How to Make Salves and Ointments

Making salves and ointments

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. My herb garden provides lemon balm, comfrey, calendula, cayenne pepper and others. I gather these when the time is right. I dry some of them, others I infuse fresh in oil. I use the infused oil to make salves and ointments.

What's the difference between a salve and an ointment?

Salves and ointments are very similar, and some (including me) use the names interchangeably.

Plantain salve for insect bites.

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

Both salves and ointments are healing in nature and are meant to be used externally. The oils and herbal ingredients sink in through the skin where they can work in the body; the beeswax and some of the oil stay on the skin's surface where they form a protective layer and moisturize your skin.

How to infuse herbs in oil

To infuse herbs in oil, chop the fresh herbs to release the essential oils inside, place in a Mason jar and cover with a good grade of olive oil. You can either place the jar in a sunny window for 4-6 weeks, or you can place the herbs and oil in a slow-cooker and warm gently for a few hours.

Plantain with seed stalks

When ready, strain the plant matter out of the oil by pouring it through muslin or several layers of cheesecloth, squeezing the fabric to get all the plant's beneficial properties into the oil. The plant matter can be tossed on the compost pile.

I tend to use the slow-cooker method because I'm just a bit impatient.

My go-to salve, which I make every year, contains plantain, yarrow, lemon balm, and comfrey. I infuse oil with plantain first because it appears first in my yard in the spring. After straining this oil, I store the jar of oil in the refrigerator until the yarrow is ready to pick. I use the same oil to infuse the yarrow, and later the lemon balm from my garden, and then comfrey. This quadruple-infused oil is packed with herbal goodness.

How to make salve or ointment

To make salve or ointment, you simply combine beeswax and your 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. The water shouldn't reach higher than the level of the wax. I usually use a can in a pan of water. I've pinched the top of the can into a bit of a point to form a spout.

Place the beeswax in the double boiler or tin can and simmer the water gently until the wax has melted. Don't leave melting wax unattended. When the wax is melted, add the infused oil and stir until combined. You can add some vitamin E oil as a preservative if you wish, and if you are adding essential oils, now is the time to add them.

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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.

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

Where to find containers

I save all the little jars that come my way, such as plastic spice jars and the glass mustard jars in the cheese and sausage gift packs that The Chief likes so much. Altoid tins work well for stiffer salves. You can also find jars and tins at Amazon and at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Some salves you can make

You'll find instructions and ideas for salves and ointments you can make in these posts. Perhaps my foot balm isn't exactly an ointment, but it's made in a similar way so I'm including it in this list.

Dandelion salve that can soothe sore muscles and joints

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Related posts:
How to infuse herbs in oil to use in soapmaking

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

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  1. The herbs I use are very similar (plantain, chickweed, comfrey, and yarrow), and I use the infused oils to make salves and body lotion. I love using herbs from my land and garden in my skin care products. And the salves come in handy for insect bites, sunburns, and other 'owies'.

    1. I've never made body lotion before; I'm going to have to give it a try, Michelle. Thank you for sharing your favorites!

  2. very cool, thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Jamie!

  3. I would love more information on what kinds of salves and ointments to make and how. This is all new to me. I am growing more wary of the normal doctors.
    Thank you.

    Please drop by and say hello!
    Harvest Lane Cottage
    ...doing what I can with what I've got where I am
    on a short shoestring budget!

    1. Hi Laura! If you search "salve" in the search bar on my sidebar, you'll get several posts about salves I've made and used. I hope it's helpful.

  4. HI Kathi,
    This DIY salve sounds very healing - I make a lot of mine of homemade solutions for many things but having tried salve yet. I guess I don't use it enough since I have no children at home. Sharing.

    1. Hi Marla, our children are grown and gone too, but I still keep little jars of salve around for our own use. I make a cayenne salve for sore muscles, and the plantain salve is amazing on mosquito bites (they seem to love me).

  5. DIY salves are much superior to store-bought ointments or lotions. Love using herbs to maximize the healing benefits. Thanks for sharing on Simply Natural Saturdays.

    1. Thank you for hosting, Anya.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post, Kathi. I didn't realise the difference between a salve and an ointment and it's wonderful you are using your own home grown plants to make them. Thank you for sharing this post with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop. Pinned.

    1. Thank you for the Pin, April!

  7. In your "go to" salve, do u mean you infuse with plantain first..or you infuse same oil with yarrow twice? Newbie here and just wanted to make sure I got it right

    1. Thank you for pointing that out, Bobbie - I've fixed it in the post now. I infuse the oil with plantain first, then with yarrow, a third time with lemon balm and a fourth with comfrey.

  8. Thanks for a great post! Coming over from Country Fair Blog Party!

    1. I'm glad you stopped by, Jan; thank you for visiting!

  9. Great info...I hadn't thought of using my slow cooker to make the infused oil. Also, I'd love to try these herbs. :) Thanks for sharing on the hop!


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