Medicine Making

Salves + Ointments


Pots or crocks of aromatic healing ointments are a classic component of traditional medicine the world over. Scented by leaves and flowers, honey and beeswax,  they are an essential aspect of most apothecaries. Ranging from nearly solid salves for the protection of lips to very soft balms for covering large areas of tender skin, this versatile preparation can be used with great effectiveness in a variety of situations. They are simple to create, have an impressive shelf life when well-made and are easily transported. Some people are initially resistant to the idea of putting something “greasy” on their skin, but when carefully formulated, salves can be minimally messy while still providing substantial healing. 


A salve is a semi-solid fatty substance created for external application, often prepared with an oil or fat infused with one or more botanicals. In current practice, a salve is usually the combination of oil or lard combined with a wax, with proportions varied to create the desired consistency. Medicated butters, ghee and lard will be covered under a separate heading.


A salve can be made by slowly warming an herbal infused oil in a double boiler until it is very warm but not hot enough to simmer and adding beeswax chunks or shavings until the wax has melted. I like a proportion of about 7 parts oil (by volume) to 1 part beeswax (by weight) for an all-purpose salve, with variations made depending on the purpose of the preparation for a softer or harder salve. After all the wax has melted, the salve is removed from the heat, poured into appropriate containers, and left to cool and solidify (with the lids left off). 

Many variations are possible depending on the situation and herbs being used. For example, an herbal infused honey can make an excellent addition in many salves. In such a case, the honey should be added at the very end of the heating process, removing the salve from the heat as soon as the honey is dissolved into the wax-oil blend. Be sure to stir the salve well to even distribute the honey before pouring. If any essential oils are to be used, they should be added to the salve after it has been removed completely from the heat and stirred in thoroughly before pouring into containers. 

Please note that oils infused with herbs containing delicate aromatics such as Rose flowers, should be kept at the very minimum amount of heat needed to melt the wax, even if it takes a bit longer. This precaution will avoid the loss of precious volatile oils necessary for optimal healing associated with that plant.


  • • 7 parts (by volume) herbal infused oil

  • • 1 part (by weight) beeswax, either grated or cut into small chunks

  • • Measuring cup and scale

  • • An appropriately sized double burner or similar setup

  • • An adequate number of salve containers with airtight lids. This can be anything from small jelly jars to specially made tins or amber glass containers. I try to avoid using plastic containers for herbal preparations in most situations, including salve making. 


  1. Pour oil into double boiler and place on low to medium heat until the oil is very warm but not hot enough to simmer. 

  2. Add beeswax shavings or chunks, stirring occasionally until all wax is melted.

  3. You can test the consistency of the salve by dipping a spoon or similar implement into the salve and so that it has a small amount of salve on it and then placing the spoon (on saucer) in the freezer or other cool place for a few minutes. If too solid, add more oil. If too soft, add more wax. 

  4. Add any honey or similar ingredients at this time. If not, simply omit this step. 

  5. Remove from heat.

  6. Add any essential oil desired.

  7. Stir a final time.

  8. Pour into containers, leaving some space at the top, because the salve will expand as it cools and solidifies.

  9. Allow to completely cool before placing lids on containers. 

  10. Store in a cool dark place until needed.

For example: we could use 7 oz. (by volume, as in a measuring cup) Monarda infused oil, warming in the double boiler before adding 1 ounce (by weight, as on a scale) beeswax. If we desired to also add app. 1 TB of Rose infused honey, we would subtract appr. that same amount from the original oil measurement and simply add the Rose infused honey just before we removed the salve from the heat. Be sure to test the solidity of the salve via the spoon method (see above directions) after the last ingredient is added to be sure that the correct consistency is achieved. 


Be aware that oil and wax can seal a bacteria or fungal infection to the skin and potentially facilitate the spread of the infection. Be very careful when using salves or oils on infections, and avoid in cases of severe tissue trauma until healing has progressed to a stage where it is primarily the surface level of skin that is being addressed. In the meantime, utilize foments, poultices or infused honeys rather than oils or salves.

A Few Appropriate Infused Herbal Oils for Salves:

  • Abies leaves/bark/resin (Fir)

  • Alnus leaves (Alder)

  • Artemisia leaves/flower (Mugwort)

  • Calendula flowers/leaves

  • Lavendula flowers (Lavender)

  • Monarda flowers/leaves (Beebalm)

  • Pinus resin/needles/bark (Pine)

  • Plantago leaves (Plantain)

  • Populus resinous buds/bark (Cottonwood/Poplar)

  • Rosa petals and leaves (Rose)

  • Rosmarinus leaves (Rosemary)

  • Salvia leaves (Sage)

  • Symphytum leaves/roots (Comfrey)

and many more...