How to Make an Herbal Salve

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

A salve(also called unguents or ointments) is a semi-solid herbal preparation normally reserved for topical use. Salves soften when applied to the skin, and provide a healing, emollient, and protective effect. Salve consistency can vary from thick and hard or thinner and greasy, depending upon the base used.

The base for most salves is a mixture of a wax and an oil. The oil enhances the absorption of the medicinal substances into the skin, while the wax gives firmness to the finished salve for easier application.

The oil most used in herbal salves is an oil infusion. An oil infusion is an infusion of medicinal herbs in a fixed oil menstruum. Essential oils or other materials such as cocoa butter or tallow are incorporated into the salve during the process.

First, you will need an oil infusion. An oil infusion is great for topical healing, as it allows us to extract the fat soluble healing constituents as well as the plants' volatile oils.

The easiest way to make an herbal infusion using the "folk method" is as follows:

  1. Place dried herb(s) in a jar, filling halfway with the herb. I buy my organic herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs.

  2. Add enough oil(such as olive oil or almond oil) to completely cover the herb plus an extra 1/4 in oil above the wet herb. You may have to stir to make sure all the herb is covered. Many dried herbs will absorb this extra 1/4 in of oil so check your mixture 24 hours later to re-establish the extra measure of oil.

  3. Cap the jar tightly and keep some place you will remember such as the kitchen counter. Let the herbs infuse for at least 3 weeks. I infuse mine for 6.

  4. Make sure to shake the mixture several times a day. Periodically peak in the jar to ensure the her material stays covered, check for weird smells, etc.

  5. When the infusion is complete, strain the oil from the herb(I use cheesecloth). Bottle in glass bottles, cap tightly, label, store in a cool, dark place.

In a hurry? You can speed up the process by using your Instant Pot!

Simply add the herbs and oil to the jar as mentioned above, but do not put on the lid. Place the jar inside your Instant Pot. Use the Instant Pot yogurt setting, vent open. Keep inside for at least 24 hours, but up to 72hrs(depending on how strong you want the oil to be). Strain as mentioned above.

Now on to the salve!

For this recipe, you will need 8oz of oil by volume to 1 oz of beeswax by weight. If you are vegan, you can substitute carnauba wax. However, it is a harder wax than beeswax so use 20% less.

  1. You want to melt the wax into the oil via indirect heat. I use a double boiler. You could use a glass bowl sitting on a pot of water. Use low heat.

  2. Stir occasionally to help the wax melt into the oil.

  3. Once melted, remove from heat. Now is the time to add any essential oils, if desired. I usually add a tsp of vitamin E as a natural preservative.

  4. Pour into container of choice and wait for it to garden. I like to use 2 oz jars or tins for selling or gifting purposes. For your own use, you can just use a single container. Be aware that will take longer to harden though.

  5. Salve shelf-life depends on a variety of factors, but most say 6 months. 2x as long if refrigerated.

Have you ever made salve? Is it something you want to try?

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