Grandpa Hilgert Salve

Last week, my husband’s Aunt Carol invited my mother-in-law to a little family get-together to help identify some family photos found in an old trunk. Their late husbands were brothers, and Carol had invited two remaining Hartman brothers and a sister as well.

One of my many roles is Ethel’s chauffeur. She doesn’t get out a lot any more; most of our trips involve a doctor’s office or Wal-Mart. Friday also happened to be her birthday, so I was game to drive her to a social gathering for a change of pace. After lunch and birthday cake, the five of them settled down to business, sorting through stacks of family snapshots and identifying as many subjects as they could.

Most of the pictures had been taken before I was born, much less married into the family, so I was of little help. Carol had also found a piece of paper tucked into her family Bible, with no idea of when or how it got there. She was trying to figure out exactly what it said.


Those of you who have been with me since my weblog began may remember that I like to research. Here was something I could do!

This is what it looks like:

Grandpa Hilgert SalVe

1 pound Clean Lard
1/2 pound Bees Wax
1/2 pound Campler
2 heping table spoon Borom

G. H.

I’m confident that Campler is actually Camphor, and heping is heaping. I suspect Borom is either Boron or Borax.

Off to Google! Boron is chemical element number 5 with the symbol B. According to MedLine Plus: “Boron is a mineral that is found in food and the environment. People take boron supplements as medicine. Boron is used for building strong bones, treating osteoarthritis, as an aid for building muscles and increasing testosterone levels, and for improving thinking skills and muscle coordination. Women sometimes use capsules containing boric acid, the most common form of boron, inside the vagina to treat yeast infections. People also apply boric acid to the skin as an astringent or to prevent infection; or use it as an eye wash. Boron was used as a food preservative between 1870 and 1920, and during World Wars I and II.”

Note that Grandpa Hilgert did not write out boric acid, which would have been the form used in a topical salve, so it’s on to look up Borax. For all the chemistry whizzes out there, Borax is generally described as Na2B4O7·10H2O and is easily converted to none other than boric acid. Borax is sounding more likely at this point.

Next, I googled both “boron salve” and “borax salve.” While “boron salve” had just one recipe hit (with a question as to whether it might instead be Borax), “borax salve” yielded multiple hits, including many recipes and the tidbit that Borax is often used in do-it-yourself skin care creams to help bind the oils, fats, and liquids with a creamy consistency and to balance pH. I think we have a winner.

As a final check, I looked back at Grandpa’s recipe. The “n” at the end of spoon is nothing like the letter at the end of Boro?. But looking back at the “x” from Bees Wax, instead of being formed by a simple cross, it looks like a loop down and to the left, then up and to the right. (This is easier to see on the original than in the photo.) The squiggle at the end of the word in question has strokes in the same directions, although they don’t meet in a formed “x.” Since there are other words misspelled in the recipe, it really doesn’t bother me that it is Borox rather than Borax.

So the recipe should actually read:

Grandpa Hilgert Salve

1 pound Clean Lard
1/2 pound Beeswax
1/2 pound Camphor
2 heaping tablespoons Borax

G. H.

According to other salve recipes I found (such as these at Google Books), the ingredients would be simmered together in a double boiler, then cooled and stored in a jar. Gramps must have assumed this was common knowledge. (If anyone is actually interested in replicating Grandpa Hilgert Salve, here are instructions for cleaning lard.)

I would still like to find out whether the initials G. H. stand for Grandpa Hilgert or for his given name and the approximate date of the recipe. For now, I am happy to have solved the ingredients part of the mystery.

NOTE: I’m sorry the picture isn’t clearer. I took it with my cell phone, then enhanced it with the free – and incredibly useful – online Photoshop Express Editor.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you, very interesting. I wonder, if anyone tried to make it? I think we could use oils instead of lard.

    1. Not that I know of, but it would be interesting to try! Let me know how it turns out if you make an attempt.

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