Herbal salve is often used for healing skin ailments. Learn how to use herbs from your garden to make a healing herbal salve.
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Why make an herbal salve?
The skin is our largest organ. When you mix medicinal herbs with oil, and thicken it with beeswax into a salve, you create an easy vehicle for absorbing the healing properties of herbs to aid in tissue repair.
I have to admit, at first I was a little skeptical about how effective a salve could be at healing and moisturizing. I figured it was just a “nice to have,” rather than an essential component of my medicine cabinet.
After all, I had grown up using store-bought lotion as a moisturizer, and antibiotic ointment for healing.
However, with an abundance of herbs from the garden, I decided to make a salve and try it myself. I was not prepared for how gentle and effective it was! Personal care products made from high-quality herbs really can make a big difference. I’m totally hooked!
How to Make an Herbal Salve
Instructions for making a healing salve are simple—there are just two parts to the recipe. First, you’ll take dried herbs and infuse them in oil. Then, you’ll mix the infused oil with beeswax to thicken it. That’s it!
Want all the benefits of a healing herbal salve but don’t have time to make it yourself? Here’s my favorite source for high-quality, farm-grown and handmade herbal salve.
Step 1: Make an Herbal Oil Infusion
There is a quick way to make an oil infusion and a slow way. Both are easy. If you want to make your salve right away, then you’ll have to go with the ‘fast way’. However, if you have time, try the ‘slow way’, as your infusion might pick up more of the herb’s healing properties.
The ‘Slow Way’ to Make an Oil Infusion
- 2 cups of dried herb (loosely packed)
- Up to 2 cups of high-quality olive oil* (see note below)
- Sunny windowsill
- pint-sized mason jar
Add the dried herb to a sterilized mason jar. Top with olive oil so that all the herb is covered. Use a skewer to stir and release air bubbles. Cap the jar tightly. Set the jar in a sunny window for 4 weeks, shaking gently every day or so.
When the time is up, separate the oil from the plant matter by straining it through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Be sure to squeeze the cheesecloth to release the last bit of oil.
For an example, see my detailed instructions for making a calendula oil infusion.
Would you like to grow food in your front yard without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.
The ‘Fast Way’ to Make an Oil Infusion
- 2 cups of dried herb (loosely packed)
- Up to 2 cups of olive oil* (see note below)
- pint-sized mason jar
- Slow cooker (I like this model)
Add the dried herb to a mason jar and top it with olive oil until the herb is covered. Stir well. Cap the jar tightly.
Set the jar in the slow cooker and add water up to one inch below the jar lid.
Turn the crockpot to low and let it sit (without the lid) for 12-24 hours. Once or twice, check the water level and add water if necessary.
Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, squeezing the cheesecloth to extract the last bit of oil from the dried herb.
I made 2 jars of herbal oil the quick way: one jar of lemon balm and one of comfrey.
*A note on olive oil:
Wondering what kind of olive oil to use? Jan Berry, author of Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home, says the following:
In the supermarket, olive oil is available in grades ranging from dark green extra virgin to a more refined, light-colored oil. All types of olive oil will work for [this recipe]… Be aware that many store-brand light olive oils are cut with canola oil to reduce costs and are often past their prime. They’ll still work in [this recipe], but your [salve] may yellow or go rancid sooner than if you purchased a higher quality product from online shops that deal specifically in soap making supplies. Shelf life is 12 months.”
There has been a lot of fraud documented in the olive oil industry. For more resources on this topic, see the following articles:
Would you like to learn more about growing herbs to improve biodiversity, reduce maintenance, and increase yield in your garden?
You’ll find loads of information in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Step 2: Make a Healing Salve
To make a herbal salve, we’ll simply thicken our infused oil with beeswax.
