Making Ointments and Salves and Lip Balm---But First, The Infused Herbal Oil!

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Making Ointments and Salves and Lip Balm---But First,  The Infused Herbal Oils!



The infused oils are the most important ingredient--the quality of the finished product depends on it!

Salves, ointments, unguents, balms, call them what you will, what all these preparations have in common is they are primarily a semi-solid mix of fatty ingredients such as oils and waxes, usually with no water part at all, though they may contain a small amount of herbal tincture or similar. This differentiates them from creams and lotions which contain both fats and waters.

Generally, ointments and salves are considered much the same thing; a healing external preparation made with medicinal substances in a base of oils and waxes. According to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health,  an ointment is “a semisolid preparation for external application to the skin or mucous membranes.  Official ointments consist of medicinal substances incorporated in suitable vehicles (bases).”

Suitable ingredients for a salve include many vegetable oils (such as olive, sunflower, sweet almond, apricot) and beeswax or vegetable wax such as candelilla or carnuba.  In older herbals lard or animal fats were often used and these are enjoying a comeback amongst some traditional herbalists.   Some herbal books include recipes made with mineral oil by-products (petroleum jelly or vaseline).  I will not be talking about those.

Making salves involves some degree of heat so it is best to use oils that are fairly heat stable, the main ones to avoid are oils like flax seed, evening primrose and borage.  If you want to include these,  then stir them in after the other ingredients have been melted and are beginning to cool.  Coconut oil is the most heat stable vegetable oil but as you will not be heating it very high, oils like:  olive, sunflower and apricot kernal are easily used.

Beeswax comes in two varieties:  white and yellow.  The white is bleached and processed.   Candelilla wax is derived from the leaves of a shrub native to Mexico and is slightly harder than beeswax so you generally want to use a fraction less in a recipe. Carnuba is a similar product derived from a Brazilian Palm.   Use beeswax (whenever you can) and try to find a local supplier.

You first need to know how to make infused oils!  Both hot and cold!


How To Make Cold Infused Herbal Oils:


Infused oils are very useful;  they are sometimes used directly (as with Calendula oil) or may be used to make ointments and salves.  Generally, infuse a single herb, blending the finished product with other infused oils if required.   You can infuse more than one herb after you become more acquainted with the herb properties.  Quantities are not specified; simply harvest as much fresh herb as you wish and choose a jar (or jars) which you can comfortably pack them into.  This method is from Susun Weeds books.


1. Harvest fresh herbs on a dry and sunny day.
2. Don’t wash the plant at all.  Inspect your harvest and discard any diseased or soiled parts. If the plant is dirty simply scrub it clean with a stiff, dry brush.
3. Coarsely chop the herb.
4. Fill a dry, sterilized jar with the chopped herb.
5. Slowly pour olive oil into the jar, using a clean chopstick, to release any air bubbles and allow the oil to reach all layers of the herb material.  Mold is likely to grow in any air spaces within the jar so take your time to get this right.
6. Fill the jar right to the top, covering every part of the herb.
7. Again check that there is no trapped air.  If necessary release air with the chopstick and top up with oil.

8.  Let it age (rest)


How to Make Heat Infused Herb Oils:


Dried or fresh herbs are used to make heat infused oils.  Depending upon the herb, they may be used in remedies such as ointments, or as culinary oils.  Any plant parts can be used but this method is particularly useful for extracting oil-soluble ingredients from dried roots.  The method is far quicker than that for cold infusion as the herbs are simmered in the base oil and there is less likelihood of microbes entering the oil. Jars and bottles do need to be carefully sterilized.  As with the method for fresh herbs, there is no need to measure accurately or produce vast quantities of infusion but it is wise to record how much herb and oil you use, for future reference.  Heat infused oils should last for about a year but they are best used within 6 months.

Heatproof glass bowl and saucepan, set up as a double boiler
Dried herb – chopped
Vegetable oil (olive oil is my preference but you may like to try coconut, sunflower, canola, grapeseed etc.)


  • 1. Measure volume of the infused oil you are using and pour it into a clean saucepan.
  • 2. Grate beeswax – For every 30 ml. of oil you will need about 1 tablespoon of grated beeswax (or pellets).
  • 3. Add the grated beeswax to oil, in the saucepan.
  • 4. Heat the oil and wax very gently over a low heat source, stirring constantly, until all of the beeswax has dissolved.
  • 5. Check the consistency of your salve/ointment/lip balm by putting a few drops onto a cool surface such as a saucer or metal spoon. It will solidify very quickly.  How does it feel? If it is softer than you need, add a little more beeswax to your oil, if it is too hard add a little more infused oil or plain vegetable oil.
  • 6. If you have added more oil or beeswax, continue heating until dissolved.
  • 7. Remove from heat and pour into clean, dry,  glass storage containers.
  • 8. Label and allow to cool.

