Herbal healing salves are simple and effective ways to enjoy the benefits of herbal medicine, and they couldn’t be easier to make at home. Salves are semi-solid at room temperature, making them easy to transport and store. When they come in contact with skin, the botanicals go to work, released by our own body heat for absorption through the skin.
I’ll admit it, as a budding herbalist I was intimidated by making my own salves. Homemade tinctures and infused oils are easy enough, just place herbs in a medium and wait.
It took me over a decade of herbal practice before I made my first herbal salve. Start to finish, the whole process only lasted about 10 minutes and I had a whole counter full of homemade herbal medicines. Why had I waited so long to try this?!?!?!
What is a Salve?
A healing salve is an oil-based medicine, generally used topically. A carrier oil is infused with herbs, resins or other medicinal compounds and then it’s thickened with a bit of wax (usually beeswax) for easier application.
Chapstick is one example, as many commercial chapsticks are simply herbal salves poured into an easy-to-apply tube. Some even come in tins, as they did long before inexpensive plastics became available.
These days, commercial versions of old-time salves often use petroleum-based oils to achieve a thick consistency. Neosporin and Vicks vapor rub are all good examples. Historically, those would have been healing salves made by blending healing botanicals with oil and beeswax.
Making your own healing salves allows you to control the ingredients, ideally sticking with organics and avoiding petroleum products whenever possible.
Ingredients for Healing Salves
Usually, healing salves are made with just a few ingredients. Often just three ingredients are enough to get the job done, those being herbs, oil, and beeswax.
There’s a base oil that helps to carry the medicines, while at the same time moisturizing and nourishing the skin. Most any oil will work, and generally, the choice is determined by personal preference. Olive oil makes a good all-purpose healing salve, and almond oil is especially nourishing to the skin (assuming no nut allergies).
Common choices include:
- Olive Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Almond Oil
- Jojoba Oil
- Coconut Oil
Using solid or semi-solid oils such as coconut oil or shea butter will result in a thicker salve, and it can be tricky (though not impossible) to infuse medicines into them. For beginners, I’d suggest starting with a neutral oil that’s liquid at room temperature (olive, grapeseed or almond).
Making a Herbal Infused Oil for Salve Making
The first step to making a healing salve is infusing the oil with herbs. Start by filling a mason jar about 2/3rds full with dried herbs. Allow the herbs to slowly infuse into the oil for 3 to 6 weeks before straining.
Working with fresh herbs is a bit trickier, and you have to speed the infusion process along with a bit of heat so the wet herbal material doesn’t spoil. For beginners, I’d suggest sticking with dried herbs, and drying any fresh herbs before starting.
That said, some herbs are only potent fresh, and you can only make Saint John’s wort oil and salve with fresh plant material. In that case, consult this guide on making herbal infused oils for the specifics of working with fresh herbs.
How to Make a Herbal Healing Salve
Once you have a herbal-infused oil, making a healing salve only takes a few minutes.
Place the oil into a heatproof bowl. Add about an inch of water to a small pot, and then place the bowl on top of the pot to make a simple double boiler. This allows you to gently heat the oil over the heat of the water below.
Ideally, you’re warming the oil just enough to melt the beeswax (or other wax of your choice). Beeswax melts at roughly 145 degrees F (or 63 degrees C), so it’ll only take a minute above simmering water to warm the oil.
Ratios for oil and wax vary considerably based on personal preference. You’ll find herbal salve recipes that use 1 part wax to 4 parts oil, and others that use as little as 1 part wax to 12 parts oil.
The amount of wax only affects the consistency of the finished healing salve, and for the most part, the medicinal benefits will be quite similar regardless of the amount of wax used.
Personally, I use 1 ounce of wax (by weight) for every cup (8 ounces) of herbal-infused oil. I measure the oil into a liquid measuring cup, and then I place beeswax on a small kitchen scale until it reaches 1 ounce by weight.
Beeswax can be tricky to measure by volume, especially if you’re using chunks off a solid block of beeswax. Lacking a kitchen scale, one ounce is roughly equal to a heaping tablespoon of beeswax pistils.
The exact measurement is not important, and really the amount of beeswax in a herbal salve is totally up to the user. If it’s not thick enough for your liking, just melt the salve back down and add more beeswax. Alternately, if it’s too thick, melt it back down and add more oil (ideally herbal infused oil).
Once the wax is melted, remove the bowl from the heat and pour it into containers. I like to use small salve tins because they’re easy to transport and they seal well. Small mason jars work well too.
Allow the salve to cool to room temperature and reach a semi-solid consistency before using it.
(Note: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. Please consult your doctor or a medical professional before starting a new course of medical treatment.)
Herbal healing salves are incredibly versatile, and this semi-solid topical herbal medicine is an easy way to incorporate natural herbal remedies into your routine.
Herbal Infused Oil
- 1 1/2 cups carrier oil (olive, almond, grapeseed, etc)
- 1/2 to 1 cup dried herbs
- 1 cup (8 Ounces) Herbal Infused Oil
- 1 ounce (or 1 heaping tablespoon) Beeswax Pistils
- Pint Mason Jar
- Fine Mesh Strainer
- Double Boiler
- (or saucepan & heatproof bowl)
- Salve Tins
- (or other containers)
Herb Infused Oil
- Add dried herbal material to a pint mason jar. Cover completely with about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of oil.
- Allow the oil to infuse at room temperature for 3 to 6 weeks before straining through a fine-mesh strainer. (Note: Some of the oil will absorb into the herbal material, so starting with slightly more than 1 cup of oil should yield about 1 cup for making a herbal salve.)
Herbal Healing Salve
- Measure about 1 cup of herb infused oil. Place it in a heat proof bowl (or double boiler). Add about 1 inch of water to a small saucepan and then place the bowl over the water. Turn the heat on low and gently heat the oil.
- Add in about 1 ounce of beeswax pistils (roughly 1 heaping tablespoon). Stir gently until melted.
- Remove the oil/wax mixture from the heat and pour it into containers.
- Allow the salve to cool to room temperature and reach a semi-solid state before using it.
The amount of beeswax used is a matter of personal preference. Feel free to use more for a firmer healing salve, or less for a softer more spreadable herbal salve.
Salve Recipes for Beginners
Ready to start making your own healing salves? Here are a few salve recipes for common ailments to get you started:
- Comfrey Salve
- Pine Resin Salve
- Arnica Salve
- Gardener’s Healing Salve
- St. Johns Wort Salve
- Peppermint and Lavender Headache Salve
- Herbal Diaper Rash Salve