herbal preparations: salves

before i started practicing herbal medicine, i think the one time i’d ever heard the word “salve” (pronounced “sav”) was at my grandmother’s house.  salve-making is really a lost art, but it’s so simple and is such a fundamental way of delivering medicine to the body that i can’t figure out we don’t all learn this skill in kindergarten.  for those of you thinking (from my last prep post) about making herbal oils, salve-making is the next logical step in the process, and it gives you a lovely way to showcase your sweet medicine for your family, friends, and local farmer’s markets!

salve in tins

i’m really into etymology, for those of you who haven’t noticed.  i love to think about where words come from, what they mean, and how their meanings have changed.  to the untrained ear, the word salve conjures up images of something greasy and smelly that your grandparents smeared on you when you were hurt, but if we really look at the word, the medicine runs deeper than that.


any catholics out there?  or any folks who have seen sister act?  then you’ll already be acquainted with the word in a different form: salve regina.  this salve (pronounced SAHL-vay) means “be well”…it is a greeting, or more specifically in this situation, it is a greeting to the mother of god, wishing that she “be well.”  another biblical word associated with salve is “balm”…when jeremiah cries out “”is there no balm in gilead? is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” he’s speaking metaphorically about spiritual health of course, but he invokes the image of the priceless healing salve made from balsam poplars (cottonwood, for those of you who read my last prep post!).  this salve is often among the likes of gold, spices, and myrrh in lists of biblical trade goods.

a salve is an ointment; it’s a healing balm; it’s an anointing oil.  it’s an opportunity for us to tell ourselves to “be well.”  until recently, it has been a valued necessity to health.  the settlers used it, the pioneers used it, your great-grandparents used it—although in each of these cases, lard, not oil, was most likely the base.  not to worry though.  we won’t be using lard 🙂


1 cup of a good oil, oil blend, or herbal infused oil (see my last herbal preparations post on oils for a look at what makes a “good” oil and for directions on making herbal infused oils)

1 oz. (by weight) beeswax

vitamin e oil (a few capsules)

essential oils of your choice (choose these for their medicinal properties and/or their aromas)

optional natural additives (once you get comfortable with salve-making, try adding cocoa butter, shea butter, or anything else you can think of!)

clean dry jars, tins, or containers of any kind (avoid plastic)

*warning—this can be messy!!


step 1.  with a double boiler or over low heat, melt your ounce of beeswax.  don’t overheat!  have patience and wait for it to melt.

step 2.  slowly add your oil (including the contents of a few vitamin e caps) to your melted wax.  some of the wax will instantly re-solidify, so give it a gentle stir and wait for it to re-melt.

step 3.  very carefully pour your salve into your containers.

step 4.  if you so desire, add essential oils to your containers and give a gentle stir (you can do this earlier, but if you wait until the salve is put in the container, you can give each container a different eo blend).  add up to 10 drops per tablespoon of salve, so long as it’s a skin-friendly eo.  do your homework here!

step 5.  label your finished product, and let it cool and harden overnight on the counter.

store all the extra in the fridge.  you can experiment with consistencies by adding more or less beeswax.   more and you have a more solid finished product (think lip balm)—less and you have a more liquid finished product (think neosporin).  if you find some cute containers after having made your salve, never fear!  you can very gently re-heat your salve in a double boiler or in a pan over low heat, wait until it melts, and transfer it to another container.  also, learn from my fail—never leave your tin of salve in a hot car.  you’ll get a very unwelcome surprise if you do!

beeswax from mountain rose herbs


now a word about clean up.  realize that everything this touches will be coated with waxy, oily goodness, so minimize the number of utensils you use.  also, while your pan is still warm, try to remove all the excess salve you can with newspaper or paper towels.  everything else will take lots of soap, very hot water, and a good scrubbing (or three).  alternately, you can just christen a “salve pot” and not worry about it 😉


blessings and salve—be well!


go here for oils and beeswax

go here for containers and tins



  1. March 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    […] healthy through proper latching technique and regular applications of lanolin, coconut oil, or calendula oils and salves (love this stuff!). breast is […]

  2. April 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    […] wheel here, so i’ll direct you to my past posts for information on making an infused oil and turning that infused oil into a salve.  any combination of olive, apricot, jojoba, and coconut would be wonderful for your oil, and as […]

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