Ointments, or salves, are easy to prepare, store, and travel with. They contain no water, and because of this, they form a separate layer that sits on the skin, protecting damaged or inflamed skin while bringing the medicinal properties of the plant directly to the affected area. They can vary in constancy, ranging from oily and soft to relatively firm. They are an easy way to externally administer herbs, especially for minor skin irritations, dryness, and wounds, or as a rub for sore muscles and sprains.
Salves are a very basic blend of oil and wax. Some salve recipes say you can just infuse herbs into vaseline and be all set; while this may prove to be very quick and easy to make, i prefer not to use petroleum based products on my skin. The same goes with the wax used; while some sources say to use paraffin wax, I prefer to use beeswax, not only because it’s natural and has a great smell, but because I’d like to support my local apiaries and utilize the wax from my hives. When deciding what oils to use in your salve, it’s important to know the qualities of each oil. On top of that, oils are processed in very different ways, affecting their quality and absorption into your skin. Here is a bunch of information from Mountain Rose Herbs on oils, their qualities, and processes.
Expeller Pressed – A method of natural, mechanical extraction and processing of oils where a small amount of heat is produced simply through the frictional heat created by hydraulic presses. This is usually around 120-200 degrees Fahrenheit and makes the oil suitable and economical as a base for cosmetics because of its fairly undisturbed molecular state. It also makes a fine food grade oil.
Refined – A fully processed oil where it has been exposed to all methods of refinement including a flash fluctuation in temperature as high as 450 degrees and winterization as low as -30 degrees, deodorization, which removes the heavy and often unsettling odor in oil, and finally bleaching, where natural clays and other mediums are used to alter or remove an oils color, and scent. This makes for an economical oil in cosmetics and body care products, but it is not the healthiest as a food grade oil.
Partially Refined – A process where only some of the methods available are employed to produce a manufactured oil. Only one or two of the three available methods are used in a partially refined oil. These include, but are not limited to; deodorization, winterization and natural bleaching. These methods are used for oils which have been known historically to go rancid quickly, and they are also used to further stabilize an oil or remove its heavy odor and deep color.
Unrefined – A process of mechanical extraction and screen filtering where no additional refining process has taken place. This ensures the finest quality product and makes the oil the most exquisite for food and cosmetic preparation. The unrefined process helps oil retain a rich, strong flavor and color that is true to its natural state. Unrefined oils are always darker in color and richer in scent.
There are also many different types of oil you can use in your salves! You can use just one, or combine several.
Olive Oil: Olive oil has a rich, full bodied flavor with a strong aroma and is golden brown in color. Has a great conditioning effect in body care recipes and can be used in almost all applications because of its stable nature.
Jojoba Oil: Jojoba oil is bright and golden in color and is regarded as the most favored in the carrier oil family because of its advanced molecular stability. Also makes a great scalp cleanser for the hair, and is equally wonderful for the skin because it has absorption properties that are similar to our skin’s own sebum.
Coconut Oil: This is a great oil for general moisturizing, and serves as a protective layer, helping to retain the moisture in the skin. It’s mild, suitable for those with inflamed and irritated skin, and those with skin sensitivities.
Sweet Almond Oil: This is one of the most useful, practical, and commonly used oils. It is great for all skin types as an acting emollient and is best known for its ability to soften, soothe, and re-condition the skin. It is truly marvelous as a carrier oil and is equally superb for addition to body care products. Natural expeller pressed oil from raw almond kernels and exceptionally rich in fatty acids.
Apricot Kernel Oil: Similar to Sweet Almond, but more suitable for sensitive and prematurely aged skin. Our Apricot Kernel oil is a deep gold color, and can be used liberally in most body-care recipes. Stores well under any condition but extreme heat will lessen the shelf life.
Grapeseed Oil: With a mild green color, pleasant odor, silken texture, and great absorption rate, it’s generally employed as a base oil for many creams, lotions and as a general carrier oil. It’s especially useful for skin types that do not absorb oils too well, and it does not leave a greasy feeling. Wonderful for those with skin sensitivities because of its natural non-allergenic properties.
Rose Hip Seed Oil: A rich, amber colored oil that is extremely high in essential fatty acids great for healing dry, weathered, and dehydrated skin. It works wonders on scars and is the predominant oil used for treating wrinkles and premature aging.
Hemp Seed Oil: A rich oil high in essential omega fatty acids and proteins, this oil has a pleasant nutty smell, deep green color, and absorbs well into the skin. It makes a great cosmetic grade oil and because of its high nutritional value, and a good base ingredient for skin care recipes which require healing and regenerative ingredients.