– 1 1/4 cups infused oil (If you followed the instructions above, you’ll have about 1 1/4 cups oil)
– 1.5 oz (about 1/3 cup) beeswax pastilles
– Heavy-bottomed pot
– 10-20 drops or more of essential oil (optional)
– Glass measuring cup
– 5 4-oz glass jelly jars or screw top tins
Instructions to transform infused oil into an herbal salve
Add the beeswax to a heavy bottomed pot on the stove, and heat on low. (My stove temperature ranges from 1 to 10 and I put mine on 2.) Use the lowest temperature possible. The low temperature will ensure that the beeswax retains some of its healing properties. Beeswax melts at 140 degrees.
Note: You may want to get a pot that you only use for making herbal preparations in case there’s any residue leftover. I don’t have any trouble washing my pot and utensils as I do my other dishes.
Wait for the beeswax to melt, then whisk in the herbal oil.
The cooler temperature of the oil will solidify some of the beeswax again, so continue whisking until the beeswax is completely melted and the two are mixed well. Add the essential oil, if using. Add about 10 drops at a time until you’ve reached your desired strength of fragrance.
Quickly pour the herbal salve the mixture into a glass measuring cup, then fill the jelly jars or tins. I reused a few sanitized, store-bought tins, as well.
Note: The beeswax-oil mixture will sometimes solidify in the measuring cup before you’ve finished filling the jars. If this happens, simply use a spatula (I love this jar spatula) to put the mixture back in the pot on the stove and melt it again.
Let the jars cool for up to 24 hours, then cap them tightly and label.
Herbal Salve Recipes
The herbs in the recipes below are among my favorite herbs to grow in the medicine garden.
Soothing Herbal Salve with Calendula and Lemon Balm
– 1 1/4 cup calendula infused oil
– 1 1/4 cup lemon balm infused oil
– 3 oz beeswax pastilles (about 2/3 cup)
Follow directions as outlined above in Step 2. You’re doubling the recipe, so you’ll need approximately 10 jelly jars, rather than 5.
If you prefer, you can make a Calendula Comfrey Salve by substituting comfrey infused oil for the lemon balm oil in this recipe.
Properties: Calendula and lemon balm both have antibacterial properties. Together, they are also anti-inflammatory and antiviral. This salve will help soothe insect bites and rashes, and will help repair cuts and scrapes. Lemon balm is effective at healing cold sores, and calendula is effective at soothing eczema.
Knitbone Herbal Salve with Comfrey (aka Comfrey Salve Recipe)
– 1 1/4 cups comfrey infused oil
– 1.5 oz beeswax pastilles (about 1/3 cup)
Instructions: Follow as outlined above in Step 2.
Properties: Comfrey is also known as knitbone because of its powerful, trans-dermal healing properties. It is best used for ailments without broken skin: broken bones, sore muscles, bruises, sprains, and joint pain.
I use my herbal salve every day as a regular moisturizer. If you prefer, salve can replace store-bought lotions. I always keep a tin of salve in my purse!
What kind of herbal salve do you like to make?
Rhonda Crank says
Thanks for such a nice article. It was easy to understand. I do believe I could do it now. It is on my list of things to try for next year.
Liz D. says
I used this recipe as a base, but added half comfrey leaves/half arnica for one oil, and cannabis oil for the other jar, and combined them. I cant keep enough in stock, my friends, they love it for their aches and pains, and minor injuries. ITs really easy to make. I also add shea butter (1/3c to 1 c of oil) IT makes it absorb quickly along with all those anti inflammatory herbs.
Andrew Hughes says
Great post! I love the reflection of the sun artwork in the bowl with melted beeswax!
Judy Peterson says
love your articles. always learn something new. my question is where can I get Beeswax ?
Here are the beeswax pastilles (affiliate link) I use. Also called pellets, pastilles are a no-mess way to measure out the beeswax.
If you don’t mind a little mess, you can also get beeswax cheaply from local beekeepers and grate it with a cheese grater.
Do you think you could do a version with coconut oil? It ‘hardens’ at room temp, as I’m sure you know, and skip the bees wax? Melt it down, add in the herbs, let it sit, then melt it down and strain the herbs for the final product. What are your thoughts?
Love from a fellow Cincinnatian!
