So, this time of year always brings out a few recipes for home made “wax” that can be applied to a dog’s paws and act as a barrier against cold, salt and gritty stuff during walks in the cold wintertime. I make this stuff every year too, with a few of my own twists, so just decided to share in case anyone wants to try my version.
Before I start, a couple of (maybe obvious?) ideas, but worth mentioning anyway; always trim your dog’s feet, if he or she has long hairs between the toes. Furry toes “collect” ice and snow (and more noxious stuff on roads, such as antifreeze) and can get very packed up. The second thing is, booties! For dogs exposed to a lot of harsh terrain and chemicals, no paw wax on earth is enough to keep pads safe and toes clear of the stuff. If your dog needs booties – that’s the way to go.
No, not like these.
This is better.
For many others, either the exposure is minimal, or it’s just a matter of cold toes on the snowy ground, and for these guys, a paw wax can be of help. For those of you who already make herbal salves (waves to students), the technique is pretty much the same, with a few changes. You start with a carrier oil, infuse a herb (or a few) into it, and then strain out the herbal matter. Now you have a nice herbal oil, which you mix with beeswax, add a natural preservative ( I use Vitamin E) and let harden. Voila! Paw wax! All you *really* need to do is, use more beeswax than the standard amount used for salves.
Let me be more specific.
First: many people who read the most popular of the Paw Wax memes this year wrote me to ask about herbal oils. It’s understandable – we have oils such as Evening Primrose and Borage which seem like herbal oils, but then we have all these others, like calendula oil, chamomile oil, or the oils I use in my recipe (conifer needles/resin…orange peel…ginger…) and these are an entirely different type of oil.
Borage, Evening primrose, along with apricot, almond, olive, sunflower, grapeseed, avocado and more are carrier oils – not herbal infused oils, these form the basis for infused oils which in turn can be used as they are, or made into salve.(Infused oils should never be fed to dogs). Here is a list of carrier oils from the wonderful Mountainrose Herbs: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog/ingredients/oils
Note the beautiful options such as pomegranate,macadamia, rosehip seed…I make my own face creams and lotions and I love using these, for rich and exotic skin soothers – mixed with herbs, with shea or mango butter, coconut oil and some essential oils – beautiful and non-toxic products!
However, I don’t use these expensive oils for pad wax. Call me pragmatic, or even frugal. Olive and sunflower oils are my favorites, and I’ll share some information about different types of carrier oils and why they’re used, in another post. For now, just to make the distinction clear, carrier oils and herbal-infused oils are not the same thing.
Herbal oils, are what you create when you infuse your herbs of choice into your oil of choice, and the possibilities are endless. There are, however, better and worse choices, depending on what you wish to extract, what the end product will be used for and with dogs, how much is likely to get consumed. Because the answer to that last one is usually “a fair bit” I stay away from essential oils, and focus on herbs that won’t upset the tummy if licked off. And the basic method options for making a herbal oil, are two; stovetop or maceration method. There are pros and cons to both….and here is all you do.
- Select your carrier oil (and you can use a blend, too, but add the delicate ones like rosehip seed at the end of the process) and your herbs.You don’t need to be super precise here, some herbalists insist on using the same amount of herbs as oil, but I find that too much. I pick my herbs and eyeball it from there, for recipes like this.
- Measure 8 fluid ounces of oil
- Decide if you want to use the maceration method(long infusion over at least 4 weeks) or you want the oil faster(you’re using the stove top method to have it ready much sooner).
- Place the herbs in a sterilized jar if using the maceration method, and stir in the oil with a chopstick, or a sterilized knife or spoon . Because herbs will swell up when infused, don’t fill the jar more than 2/3 of the way, but it really depends on the herb. Some herbs are very fine and heavy and others, like the pine needles and twigs I used in my paw wax, are more voluminous.You want room for them to swell, and you don’t want pesto. That’s about as precise as I get with oils for external usage.(Fresh herbs are a whole different story, we’ll talk about them in another post) Label your jar – you will regret it if you don’t, I promise! and place in a dark cupboard for a few weeks. (No hard and fast rules here either, but check it and give a shake periodically). Some herbalists use the sunny-window method, but that’s running a higher risk of mold and so I don’t do it that way anymore.
- Place the oil in the top of a double boiler or stainless steel bowl if using the water-bath (stovetop) method, and stir in the herb.
Here’s what mine looked like at this point:
..and so now, you need to raise the heat so your herbs don’t get hotter than 110 degrees F, which means you need to set the water (my bowl here went over a large pot of simmering water, and was covered with a loose fitting lid) on medium, let it get hot and then turn the heat down, and watch it! If it gets too hot you run the risk of frying your herbs(unpleasant!) or all the water boils out and you have a burned pot. I simmered mine for about 8 hours, left overnight and then simmered again for maybe 2 hours the second day. As long as you don’t scorch anything, you can heat them up to 3 days. But even 6 hours will release a lot of good medicine. (Note: all resinous herbs, such as pine or other conifers, poplar or calendula, should be infused with some heat if possible.)
The next step is the same whether you let your oil macerate for a month, or heat it up in 8 hours; strain out the plant material, and measure the oil you have left. I use a sieve lined with cheesecloth:
and voila! herbal oil.
From here you can use the oil on it’s own, for massage, or as the basis of any number of lotions, serums, salve or in this case, paw wax.
For the making of the wax, I used 8 ounces of my oil with 2 ounces beeswax. I saw recipes that called for THREE ounces beeswax, to six ounces oil – but that’s overkill in my opinion. I used two ounces (which is pretty standard) and the wax is super hard. You can use more if you wish, but I don’t find it necessary. Also, I don’t cut up my knuckles grating beeswax anymore. I use these, and boy are they handy:
Now all you do is, gently heat the herbal oil with the beeswax – 8 ounces oil to 2 ounces wax pellets – gently until the wax melts.
remove from heat, add a few Vitamin E capsules(I used 6 here, squeezed out please, not the gel cap and all!) and pour the warm oil into jars or molds. I normally use amber jars or tins from a number of suppliers, but for this batch I used the special plastic lids you get for making infused vinegars, and a simple large lid from a jar. They looked like this:
..and are very fragrant and hard! If you have a dog who tolerates rubbing the disc right on their paw, a large lid will be great.For dogs who need the wax applied, a la salve, you’ll need to dig a little into this one, as it’s very firm, but you also can’t apply softer salve or you risk causing the dog to slip. Either way, this recipe smells divine, and it does help protect their precious feet in harsh weather.
My ingredients were
8 ounces sunflower oil….
and a mixture of dried (organic, all) ginger, orange peel, pine needles cut from my own tree (and a few finely chopped twigs) and about a teaspoon of juniper berries. I choose this combo to smell lovely, and be warming to the pads as well. Now I have more than I’ll ever need, so I’m applying it to my chapped hands as well. It’s wonderful stuff.
Some other herbs to try include other conifers (but not cedar) thyme, calendula, lavender, cinnamon sticks, and yarrow. For slave, for chapped, dry pads, you can make the balm softer, use 1.5 ounces beeswax, and think about herbs like chickweed, rose, violet and plantain as well (more cooling and vulnerary).
Of course, if you prefer you can also purchase herbal oils that have been made for you, too.
I hope this helps give you a bit more information and some ideas, about making paw wax for your dog.I’ll be providing more mini-tutorials over the year ahead, and if you’re really keen, there’s always my Practical Herbalism course, which includes 70 recipes, a detailed Unit on medicine making, and much, much more. https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/practical-herbalism-an-online-course
And, have a very, very Happy New Year.