How to Make Salve and Ointment, a Step-by-Step Guide

A small jar of herbal salve with a red lid on a white tablecloth.

Learn how to make salve with foraged herbs like yarrow, chickweed, and plantain in this simple, healthy remedy guide.

How to make salve and ointment

Are you looking for my go-to herbal salve recipe? You'll find it below!

We are blessed to live in a place where many beneficial plants grow wild. I bet you do too, although your plants are probably different than mine, depending on where you live.

I'm surrounded by plantain, dandelion, yarrow, echinacea and many more wildflowers and plants. My herb garden provides lemon balm, comfrey, calendula, cayenne pepper and others. 

I gather each of these plants when the time is right. I dry some of them for later use, while others I infuse in oil. I use the infused oil to make salves and ointments, as well as my goat milk soap.

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The difference between a salve and an ointment

Salves and ointments are very similar, and people often use the names interchangeably.

A metal tin filled with homemade salve.

Salves are usually stiffer than ointment, containing more beeswax. 

Ointments are softer, made with less beeswax, and are easier to smooth over skin. A salve can be stored in a tin, while an ointment is more suited to a jar with a tight lid that will help prevent melting and leaking in hot weather.

Both salves and ointments are healing in nature and are meant to be used externally. 

The oils and herbal ingredients in salves and ointments are absorbed through the skin where they can work in the body, while the beeswax and some of the oil stay on the skin's surface where they form a protective layer and moisturize and nourish your skin.

The benefits of making your own salve

Making homemade salve offers many benefits.

First, and perhaps most important, you have control over the ingredients you use. You'll know your salve is made from all-natural ingredients and is free from chemicals and additives.

Second, you can customize your salve by using herbs and oils that will address your specific needs. If you are allergic to a particular herb or oil, you can omit it or replace it with another that has similar properties.

You can do away with synthetic and artificial preservatives. Using natural ingredients promotes healthy skin.

Your homemade salve will be cost-effective and budget-friendly conpared to commercial products. You're also cutting out all that packaging waste.

Homemade salve begins with herb-infused oils

The first step in salve making is choosing the oils and herbs you wish to use, depending on the salve's intended use.

Lip balm is a type of salve, and perhaps you simply want to make a moisturizing lip balm. You'd choose oils - and possibly herbs - that are moisturizing. 

Or you might want to make a salve similar to my "go-to salve," which my family and I use to soothe bug bites, rashes and minor abrasions. 

(You'll find the recipe for my salve below, along with a description of each of the plants I use.)

There are quite a few plants that will soothe bug bites, including peppermint, basil, plantain and comfrey, among others. From that list, I choose the plants that I have on hand, either in my garden or growing wild near my home.

I infuse these plants and herbs in healthy vegetable oils, and the infused oils are then used in my salves and ointments.

How to infuse herbs in oil

Infusing herbs in oils is quite simple. 

Let the plant material wilt for several hours after harvesting, then add to a Mason jar and cover with a good grade of olive oil. Put the jar in a sunny window for four to six weeks, shaking gently each day, then strain the plant material out of the oil.

Or, if you're impatient, you can put the herbs and oil in a slow-cooker and warm gently for a few hours, then strain.

You'll find more details about infusing oils and using a slow-cooker in this post, How to Infuse Herbs in Healthy Oils.

A jar of dandelion flower petals infusing in olive oil in a kitchen.
Infusing dandelion flowers. These flower petals have absorbed a lot of the oil and more needs to be added.

To get all the benefit of the herbs, strain the oil by pouring it through muslin or several layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze the fabric to get as much of the oil out as you can.

You can toss the spent plant matter on the compost pile.

When the infused oil is strained, you're ready to make salve.

How to make a salve or ointment

To make salve or ointment, you simply combine beeswax and infused oil. They are made in the same way, but the salve has more beeswax in it to make it stiffer.

Be careful not to get water in your oil or beeswax. Water will make your preparation more likely to mold.

A clean, empty tin can with the rim pinched into a spout with needlenose pliers.
Pinch the top of a tin can with needle-nose pliers to form a pouring spout.

Use a double boiler, or a tin can or glass measuring cup in a pan of water. 

I prefer using a clean tin can, set in a saucepan of water. The water should reach about the same height as the ingredients inside your glass measuring cup, tin can or inner pot, so it won't float and tip over.

I've pinched the top of the can with needle-nose pliers into a bit of a point to form a spout.

We'll melt the beeswax first. Add it to the inner pan of the double boiler, or to the tin can. Simmer the water gently until the wax melts. Don't leave melting wax unattended.

When the wax is melted, add the infused oil and stir until they are combined. 

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How much beeswax and oil to use

The ratio of beeswax to infused oil is up to you. 

Less wax makes an ointment, more wax makes a salve, and you might like yours softer or firmer than I do. 

You might start with one part beeswax to five parts oil, and add more beeswax a teaspoon at a time, if needed.