If you’d like to use coconut oil, I would reduce the amount of beeswax to 1 tbsp since the coconut oil does harden at room temp. It’s common to use coconut oil in salves – it has some great medicinal properties (as you probably know). Some people do 1/2 olive oil, 1/2 coconut oil.
If you’re skipping the beeswax because you want a vegan product, many people will use carnauba wax or candelilla wax. I’ve never tried them, but assume they act in the same way as beeswax.
I think skipping the wax altogether would be a great experiment, and wouldn’t hurt in the least. The texture would just be a little different. If you give it a try, let me know how it goes 🙂
The Belvedere-Alyssa says
Thanks for the response Amy. I’ll be giving it a try with olive oil and coconut oil, no wax, this weekend. I’ll keep you updated. 🙂
Liz D. says
Amy, I tried adding coconut oil to a batch of salve, and found it got too granular when it cooled. I prefer to use shea butter, it also feels less greasy and absorbs faster (along with all those good herbs) I havent tried it w/o the beeswax however, in fact I was considering adding more since it gets rather soft in hot weather. Of course keekping it in the fridge would fix that. Ech batch I try something different to try for the right consistancy. I even added Sea Buckthorn oil in the last batch, and its wonderful after the shower to moisturize the skin.
I love hearing about your experiments!
I was using organic EV-CP coconut oil (and olive oil) in my ointments containing these same herbs. I, too, have been seeing this granulation occasionally developing after 3-4 months. Apparently temperature changes effect this type of change, ie, the beading. I am switching to fractionated coconut oil, which is supposed to be more stable. Timespace will tell. I just poured my first batch using fractionated coconut oil, also referred to as MCT, liquid or (maybe) distilled coconut oil.
I use coconut oil for my salves. I make my herb oils with almond oil, and combine it with coconut oil and beeswax as described above. I do a calendula salve for everyday use, and a first aid salve with calendula, tea tree oil and lavender oil. I love my salves!!!
Sounds heavenly! I use my salves daily and can’t imagine my life without them 🙂
Rose Leonard says
Ive been making a salve with half coconut oil and half olive oil and still put in the bees wax…never tried it without the bees wax. and the consistancy seems great. I dont think the coconut oil would make it firm enough.
Great post. Followed you from the Homestead Barn Hop. Love for you to come by this week’s Wildcrafting Wednesday and share.
Jen @ The Easy Homestead says
You make this look so easy that I am going to have to try this! Thanks for sharing on Homestead Blog Hop!
Great post. I love making salves. they work so much better than anything you can buy in the store and are so simple to make. Congrats on being chosen as a featured post on this week’s Wildcrafting Wednesdays! I hope you’ll join us again and share more of your awesome posts.
Great idea making your own salve. I know that comfrey is great for wounds. Thanks for sharing this recipes. I have pinned and twitted. Visiting from Wildcrafting Wednesdays.
Jennifer at Purposeful Nutrition and The Entwife's Journal says
Great post. My daughter makes them as well and we are glad to have it on hand.
Thanks for sharing at Wildcrafting Wed. and congrats on being a featured post. Shared on my FB page.
My mother often made salves out her herbs, and somehow I never learned exactly how she got the good properties out of the leaves and into the salve! Are there any other combinations you enjoy? Thank you for the great write up.
This excellent post lists many other herbs that would be perfect for salves to soothe a variety of ailments. All of them would be very easy to grow.
I have a question. I made some comfrey salve with comfrey leaves, beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, Melaleuca essential oil and lavender essential oil. I put it in a large container after it was done and then about two weeks after I made it I noticed on the bottom of the container it had developed black mold. What did I do wrong or how can I keep this from happening again ?
Of course, it is nearly impossible to diagnose what happened without seeing pictures and the exact recipe, but here are some considerations:
–It might not be mold at all. Sometimes powdered green plant residue will sink to the bottom.
–Too much moisture. Could be caused by using fresh instead of dried herbs, an unclean or wet container, making contact with the mixture with wet hands, or keeping it uncovered in a humid environment (like a bathroom).
