In December 2017 I visited beautiful New Zealand, and it was an absolute dream come true. Wonderful weather, breathtaking scenery, and everyone I met was downright lovely. On my last day I visited Melissa and Emmett at Pure Nature in Auckland, and I so wish I could’ve spent all day there! The shop is beautiful and was absolutely packed with all kinds of things I can’t get in Canada, many of which I’d never heard of. I had so much fun sampling all kinds of beautiful carrier oils and sniffing bottle after bottle of exotic essential oils. I left with two extremely well oiled arms! I also left with a few generous gifts, among them two true New Zealand gems: beautiful kawakawa infused oil and mānuka essential oil.
Also, before we dive in—this is the 1000th post on Humblebee & Me! WHOA!
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I hadn’t heard of kawakawa before my trip to New Zealand, but Emmett informed me that it’s a very popular endemic plant, and that kawakawa balms and salves are very popular in New Zealand. Kawakawa, or Piper excelsum, has glossy green, heart-shaped leaves. It has been used for centuries by the Maori for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. These properties also make it popular in modern-day salves and balms for irritated skin, bruises, and scratches. The infused oil from Pure Nature is a 10% dilution in sweet almond oil, which is delightfully simple to use (and import into Canada!). I know kawakawa infused oil is going to be hard to come across outside of New Zealand, so if you don’t have it I would use plantain (Plantago major—not the banana-type fruit!) infused oil as an alternative.
Mānuka has achieved some international fame as part of the medicinal mānuka honey—a honey made by bees who feed on the small white blooms of the mānuka tree. Mānuka grows readily and plentifully across in New Zealand. Like kawakawa, it has been used by the Maori for hundreds of years, with different parts of the plant transforming into remedies for everything from stiff joints to head colds. Tisserand has fairly little to say about the essential oil; its largest component is Leptospermone, at 9–18%, and “antioxidant activity has been reported”. Much like kawakawa, mānuka essential oil is said to have anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. It has a sweet, soft, herbal scent that I really quite like that’s a beautiful complement to the honey-scented beeswax in this salve.
I’ve rounded out this glassy salve with two more carrier oils. For a Canadian note, I’ve included some deep green unrefined hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil is rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as linoleic and gamma-linoleic fatty acids. It contains calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamins B6 and E, and is one of relatively few fancy-type carrier oils produced in Canada (sorry, canola—you’re useful but not terribly fancy!). Hemp seed oil is a rather delicate oil (I’ve sadly torched it before), so I like to avoid exposing it to too much heat wherever I can. This is where our last oil comes in:
Safflower oil serves as a good melting medium for the beeswax; we’ll melt the two of them together before adding the kawakawa and hemp seed oil so they don’t need to be heated all the way to the melting point of beeswax (~63°C). You can easily use a different oil in place of the safflower; sweet almond and sunflower would both be good choices.
Aside from the multi-step oil incorporation bit, this is a straight forward salve: combine, melt, stir in some cool down ingredients, and let it set up! The final balm is firm and a bit glassy; I used it to great effect on my highly irritated nose during the last cold I had (tissues are never soft enough for 100 uses a day!). I love its softly sweet herbal scent and versatility. If you can’t make it quite as written, be sure to refer to the substitutions list below to make yourself a slightly less New Zealand-y (but more accessible) version. Enjoy!
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Manuka Kawakawa Salve
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Once the beeswax has melted, remove the water bath from the heat, but leave the measuring cup in the water bath. Add the kawakawa infused oil and hemp seed oil to the melted beeswax mixture and stir to combine. Adding the cooler oils will cause a few solid bits to appear, but stirring will cause them to re-melt. When you have a uniform, liquid mixture once again, remove the measuring cup from the water bath and dry it out.
Add the manuka essential oil and vitamin E oil, and stir to combine. Pour the melted mixture into a 30mL/1 ounce tin or jar (I used this one from YellowBee) to set up. Once it has solidified, you’re ready to go!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this salve is 100% oil based, it does not require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). Kept reasonably cool and dry, it should last at least a year before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice it starts to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 30g.
- You can substitute another lightweight oil like sweet almond, grapeseed, or sunflower seed for the safflower oil
- Plantain infused oil is a good alternative for kawakawa infused oil
- You can use olive oil in place of the hemp seed oil
- Chamomile and/or lavender essential oil is an acceptable alternative for mānuka essential oil, though I would use half the amount as both are much stronger than mānuka