How-To Make Salves / Ointments

Excerpt from Practical Herbalism

Sometimes, as with burns, cuts, or localized injuries, it is desirable to keep an oil extract in close, prolonged contact with a small area of the skin. An ointment or salve (the terms are interchangeable) is designed to do just that.

Essentially, an ointment is a mixture of fat soluble chemicals, extracted from herbs, that has been made so that it will hold together in a mass. It gradually melts at or near body temperature, and slowly releases its healing properties to the area of application.

Traditionally, ointments have been made by cooking herbs in mutton fat, beef tallow, lard, lanolin, or even petroleum jelly. The herbs are strained out, and the fatty material allowed to cool and re-harden, occasionally being thickened with a little paraffin. Not only are these fats (and the resulting products) pretty disagreeable, they can actually clog the skin’s pored, and create as many problems as they might otherwise help resolve.

Keeping a healing oil in contact with the skin, and controlling its rate of absorption can be very useful. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to use noxious ingredients to accomplish this. Any oil extract, made according to the directions in the previous section, can be thickened with a little pure beeswax to make a wonderful healing ointment.

Making a Basic Ointment

Materials Required:

  • 4 oz. of herbal oil extract
  • 1/2 oz. of pure beeswax – shaved or beads
  • A natural preservative – See the previous section for suggestions. For a general healing salve, good choice would be Tincture of Benzoin (also healing for epithelial tissue), Myrrh (has antibiotic properties), and Vitamin E oil (protects new skin cells).
  • Essential oils – For fragrance and therapeutic value, a skin salve might include several drops of Patchouli, Lavender, Frankincense, or Spruce.
  • Several small wide-mouth jars or tins.


1. Slowly heat the oil in a small Pyrex or stainless steel saucepan. (DO NOT use aluminum.) If you have a gas range, this is best done in the oven.
2. Pay close attention to the process. Over-heated oils can be a serious fire hazard.
3. As the oil warms, stir in the beeswax slivers or beads. Stir frequently, and continue to heat just until the beeswax is melted and incorporated.
4. Remove the oil mixture from the heat, and stir in your preservative and essential oils.
5. Carefully pour the mixture into your containers, and allow to stand undisturbed until cool and firmly set. Cap securely, and store in a cool, dark cabinet until needed.

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