Basic Salve Recipe:
90 ml.  herbal infused oil
10 g.  beeswax

Basic Vegan Salve Recipe:
92 ml.  infused oil
8 g. candelilla wax

Medicinal Salve Recipe:
75 – 80 ml.  infused oil
10 g.  beeswax
10 ml.  tincture
2 – 5  ml.  essential oil

Weigh or measure out the wax (preferably grated or cut into small pieces) and the herbal infused oil and place in a double boiler.  Heat over a low heat until the wax is fully melted and then stir well. If adding tincture drizzle it in slowly (now) while whisking lightly.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly but not set.   can test the consistency of the salve by dipping the tip of a teaspoon into it.  This small amount will set quickly and will show you how the finished product will be. If you are not happy you can return it to the heat and add a fraction more oil/wax until you get the correct consistency.  While the salve is still liquid, stir in the essential oils.   Pour into glass jars and cap immediately to stop the volatile oils from evaporating.  Allow to cool and set completely before using.

You can make salves for many conditions.  This recipe can be easily adapted.   A very simple skin healing salve can be made with calendula infused oil and beeswax.

Balms are similar to salves and some people class them as the same thing entirely.   While others make a slight differentiation. According to James Green who wrote The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, “a balm is simply a salve that contains a relatively high amount of volatile oils.  Upon application it delivers a notably intense cloud of aromatic vapors.”  My understanding of a balm is that it is a salve that also contains butters such as cacao or shea butter which makes a creamier end product.  These are just individual definitions. 

Cacao is fairly hard at room temperature  (slightly firmer end product).   Shea is very creamy and therefore a lovely addition to lip balms or body butters.  Mango butter is also very good and has a lower melting point (more slippery consistency).

Basic Balm Recipe:
65 ml infused oil
25 ml cacao butter
5 ml beeswax
2.5 ml vitamin E
2.5 ml essential oils of choice

Basic Body Butter Recipe:
55 ml infused oil
20 ml shea butter
20 ml cacao butter
2.5 ml vitamin E
2.5 ml essential oils

These balms can be made by melting the oils, butters and wax in a double boiler then adding the essential oils and vitamin E at the last moment so they will not be affected by the heat.

Basic Body Butter Recipe:
55 ml infused oil
20 ml shea butter
20 ml cacao butter
2.5 ml vitamin E
2.5 ml essential oils


These balms can be made by melting the oils, butters and wax in a double boiler then adding the essential oils and vitamin E at the last moment so they will not be affected by the heat.

The first step in preparing most herbal skin preparations is making an infused oil. This carrier oil is imbued with the properties of the herb or herbal blend you are working with. You can choose from a variety of methods to infuse oils depending on your preferences.  If you wish to use fresh herbs you will have a few extra steps.

Passionflower has been enjoyed for both its sweet taste and its health benefits for over 5,000 years.

The oil you begin with is called a fixed oil.  Generally I prefer to use olive oil as my fixed oil for most of my preparations.  Olive oil has its own special health-giving properties and comes from a tree that has been prized and honored for centuries. If you choose to use olive oil, make sure you use one labeled “extra virgin” to assure the highest quality.  A label that indicates “cold pressed” is a bonus.  For cosmetic purposes some people find olive oil a bit heavy, and it does have an aroma of its own. You might also consider using lighter oils such as apricot, almond or grapeseed oil, or a combination of oils.

Once you become confident making infused oils,  you are ready to make salves, lip balms, creams and many other oil-based products.

Before you start making your salve, place two or three soup spoons in your freezer. We’ll get back to them later.
Have your containers ready to fill.  Baby food jars work well, as do pimento, caper and artichoke heart jars. I save the small decorative jars that contained jam and honey samples. You also can find attractive jars through herb suppliers or specialty shops. These suppliers feature several sizes, including thin, small lip balm containers. Thoroughly clean and dry them.

The standard ratio is:   2 1/4 cups infused oil to 2 ounces beeswaxWhen measuring the wax, the volume is roughly equal to the weight.

Melt the wax in a glass measuring cup or dish in a warm oven.  Place the infused oil in a saucepan and warm just enough to keep the wax from solidifying when it is poured in. Since the volume for wax is similar to its weight, some people prefer to weigh the wax and grate it unmelted into the oil.  When the wax is totally melted and blended, pour the mixture into your containers.  If you are adding essential oils to your salve, add them when you take the oil/wax blend off the heat, just before you pour it into containers.  Cover the containers lightly with a sheet of wax paper to prevent anything from falling into your salve before it is solidified.  Do not cap your jars until the salve has cooled completely.

The consistency of a salve is an individual choice.  If you are making a salve for camping, you may want it to be hard, as it will soften a little with heat. You may prefer a softer salve to apply easily. Before you pour your salve into your containers, you can check the consistency with the spoon test.  Remember the spoons in the freezer?  Take one out, dip it into the warm wax and oil mixture, and then place the spoon into the freezer for a couple of minutes.  Once the mixture has solidified on the spoon, you can feel the consistency.  If you want a firmer salve, use more wax; if you want your salve to be softer (creamier) add more oil.  In adjusting your recipe, add extra oil or beeswax in small increments. 

Healing or moisturizing salves and creams make wonderful gifts. Start by infusing an oil with a specific herb or an herbal blend.  You can use this oil directly, or you can make it into a salve or cream.  By stabilizing the oil with beeswax while making the salve, you increase the shelf life of the oil.

Methods of making Herbal Oils:

Medicinal Oils can be used alone, or can form the basis of salves and balms. 

The general principal is simple: Oil + heat + herbs = Herbal Oil.

The quality and strength of your homemade herbal oils depends not so much on exact measurements, as it does on making sure you cover all the plant matter, so no spoilage occurs.  The most versatile and easy system for measurements is the simplest method, because it is based on ratios, measurements are referred to as "parts", for instance 1 parts dried herb, 5 parts oil is a very common herbal oil formula. There can be so much variation in the strength of herbs (due to many different variables) that even if you follow the exact measurements, each batch will be slightly different.  In my experience, the length of time the oil macerates, and the amount of heat applied are the biggest determining factors in how strong your oil becomes.

General Rule:  low and long heating time—makes the best infused oils…….

Using a very high quality organic oil such as virgin olive oil, or safflower oil, is just as important as the quality of the herbs used. You will find that making herbal oils and other preparations is not an exact science, and each batch presents a different learning opportunity.  Homemade herbal oils are fresher, contain no chemical preservatives, and save money.  Any of the following methods can be used.  The one you choose depends on how strong you want your oil to be, and how much time you have to spend making your oil.

Solar infusion:  Using parts as your measurement,  place the herbs and oil in a glass jar and cover tightly. Place in a warm, sunny window and let infuse for about 2 weeks.  Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or white wine to help break down the plant material.  Strain and rebottle.  For a stronger oil, add a fresh batch of herbs and let infuse for two more weeks.

Oven Extraction:  Place the herbs and oil in a canning jar, or a container with a tight fitting lid.  Put them in a pan with enough water to cover the bottom half of the jar (water bath).  Turn the oven on the lowest temperature possible and heat for several hours.  This is a good method for those days when you are going to be around the house all day.  I have better luck with this than the faster double boiler method, because the oil does not overheat.  (do not have to watch it so carefully).

Double boiler method:   Place herbs and oil in a double boiler.  Cover with a tightly fitting lid and bring to a slow simmer.  SLOWLY heat for 1/2 hour to an hour, checking frequently to make sure oil is not overheating.  The lower the heat and longer the infusion time,  the better the quality of oil you will make.

Crockpot method:   Place herbs and oils in crockpot and set on lowest possible heat. You will have to experiment with your own crockpot.   If your crockpot has a warm setting on it, then it can go for two hours.  If your crockpot only has a low setting—then thirty minutes might be too long.  You need it to get nice and warm.  But not too hot or you will burn out all the good things you are trying to preserve (medicinal properties). 

The lower (the heat) and longer the infusion processthe better the infused oil will be!











Like This Article  

Saturday, Sep 6 2014 at 11:02a
Great article. I infused oil in a double boiler all night at low heat. I was curious so I sent one ounce of oil to the lab. The thc levels were very low and 0 cbd. What did I do wrong?
Tuesday, Nov 11 2014 at 9:16a
Who is the author of this article? It seems to be practically word for word from whisperingearth.co.uk. http://whisperingearth.co.uk/2011/06/19/how-to-make-salves-ointments-and-balms/
tavonoils  (14 posts)
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