Before modern nut and seed oils – expressed by expensive machinery, chemically fractured plant products or petroleum-based products imported into the UK – our ancestors used animals fats rendering tallow from cow and deer tallow and pig lard – to create medicines with plants.
When our ancestors hunted for food they did so in an respectful way to both spirit and body. Using ceremony and ritual and prayer to appeal to the spirit of the hunt and forest to pass them a sick and weak animal. This “ritual” would also have passed on information to the hunters, through performance and orality, about what to look for in an easy target. Part magic part practical use. The animal would feed them but also encourage the health of the herd by thinning its sicker members. Early husbandry. When they made their kill they would use all of the animal. The death of the animal was honoured by not being wasteful. Modern farming practices aren’t like this anymore. We must be mindful of animal suffering and the dangers to us and the animals of factory farming.
Rendering tallow and lard from animals is an old practice. Tallow rendering was something my gran used to do with the fatty off cuts of beef and pork. I remember dipping my bread crusts into the dripping from roast beef my mum cooked as a young child – it was one of our Sunday family traditions – and incredibly delicious and nutritious. Rendering tallow for medicine is not carried out very often anymore. A reaction to saturated fats and the vegetarian and vegan movement has provided alternatives. However, if you are interested in traditional medicine techniques and not against it from moral/ethical/lifestyle choice then please read on.
Why Tallow and Lard?
Our ancestors knew animal fats were excellent at capturing plants constituents and healing the skin. They used fats for skin care, hair pomade, cosmetics and creams. The skin is our largest organ in our body. It absorbs what we place on it. The reason transdermal medicine works. Why anodyne salves work really well. It makes sense to use whole food medicine which nourishes the skin. Looking at older formularies we can find many, many, receipts or formulas for salves and balms which include tallow. There are also receipts and recipes which use tallow for things like ingrowing toenails. Interestingly, in Germany, deer tallow (Hirschtalg) is still used as a base ingredient in many salves used by athletes to prevent sore skin or blisters.
Tallow works very well – it has the same saturated fat content as our skin (around 50%) making it the same fat balance and absorbs easily. Tallow lipids are made up of triglycerides – almost identical to human sebum (the oil that skin uses to protect itself).  In regard to compatibility of tallow with the biology of our skin, we should note we are animals and not plants, so the modern taboo against animal products in skin care products would seem illogical. Though on ethical and animal care grounds not so illogical.
There are plenty of other options available for those who understandably don’t wish to cause animal suffering. We make our choices about these things. Some for medical reasons, some for reasons of compassion or personal preference. However, some plant fats which have a similar consistency to tallow are extracted using hexane – a petroleum product (oils extracted in this way include coconut oil, palm oil or shea butter). That being said, a lot of animal care is sub standard in today’s mass produced market. If you choose to use Tallow it needs to be sourced from Grass fed organic reared livestock. One source is the culling of deer that happens in the highlands. (If they didn’t do this due to the large numbers deforestation would happen at a greater rate and herds would become sick with too little to eat among them – Humans, having removed deers natural predator have had to become one themselves).
It’s important to make sure the animal has been well cared for and killed with compassion. I’m lucky as we live near a great farmer who raises his live stock very well and very humanely. I know him by name, how he treats his animals and staff is a testament to good care. What process his livestock go through to get to the table is a humane as possible, well as humane as taking another life can be. If you choose to use plant fats make sure the process is hexane free, sustainable, ask how they transport the fats, how they offset the pollution they cause and make sure its fair trade. This said the nourishment for the skin from plants will be different than tallow. Plants contain very little saturated fats, do not have the same levels of other nutrients needed for healthy skin. Tallow has the abundant natural fat-soluble activators, vitamins A, D, and K, as well as vitamin E, which are found only in animal fats and which are all necessary for general health and skin health. Tallow also has CLA – conjugated linoleic acid with anticancer anti inflammatory properties among other things well worth exploring. 
Rendering tallow for cooking
There are a number of ways to make tallow. I have used two different approaches. I usually place the cut up suet having removed all the blood and anything red (not removing it adds to the spoilage of the final fat in time but also adds to the meat like smell of the final rendered product) into a slow cooker. I place the slow cooker on a low setting and let it do its thing. Once its melting, I check to see for “floaters”. These floaters are little bits of crackling floating on the surface. You want to capture them before they fry off completely as it can turn your tallow more of a yellow colour but these crackling floaters are also releasing the tallow you want to capture so it s a fine line.
Another method of rendering tallow is to put the cut suet pieces into a metal colander over a metal pot and place it in the oven around 100c. The pieces of suet will start to melt and release the tallow into the pan underneath it. You can stir and mash it a few times as its renders down. Leave it until all the fat has come out, then strain the fat through fine cheese cloth or muslin.
Which ever method you use you then want to filter the tallow through a cheese cloth (caution tallow as this stage is going to be very, very hot!) You will need to throw the muslin away afterwards or find a use for it. Possibly as a fire starter (I haven’t tried that). Or maybe some way of using it as a food wrap or for waterproofing something. Use it to get the fat out of the pot as it’s a lot easier to clean up whilst hot than when it goes cool and hard. If you have a use for these items please do let me know. The rendered Tallow is now ready for cooking or making herbal salves and balms with.
Simple tallow and herbal balm recipe
You can make an effective tallow balm base at this stage – just add one part cold pressed Virgin Olive oil or other oil liquid at room temp to 8 or 9 parts tallow (depending on how warm or cold it is where you live or how hard you like it) and pour into jars/tins. This balm can be used, as is, once cool with no addition of any plant material as it’s already tremendously healing. It may still have a bit of a meaty smell but it fades once on the skin.
