Apr 17, 2009

Making Magical Devil's Club Lip Balm in Alaska

One of the things I most love to do while I am in Alaska, is to be able to take small bits of spare time, and do creative and unusual things...and often using free, recycled or inexpensive ingredients. One of them, was to learn how to make lip gloss using native materials....many of them indigenous to southeast Alaska.

One moonlit Alaskan evening, my sister-in-law and I decided to spontaneously make 'Devil's Club Lip Balm' .....a magical potion with sacred native Alaskan origins. Devil's Club has a long history of medicinal use among Native American peoples, particularly the Tlingit, Skagit and Kwaikiutil. It is so widely used for such a variety of complaints that it is sometimes referred to as the Tlingit aspirin. It is known as the 'Alaskan ginseng and while it is known for its incredibly sharp thorns...one that can pierce heavy blue jeans or a coat...it actually has many anti-inflammatory properties.

It has been used by native Americans of the Pacific Coast as a sacred 'healing' plant...in teas and in medicinal balms. It has been shown to have promising results for diabetes by lowering blood sugars (and possibly even for tuberculosis in studies in China) but is most often used as a salve for easing sore joints and muscles, or pieces of the stalk are worn for uplifting the spirit or protection from 'evil spirits.'

When making Devil's Club balm, other plant parts, saps or essences are combined with it. Most often are poplar, alder, or cottonwood buds (see balm of Gilead, below) and cedar or spruce sap. Additional ingredients would include aromatic or scented essences, or other power filled plants such as the fireweed root...strong energy medicine that also adds a lovely rose color to the salve.

We dressed warmly, and all bundled up and carrying our flashlights and sporting head lamps, we trekked out into the dark evening and by the light of the magical full moon, located a cottonwood tree with its buds still leftover from last year's tree growth. We then pruned off a dozen or so buds and then headed off to locate a nice sappy cedar tree.

Heading home, we used three different recipes to find the best combination of the ingredients we had available to us. All recipes can be seen by enlarging the photos shown. But ours included, cedar sap, poplar buds, fireweed root, devil's club bark, olive oil or coconut oil with a little olive oil, rosebuds other dried flower buds, grated beeswax and aromatic scent.

We also used cheesecloth to strain our mixture before pouring into containers and a double boiler for melting and simmering our potion.

Devils Club Root, below:
Harvest roots with very heavy gloves, a trowel and wearing heavy clothing. Avoid contact with thorny stalks, very sharp and painful and can pierce denim easily.

Roots are cut, scrubbed with metallic scrub pad or scraped with a sharp knife. Grate or cut into slivers or smsll chunks. These were long dried and cut or broken off into chunks

 We used our previously harvested fireweed roots from last fall. Cutting the roots into small sections, and stripping off the inner pieces of the gifted devil's club stalks yielded more than enough for our needs.

The devil's club stalk adds the authentic indigenous touch while the fireweed adds the magic of fire and a lovely pink color to the mixture.

Adding olive oil, or coconut oil, rosebuds, and grated beeswax (per our recipes) we used a double boiler to melt and blend all ingredients. Using the clean piece of cheesecloth, we strained the rough ingredients out, leaving only the purest rose pink liquid.

Next, we added the energy frequencies of scent and sound. For scent we use essential oils...in this case, we selected lemongrass oil and oil of bergamot and some small baby pink rosebuds. It made for a spectacularly aromatic combination.

And for healing vibrational energies of sound, we used a lovely Tibetan singing bowl and its pestle and tuned the frequencies of sound into our healing balm.

Now, pure color, light, sound, and scent, we had the basic essences diluted into a useable form.... which we poured gently into awaiting containers specially made for lipgloss and balms.

While we had access to leftover purchased containers, it is even more frugal to save, clean, and re-use any container that will work for small applicatiions. I save lipgloss, chapstick, face cream, and travel containers of all kinds for this specific purpose.

Whether set out in containers for immediate use, or given as gifts, it is a wonderful form of homemade goodness to protect against the cold, dry air of our Alaskan weather.

And it is a reminder that even in the busiest of times, there is always energy and space for creative fun. As well as a wonderful opportunity to learn and practice old techniques..... in new and modern forms.

Anicent ways of creating healing salves and balms becomes renewed as our lip glosses or chapped lip balm. The use of natural materials combined with the energies of creation manifest in a new and readily use-able form.

Above: Among my own clay buttons, a tiny cross slice of dried Devils Club Root, turned into a small decorative sacred healing talisman, using a tiny wood burning tool marks can be imprinted onto and reshape the root into a lovely piece of art. 

Additional notes:
Check out :
*NPR: Devil's Club: A Medicine Cabintet for Alaskan Tribe

And my reference to **Balm of Gilead**

Balm of Gilead or Poplar buds come from our predominant Cottonwood Poplar trees in the United States which produce a resinous, stick and tight bud that is highly aromatic. "There is a balm in Gilead," the old Black spiritual says, "to soothe the sin-sick soul."

The Biblical allusion refers to two contrasting references to the herb in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian bible, suggesting a time when healing would be available to all who seek it.

The dried, unopened buds of the poplar tree have been used in ointments and skin treatments for at least 3,000 years.

With Heart and Hands
© Michele (Savikko) Bilyeu


Junie Moon said...

What an awesome project! I love the gathering aspect under the full moon and concocting potions in the singing bowl. I have such a bowl but never thought of actually using it for other than making that really great ringing sound. Anyway, I love your gloss/balm project. It's the sort of activity that really appeals to me in a number of ways.

Janet said...

I enjoyed your story immensly. I found all this so fascinating and enjoyed reading about the plants and traditional ways.

Quilt Junquee said...

I've never heard of anything like this, I am fascinated by this idea!