Just a few guesses for you.
I make salves regularly, but yours is the best directions I have come across. We generally use plantain, comfrey, and calendula. I am growing my own large calendula crop this year – I wish everyone would grow their own, it’s such a simple, happy, lovely flower. We also grow our comfrey. Such great medicine!
Beth Coughlin says
I just finished a salve today. I used plantain, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm and lemon thyme. I used a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and unrefined coconut oil then used beeswax pastilles. I also added lemon verbena essential oil and lavender essential oil. I was very happy with the results. Good calming, anti itch, anti microbial salve. Thanks for you blog . It inspired me!
The seriously sounds amazing. What a great combo!
Good recipe, Of course I had to tweak it a bit, lol (doesn’t everybody?)
I love how it came out, added some sweet almond oil. Very nice base for whatever floats your boat. lol
I will definitely be making other kinds for different purposes. This batch I left a note on Pintrest for you. Love how it absorbs quickly. (It’s for sore muscles, and seems to help.) I will try some other different combos of herbs and oils until I get it to my perfect liking. It was a tad expensive for the ingredients, but I did add some essential oils which tend to be pricy. Thanks again for another great tip.
I love making salves and balms! I’ll have to add lemon balm to my list. I make several infused oils and add some of what I want to the particular salve, though Calendula goes in everything.
Another step saving tip: I melt my wax and oil in my Pyrex measuring glass over hot water – ready to pour and one less dish to wash! I whisk it a bit as it cools (may or may not add essential oils depending on the recipient), seems to improve the texture, then pour into my containers. Everyone loves them; I make for fam and friends or barter.
Waiting for Birch to come out to harvest for more infused oil 🙂
Hi, is there something I can use instead of beeswax?
Per above: If you’re skipping the beeswax because you want a vegan product or have an allergy, many people will use carnauba wax or candelilla wax. I’ve never tried them, but assume they act in the same way as beeswax.
Love this! I ran out of beeswax pastiles, would it be ok to use shea butter or cocoa butter raw?
Never tried it, but sounds like a fun experiment. It would be safe even if the consistency doesn’t work out.
Out of curiosity : rather than use a liquid fat to extract and then adding beeswax, couldn’t one simply use a solid fat such as mango butter in your crock pot method (which would turn it into a liquid to then absorb from the herbs) and pour straight into containers?
There are medicinal benefits to using beeswax which is often why it’s used, but mango butter is a safe and healthy fat, so it would be worth a try. Experiments sometimes lead to great things and sometimes not! Report back and let us know how it went 🙂
Kevin van de Koolwijk says
I’ve been wanting to make a salve using calendula and dried comfrey root. But the recipe I have is no good. Any idea how to combine them for maximum effect?
“…the recipe I have is no good.”
What do you mean it is no good?
Have you tried the recipe in this article? It is a step-by-step approach to making a salve with any desired herbal ingredients. A salve is simply mixing infused oil with a thickener like beeswax.
Love your salves and intrigued by the green colored salves. Obviously, the herbs used account for the color. Do you use white or yellow beeswax?
Doris Dunn says
Hi, I was wondering if Almond or Grapeseed oil would work rather than olive oil to make the infused oils?
Have a blessed day
Yes, both of these are good substitutes for olive oil, although the shelf life of grapeseed oil is shorter.
Debbie Lareau says
Amy, I have made a salve with Plantain growing in my backyard and love it! I have a friend who asked if I could find her a antifungal salve for her toenail fungus. I have searched through several recipes that weren’t quite what I wanted and found several spices that have antifungal properties: Oregano, juniper berry, garlic, rosemary and turmeric. I am not sure how much spices I use with the olive oil to make the infused oil. Your recipe calls for either essential oils or the plant, how do I measure for the spices because they are mostly dried and either powdered or crushed into small pieces. What do you think would be a good ratio? Thank you so much for your help! – Debbie
Can you combine dried flowers ( like arnica and calendula) with oil to make a combination infused oil or is it better to do them separate and mix after?