How to Make Salves and Ointments

Are you looking for my Go-To 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.

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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.

The difference between a salve and an ointment

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

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.

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.

Infusing dandelion flowers (add more oil than this one has!)

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.

I make a standard salve each year that contains plantain, yarrow, lemon balm, comfrey and calendula. The ingredients might change depending on what's growing that year and what I have on hand, but there are usually at least three of those herbs in the salve.

First I infuse the oil with plantain because it appears first in my yard each spring. When it has finished infusing, I strain the oil, add it back to the jar and add yarrow to infuse a second time. The jar of infused oil can be stored in the refrigerator until the next plant is ready to harvest if necessary.

If you prefer you can have different jars with a different herb in each one, then combine the oils when you make salve. 

And of course you can infuse several jars at the same time with the same or different herbs inside.

How to make salve or ointment

To make salve or ointment, you simply combine beeswax and infused oil. Be careful not to get water in your oil or beeswax. Water will make your preparation more likely to mold.

Use a tin can to melt beeswax

Use a double boiler, or a tin can or glass measuring cup in a pot of water. I usually use a can in a pan of water. I've pinched the top of the can with needle-nose pliers into a bit of a point to form a spout.

Add beeswax to the top of the double boiler, or to the tin can. The water shouldn't reach higher than the level of the wax, so that the can doesn't float.

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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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.

When you remove the pan from the stove you can add some vitamin E oil as a preservative if you wish, and if you are adding essential oils, this is the time to add them.

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

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.

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.

My go-to salve

Plantain is the primary herb in my go-to salve. I add whatever additional healing and skin-supporting herbs I have available that year.

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.

Yarrow, chickweed, and lemon balm are the herbs I regularly add to my plantain salve. Each one makes a healing salve on its own too.


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. The seeds are known as psyllium and are used as dietary fiber in products such as Metamucil.

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 in abundance is bugs!

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. 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.

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

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 is effective on bug bites, rashes, cold sores, cuts and other wounds.

A member of the mint family, lemon balm has a bright lemony scent and as well as being medicinal, it's also used in aromatherapy as an antidepressant.

More healing herbs for salves

If you don't have access to the herbs above, you can make a skin-healing salve with the following flowers instead. Of course, you can always buy herbs from your local health food/herb store, or online from Mountain Rose Herbs and other sites.

Salve made with chamomile flowers is good for minor cuts, scrapes, abrasions and minor wounds.

Calendula is an annual that I grow each year. The flower petals are healing for bug bites, rashes, scrapes, cuts and much more. 

Calendula is mild, gentle and suitable for use on babies and those with sensitive skin. If you have children, you need to make calendula salve.

Comfrey salve

Comfrey salve 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.

I used to buy comfrey at our local health food store, but now I grow my own. 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

Related Posts:
How to Make an Herbal Salve for Livestock


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