrub a bit. Just to be safe, wear clothes than can get dirty.
Cover the kitchen counter with newspaper before you begin. Then a few drops of melted wax is no problem.
Use a saucepan that is specific to herbal medicine making. These can be found at a thrift store.
While the pan is still warm, wipe it out with disposable paper towels. Don’t try to rinse or wash it out or use a cloth rag.
Some Final Words on Resin v. Sap v. Pitch v. Tar
What I call pine resin salve goes by many other common names. It may be referred to as:
pine sap salve
pine pitch salve
pine tar salve
pine drawing salve
All these names can be confusing. In essence, the product is exactly the same, just different regional labels. More specifically, resin and sap are often incorrectly used interchangeably so let’s look at their definitions.
Resins function a defense mechanism of the tree. They contain proven anti-microbials and protect the plant from the same pathogens we deal with: bacteria, fungus and viruses. This is what is used in the pine salve.
This is what maple syrup is made from. The trees are tapped in the spring, usually April. Buckets are filled with the sap, then slowly boiled down to get the precious syrup.
Sap is a food
Resin is a medicine