A simple how herbal balm recipe with tallow for dry irritated skin.
Freshly pick equal amounts of Chickweed, Cleavers and Marigolds (Calendula) flowers with the Calyx on. Weigh the amount of Tallow you’d like to use and triple the amount of fresh plant material in weight. The more plants you use the stronger the balm but i think this is a minimum. Tallow can absorb a lot of plant material.
Wilt the Cleavers and Chickweed for 24 hours before using to help remove some of the water. Because you are heating the mixture moisture shouldn’t be too much of an issue but every little helps. Chop the plant material very finely and place into the warming Tallow. Warming the tallow is best done in a double boiler or a bain Marie. Once it has melted bring the heat up high, (you don’t want to fry the plant material) and then turn off the heat and allow to cool until hard and then simply repeat the process over 24 hours or longer until you have used all the plant material and it looks exhausted and the salve has taken in the rich colour of the plants. It should turn a very rich dark green, unlike plant oils it takes on a deeper darker character.
You then drain out the plant material whilst the tallow is still warm through fine cheese cloth and return to the double boiler. At this point you can add Cold Pressed Virgin Olive Oil or another oil liquid at room temp. Add at a ratio of 8 (or 9) parts tallow to 1 part other oil. Depending on how soft you’d like it. (You may want to have infused the olive oil or other plant oil with one of the herbs or another for its properties.) Mix together & pour into your jars or tins and allow to set with the lids off to allow any final moisture to escape. You now have excellent balms for using on dry and hot skin conditions, grazes and shallow cuts.
Helpful hint: Clean the bowl before the tallow dries with an old rag or recyclable tissue. It makes it a lot easier to clean if you do this.
To make scentless tallow you can further refine it. You can use this for things like enfleurage (the capturing of volatile oil from flowers like Tuber rose, Jasmin, or Sweet Pea using fats) or pomade. Imagine making a perfume dedicated to the spirit of deer or the animal you have rendered the fat from in this way. Powerful stuff indeed. This further refined tallow can still be used for salves and balms but not for eating. It won’t taste very nice due to the natural additives you need to use. The further steps follow and come from an old recipe I have from the 1840’s.
Rendering fat for Enfleurage and Pomades.
You will need Alum (the natural mineral rock),sea salt, 100% alcohol, Rose water (or filtered water) and benzoin resin processed into an oil.
Creating the Benzoin Oil
The benzoin resin has to be mixed to one part Benzoin to two parts 100% alcohol (perfumers alcohol is ideal if you don’t have an alcohol licence) .i.e 10 grammes of Benzoin to 20 grammes of alcohol. Mix these together and leave to macerate until the Benzoin has dissolved as much as possible. Once macerated . This is filtered into one part oil. In our example above it would be 10 grammes by weight not volume of oil added to the filtrate of benzoin and alcohol). Ideally castor oil should be used but i have been successful with cold pressed virgin olive oil. This oil is then heated (by distillation if you have the equipment to recapture the alcohol) or in a pan with a thermometer placed in it to remove the alcohol ensuring to not go over 80c. Once the alcohol has been removed you can keep this oil to use. It contains benzoic acid and the volatile principles of the benzoin. I sometimes don’t make the benzoin oil and just drain the filtered macerated tincture into the rose water in the below steps. Experiment and see what you prefer.
Using the Alum
Taking the tallow you rendered and filtered initially from the suet , weigh it whilst cold and note how heavy it is. Return it to the slow cooker (but with no additions just straight forward tallow). You need to heat the tallow using the slow cooker method and not the colander/oven approach. You can set the slow cooker to high or low, its up to you but we need the tallow quite hot – you could even do this on the stove top but check how hot it’s getting).
Once melted, add one gram of Alum and 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to every half kilo (500g) of fat you are rendering. Do not exceed this. If you add it when the tallow is very hot, the tallow will fizz slightly creating the scum to be skimmed off. The salt and alum will help draw out further impurities and the scum needs to be skimmed off. Once its briefly boils turn off the heat and pour into another jar through very fine muslin/cheese cloth to strain and allow to stand for a couple of hours for impurities to drop.
Purifying the fat
You will now be adding the other ingredients. You need to add 8ml of Gum benzoin oil (or the benzoin tincture) and 20ml of Rose water for every 500 grams of tallow. Please add the rose water into the slow cooker before the Tallow and then turn it all on. The rose water will help dissolve any remaining salt in the fat and the Gum benzoin will remove any of the remaining scent as will the rose water. The water also stops the fat from burning. If you don’t have rose water that is ok. Normal filtered water will do but don’t use any hydrosol with a strong scent.
Allow it to boil gently , be really careful its going to be very, very hot. Again skim off any scum that rises to the surface of the tallow/water mix. Continue to do this until no more scum is produced. This usually takes about an hour at heat. Finally pour the water/tallow mix into a new container through more fine muslin and allow the tallow to separate from the water. This can be speedier in the fridge once its room temperature. Take the tallow off the water and you should now have tallow that has a fresher cleaner scent with no meaty smell and ready to be used for pomades and enfleurage. (To remove any excess water dry with tissue and then heat up again until you see no more steam over the tallow and its all evaporated.)
If you’d like to know more about enfleurage please go to http://africanaromatics.com/enfleurage-101/
You can find out more about the energetic properties of different fats in Matthew Woods herbal books.
 Fallon, Sally, Enig, Mary G., PhD (2001). Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends Publishing, Inc., Washington: 11
 Ip, C, J.A. Scimeca, et al. (1994). “Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anti-carcinogen from animal fat sources.” Cancer 74(3 suppl):1050-4