For an ointment, you can substitute some coconut oil for part of the beeswax to get a softer product. Just melt the wax as above, then add the coconut oil and the infused oil. The coconut oil will melt very quickly when added to the hot wax.

Remove the pan from the stovetop. Add some vitamin E oil as a preservative if you wish, and if you are adding essential oils to your salve, this is the time to add them.

Pour the mixture carefully into a tin or jar and let it cool until thick.

3 small jars of salve

If it's too thick or too thin

After the mixture cools you might decide that it's too thick or too thin. All is not lost! Just spoon it out of the container and back into the double boiler or tin can.

Then add a bit more oil if the salve is too thick, or add a little more beeswax if it's too thin. Let it melt again, stir carefully to combine and pour it back into the container. 

Sometimes I have to do this a couple of times to get the ratio just right.

(Keeping notes as you go will make your next salve-making session go much easier. At the very least, write down how much beeswax and infused oil you used to get the consistency you like, so you can duplicate the process next time.)

Where to find containers

I save all the little jars that come my way, such as the glass mustard jars in the cheese and sausage gift packs that The Chief likes so much, and little tiny jelly jars. 

You can also find jars and tins at Amazon and at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Here's my go-to herbal salve recipe

I make a salve each year that we use to soothe bug bites and stop the itch, and also on minor cuts and abrasions, poison ivy and so on.

The ingredients might change each time I make it, depending on what's growing that year and what I have on hand.

Sometimes one of the plants I usually use fails to come back in the spring, or there isn't a very big crop, so I will leave that one out or substitute something else in its place.

Plantain, yarrow, chickweed, lemon balm and comfrey are the herbs I regularly add to my salve. I add calendula if I have some infused oil left from last summer, since calendula matures later in the year. 

Each of those herbs makes an excellent soothing salve on its own too.

All of these herbs are known for soothing the itch of bug bites and helping the skin to recover. They all grow plentifully in the fields and woods around our house, which is handy because the bugs also live in the fields and woods around our house!

Here's the recipe - how to make salve with herbs

First I infuse the oil with chickweed because it appears first in my yard each spring. When the chickweed has finished infusing, I strain the oil, then add yarrow to the oil to infuse a second time. Plantain is usually the next herb that's ready to use.

The jar of infused oil can be stored in the refrigerator until the next plant is ready to be infused if necessary.

If you prefer, you can use several jars, each one holding a different herb. You'd combine these single-ingredient oils when you make this herbal salve recipe.

Or you can infuse a jar of oil with a mixture of all the herbs inside, all in one batch. This is a simple and fast way to make a multi-herb infusion - using dried herbs so you don't have to wait for each plant to grow in season and infuse them one at a time.

Here are the herbs I use


Plantain (Plantago major or common plantain) is a low-growing weed and is most easily recognized when the flower spikes are reaching for the sky. 

Plantain with seed stalks growing in a yard.

One of the easiest ways to identify plantain is by those seed heads, but you can also identify it by the long veins that run parallel from stem to leaf tip. The veins are especially visible if you turn the leaf upside down.

Plantain salve on its own is wonderful on itchy insect bites. One thing Oklahoma has an abundance of is bugs - and fortunately plantain grows here in abundance too.

Ticks and mosquitoes love me, I'm afraid, not to mention the possibility of chiggers, fleas and other critters.

Plantain salve soothes the bites almost on contact. It's also effective on poison ivy, minor sores, bruises and blisters.

It's not effective on scorpion stings, though. Don't ask me how I know that.


Yarrow is also called "nature's bandage" because you can pack a wound with the leaves and stop the bleeding.

In fact, I cut my finger recently while in the garden, and it wouldn't stop bleeding. I picked some yarrow leaves and wrapped my finger in them. 

By the time I'd finished watering the garden and removed the leaves, the bleeding had stopped and the cut looked as though it was already a day old.

A woman's hand holding several yarrow leaves
Yarrow is easy to identify by its ferny leaves.

You can identify yarrow by its ferny leaves and the many little flowers that make up those flower head clusters.

Clusters of tiny white yarrow flowers

Salve made from yarrow leaves and flowers soothes rashes, cuts, scrapes, and swelling.


Chickweed is an excellent herb to use on skin irritations and minor burns. Chickweed grows wild here on Oak Hill in early spring and dies back in early summer.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm has antiviral properties and helps prevent infections. Salve made with lemon balm soothes bug bites, rashes, cold sores, cuts and other wounds.

Lemon balm leaves, growing in a garden
Lemon balm is often grown in gardens. It has a delightful lemon scent as well as culinary uses.

A member of the mint family, lemon balm has a bright lemony scent.


Comfrey is well-known for its healing properties. It relieves pain and swelling, and supports muscles and bones. I sometimes include comfrey in my go-to salve, but I also make comfrey salve on its own.

A comfrey plant in a garden

Comfrey has so many uses and is so good for your garden in many ways. Here's why you should grow your own comfrey too.

Related posts:
Dandelion Salve
Mullein Oil for Earaches
Measuring by Parts

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Salves and ointments - what they are and how to use them


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