Randalls Island Park Alliance

Salves, balms, bath salts, oh my!

In Ask a Gardener, New Ideas and Expansions on October 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

 By: Merryl Spence
(Photo; Merryl & The Tetons 2012)

Beginnings sometimes stem from unexpected places.  For Potlatch Remedy and I, the beginning was Rikers Island, fall of 2010.  Yes, that Rikers.  After a ten-year career in the entertainment industry I found myself seeking a new environment and a fresh start.  I took a position working with inmates in a horticultural therapy program.  The three-acre garden at Rikers is gated within Rosie’s, the women’s detention center. A stunning array of trees – maple, evergreen, tiger sumac, holly, and fig – live alongside an abundance of flowers, succulents, vegetables and fruit. There is a koi pond and a green house. Fifteen wild guinea fowl, feral cats, possum, mocking birds, seagulls, sparrow and monarchs also call this garden home. And for a few hours a day, three groups of inmates (two groups of men, one group of women) meet here to learn about botany, urban landscaping, urban farming and gardening. The program director often made salves and lotions with the inmates utilizing many herbs and native plants from the garden. I was moved by the relief so many people found in both this practice and this place. My imagination was fired, and I became fascinated with the basic healing properties of plants and natural elements.

My evenings at home in Brooklyn became filled with experiments involving me, my stove, and natural ingredients. I began combining, dissolving and solidifying these elements into what would ultimately become the product I am excited to share with you – Potlatch Remedy.

Potlatch Remedy is handmade salve produced in small batches using premium-sourced organic and natural products including: beeswax, calendula, witch hazel, organic olive oil, organic jojoba oil, shea butter, lanolin and vitamin e. All of these ingredients have traditionally been used for their medicinal healing properties.

The name Potlatch has a dual meaning for me. A potlatch is a gift-giving festival practiced by Native American communities of the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada and the United States. Potlatch means “to give away” or “a gift”. This is also the name of my grandfather’s Idaho cabin just west of the Tetons. Potlatch is the culmination of everything I aspire to make a part of my life – the healing properties of nature, community, and a whole lot of love.

Making salve is a passion for me. There is something deeply soothing and rewarding about making something from scratch that is used for healing purposes. Anyone can do this from home and with a small budget. It’s easy, super fun and makes for a unique gift any time of the year. As a gardener here on Randall’s Island I occasionally get the chance to work with Nick in The Learning Garden. There are a number of herbs and plants available that are key ingredients for homemade salves, lotions, balms, scrubs, bath salts etc. Here is a very easy recipe via Janice Cox (Janice Cox is the author of Natural Beauty at Home) utilizing lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘England’, the species we grow in The Learning Garden) from the Randall’s Island Learning Garden.

• 1 cup dried lavender flowers (any species you’d like)

• 2 cups whole oatmeal (to keep it natural/organic use a natural or organic brand)

• 1⁄2 cup baking soda

1. Place ingredients inside a food processor or blender. Grind until you have a smooth, fine powder. The powder should have the consistency of whole grain flour.

2. Pour into a dry, clean container. To use: Pour 1/2 cup into your bath as you fill the tub.

There are a number of resources available online and at local bookstores that will provide you with endless ideas and recipes. Here are a few of my favorites;

Stephanie Tourles book Organic Body Care Recipes is a great resource and provides an endless amount of easy to follow recipes for a variety of body care needs. Her book has become a staple in my library.


I’m also a BIG fan of Kendra and Scott’s blog http://asonomagarden.wordpress.com I could spend days on here relishing in their recipes and suggestions. Fantastic they are! Here’s an easy winter hand salve recipe; http://asonomagarden.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/how-to-make-an-easy-winter-hand-salve-aka-eczema-fighting-lotion/

Winter is coming. Get ready and create!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: