Making herbal salve
Herbal salve is a wonderful health and beauty aid, and itís easy to make a batch superior in quality to anything you could buy. Use it for moisturizing, for rashes, for cuts, as a carrier for essential oils (put some salve into your palm, add drops of oil, then stir it up with your finger), on dry lips, just about anywhere.
When making salve, what you are basically doing is making an herb-infused oil, thickening it with beeswax and adding a few enhancing agents. Thatís it. And itís *almost* as simple as it sounds. Below are some step by step instructions. Bear in mind that this is not an exact science. There are a few basic things you need to do, but a lot of the process is based on personal preference or on what you have available or have access to. For example, the recipe below contains five herbs, but you could use just calendula if you wanted, and itíd still be yummy. Donít be intimidated by the extreme amount of info. here. Itís not because this is hard or confusing, but because there are so many ways to do things and still end up with a great product.
A couple of words of caution, though. Do not let water get into your salve in any point of the process. Part of why salve is so easy to make is because it doesnít involve mixing oil with water, which is where most issues of rancidity and bacterial growth come from. If you get water in your oil or salve, itíll probably mold. Also, do sterilize all of your equipment with boiling water or a super hot wash in the case of large items. You can also use a dishwasher on a hot water setting if you have one. Let all items air dry *completely* before using.
This is a list of the equipment I use when making salve. Since you may choose a different method than I use, your equipment list may vary, but this will still be a good starting point.
Pyrex measuring cup Ė four cup size
Large stainless steel slotted spoon
Small spoon for stirring in beeswax
Fine mesh strainer
Small glass jars (recycling ones from jarred food is great, and small canning jars are nice too)
Herb infused oil
What youíre doing here is getting a bunch of herbs (preferably dried), covering them with oil and heating them to extract the herbsí properties. There are several methods for doing thisóplacing them in a clear glass jar in the sun, placing them in the oven on its lowest setting, using a double boiler or using a crock pot to name the most common few. I prefer the crock pot method.
If you are using fresh herbs, wash and dry them well, then let them sit in a cool, dry, dark place for at least four hours, and up to 24 hours, so that most of the water wilts out of them. The water in fresh herbs can make your salve mold if you donít wilt it out first.
No matter what extraction method youíre using, place your herbs in your container, add enough oil to cover the herbs plus an inch or two of oil, give it a good stir, then heat gently. Be sure you donít fry the herbsóif that happens youíll have to throw the whole batch out and start again. The sun method works well for gentle heat, but since I donít have enough sun where I live I use a crock pot with a candy thermometer suspended in it (laying a chopstick over the crock pot and suspending the thermometer from it works well). Youíll need your oil to be at least 100į, but you donít want it to get too hot. I turn my crock pot on and leave it on until the temperature reaches 120į, then turn it off until it gets to 100į, then back on, etc. The temp. will continue to rise after you turn the crock pot off, but not by too significant an amount. When I made my first batch of salve it was winter, and I turned the crock pot off and on several times. During this last batch it was 80į outside, and after the oil reached 120į the first time, it never dropped below 100į. Sometimes Iíll have particularly fluffy herbs, and they never seem to stay under the level of the oil. Thatís okay.
People steep their herbs for different amounts of time, usually between two to five hours. Iíve used about four hours, and I like the scent and healing properties that come with the longer steeping, but thereís flexibility there.
Once your herbs are done steeping, you have to strain them out of the oil. There are several methods for doing this. One is to use a fine mesh strainer, and itís handy to strain into a pitcher or a large pyrex measuring cup. You can also place your mixture into a large glass jar and tightly tie a few layers of cheesecloth over the top of it, then pour and shake the mixture until most of the oil is out. Use a large amount of cheesecloth on the top of the jar, so that once most of your oil is out you can untie the cloth with the jar upside down, and let the herbs fall into the cheesecloth, then squeeze the cheesecloth to strain out the last of the oil. No matter what straining method you use, do press the oil out of the herbs, as they absorb a lot. Wear a latex glove as you do this so that bacteria from your hands doesnít get into the oil. Be sure that no herbs remain in the oil, as they can cause molding.
You now have medicinal herb infused oil. You can use this oil as is to treat the same kinds of skin conditions as you would use the salve for. But salve is easier to use and has the additional healing properties of beeswax. You donít have to continue making the salve right away, the herb infused oil will keep in a sterile jar for some time (Iíve heard weeks from some people, years from othersóIíd use it within a month if possible). Just place in a cool, dark place until youíre ready to use it.
Note: the herbs that you strain out of the oil are usually thrown out, though if you wish you could place them in iron-shut teabags or cheesecloth bundles, then bag them and refrigerate them. You can then use them as poultices for cuts, burns and bruises, or as bathfloats.
Here is a recipe for a ďbaby salve,Ē meaning that itís gentle enough for use on babies and others with sensitive skin, though its uses are innumerable. Other herbal combinations will give you salves with other properties, but the method is the same. This recipe follows the simplerís method, meaning that it uses parts instead of specific weights or volumes. This recipe is by weight, but you can fudge the quantities and still end up with lovely salve.
2 parts Calendula Flowers
1 part Comfrey Leaf
1 part Comfrey Root (chopped, not powdered)
1 part St. Johnís Wort
1 part Plantain
Use enough oil to cover the herbs plus an inch or two and proceed as above.
You can use any type of oil to do this. However, itís best to use oils that have healing properties for the skin. Some people use straight olive oil, but I find that it makes a very greasy salve that smells as much like olive oil as anything else. I use about half to two thirds olive oil, then apricot kernel oil and sweet almond oil to make up the rest. How much of which oil I use depends on how much I have. Try to use cold pressed oils, as they retain the most nutrients.
Thickening the Salve with Beeswax
This is the trickiest part of the process until you get the hang of it. Itís very hard to tell when your salve is thick enough, as itís liquid when you add the beeswax, and thickens as it cools. A nice general guideline is to use about an ounce and a half of beeswax to a pint of oil, or one teaspoon beeswax to an ounce of oil (there are five teaspoons in an ounce of beeswax). This will probably be on the soft side, but it gets you to a good starting point, and you can adjust from there. How firmly you thicken the salve depends on your preference, but if itís too thick itíll be hard to use. If youíre using jojoba oil as an addition, I prefer to add it before thickening, as it can effect the texture.
Beeswax has a melting temperature of 150į, but it has a fairly low flashpoint, so use care when melting it. The easiest way to get your beeswax into your salve is to grate it with a cheese grater (large or small holes), then heat your oil in a microwave until it reads just over 150į, then stir your beeswax in. If itís not quite hot enough to melt the wax all the way, or if you need to add more wax and the oil has cooled, just pop it back into the microwave for ten to twenty seconds at a time.
To test the texture of your salve, pull out a half a spoonful of your mixture and place it in the fridge until it cools to about room temperature. This isnít exactly what your salve will feel like once it cools, but itís close. If you need to add more beeswax, remember that a little bit goes a long way. If you are close to what you want to achieve, add your beeswax a teaspoon at a time. If your salve is too firm, just add some more oil.
Adding in other Lovely Things
Once you reach the desired consistency, add in any extras that you might want. Note, the amount listed for the following items is how much I add to a four cup batch of oil. I always add vitamin E, as itís so great for the skin and also helps prevent rancidity. You can use vitamin E capsules or you can buy a jar of it. Use the equivalent of two to six capsules. Jojoba oil is a wonderful addition. Itís a very penetrative oil, so it helps carry your blend deep into the skin and has many wonderful properties. I use one to two ounces, and add it before adding the beeswax. You can add lanolin, though if you plan to give any salve away I might skip it because itís a potential allergen. I also like to add about six drops of grapefruit seed extract, mostly because it helps protect against rancidity and bacteria, but Iím guessing it also helps with bacteria fighting on the skin. I should note at this time that you could also use other herbs in the oil infusion stageóI added lavender in my last batch. Also, if you canít get a certain herb, youíll still end up with a nice salve.
The other thing that is nice to add is essential oils. If you are making a baby salve, youíll want to use baby safe oils. Essential oils add a nice scent to the salve and also have specific healing properties. I add essential oil of lavender, anywhere from 20 to 40 drops for a four cup batch of oil. I also love adding tea tree oil to part of my salve, to use whenever yeast rears its ugly head, or as a highly antibacterial salve. To add it to part of the batch, I just pour some of the salve into jars and then add the tea tree oil to the rest. Tea tree and lavender essential oils are a magic combination. These essential oils also help to protect the salve from rancidity and mold and bacteria. To add essential oils, let your salve mixture cool as much as possible without starting to set, usually anywhere from five to twenty minutes. Youíll see your mixture starting to get cloudy, and maybe even starting to turn opaque around the edges. Add your essential oils at this time. Adding them earlier can sometimes be a problem, as heat can cause the oils to evaporate out of the mixture.
Once everything is all mixed in, pour your salve into jars, but donít put lids on the jars until the salve has fully set and cooled. Your salve will probably be firmer on the top and around the edges than it is in the middle. Once itís fully cooled, test the texture. If itís too soft or too firm for you, melt it down and add more beeswax or oil. I like to just melt it down jar by jar in the microwaveóitís not as much work as it sounds like. Also, if your jars are all the same size, or close enough that you can eyeball ratios, you might want to augment one jar and let it fully set, so that youíre sure the quantity you used was right before you do all the jars.
Always label your jars of salve with the complete ingredients and date created. Store salve in a cool, dry, dark place.
I visited the following websites when gathering information about making salves. I combined information from each of the sites with information given to me by the friend who introduced me to salve making and what knowledge of herbs, oils and aromatherapy I already had. You may want to visit some of these sites if you are interested in some of the other methods mentioned above that I didnít provide detailed instructions for, as well as other herbal recipes and various other information tidbits.
If you have any questions or would like more complete information, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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