Avocado Oil: This ultra rich oil contains high amounts of Vitamin A, B1, B2, D, and E. Also contains amino acids, sterols, pantothenic acid, lecithin, and other essential fatty acids. Highly prized to those with skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and other skin ailments. Recommended to those with sensitive skin, problem skin and other irritations that require vitamin rich oil.
Argan Oil: Rich in natural tocopherols (vitamin E) and phenols, carotenes, squalene and fatty acids, Argan oil absorbs quickly and is often used in skin, nail and hair treatments to deliver deep hydration, strengthen brittle hair and nails, and prevent/reduce stretch marks.
Hazelnut Oil: Hazelnut oil is known for its astringent qualities and because of this, it is best used for those who have oily skin but do not want to abstain from using oils.
Castor Oil: A hard and shiny oil found in most cosmetics that acts as a barrier agent and protective medium against harsh conditions and extremes. Very soothing to the skin.
Macadamia Nut Oil: One of the best regenerative, protective oils available, it is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, and closely resembles sebum (the oil naturally produced by one’s skin to help protect it). Macadamia oil has high absorption rate and has been successfully used as a healing oil for scars, sunburns, minor wounds and other irritations.
Pumpkin Seed Oil: Pumpkin seed oil contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, Vitamins A and C, and Zinc, and is excellent for dry and cracked skin.
Kukui Nut Oil: The oil has high penetrability and soothing properties, and is useful in helping sooth sunburns and chapped skin. Kukui nut oil contains very high levels of the essential fatty acids linoleic and alpha-linolenic. This oil is readily absorbed into the skin, providing tissues the essential elements that it needs and is particularly good for dry skin, psoriasis, acne and eczema.
Wheat Germ Oil: This ultra rich, unrefined Wheat Germ oil is a great ingredient high in natural source Vitamin E, A, D, proteins, Lecithin, and Squalene. Wheat germ has been applied externally for numerous irritations including roughness of the skin, cracking, chaffing and many crafters of cosmetics use it successfully to help reverse the effects of wrinkling. The first ingredient in quality skin care products.
Lanolin: Lanolin is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. It’s superior to both petroleum and glycerin with its long lasting emollient effects. This natural skin salve is perfect for severely dry and cracked skin, eczema and psoriasis.
Vitamin E Oil: Great for preventing rancidity in cosmetics and it acts as an anti-oxidant in creams, lotions, baby products, cosmetics, and more. Very soothing for dry and wrinkled skin.
St Johns Wort Oil: An anti-inflammatory oil which can help speed the healing of wounds, bruises, varicose veins, sunburns, bee stings, and mild burns. Frequently used as a breast massage oil especially after radiation treatments.
Shea Butter: Shea butter forms a breathable, water-resistant film and is the leading natural product for moisturizing. Makes a thick, soothing base for cosmetic recipes or used as a stand alone application.
Cocoa Butter: Firm at room temperature, it will soften at body temperature and adds a rich, creamy, and thick consistency to lotions, soaps, creams, and toiletry items to help reduce dryness. A soothing and aromatic ingredient commonly found in most cosmetic preparations.
Animal (Such as Bear) Fat: Easily absorbed by the skin, it was once more readily available than vegetable oil. Animal fat is used alone, infused with herbs, and used as a base ingredient for healing, nutritive, soothing salves. Bear Fat is protective, good for cracked and heavily weathered skin.
After you’ve decided which oils to use, you need beeswax. A general rule of thumb for wax:oil ratio is 1:4, which yields a relatively firm salve. However, the ratio of wax to oil varies based on people’s preferences, and you will need to adjust it according to the temperature of you area. For example, if you live somewhere very cold, you will need less wax, and vice versa, based on standing room temperature.
1. Add all your oils into a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, fill one large pot with water, and float a smaller one inside of it. Let the water come to a gentle boil, where the water in the larger pot is boiling but the oil is not.
2. At this point, you can infuse herbs into your oil, or use oils you’ve previously infused. Click here to learn how to make an infused oil. Some great ones to try out for a soothing, healing salve are calendula, plantain, chamomile, comfrey, and chickweed. For sore muscles, try ginger, cayenne, eucalyptus, or arnica.
3. Add your wax to the oils. Stir continuously until melted. You can test the consistency by dipping a spoon into the mixture and setting it in the fridge for a minute or two. This small sample will give you a good idea of what your salve consistency will be like. From here, you can adjust by adding more oil or wax to suit your purposed.
4. After all the wax has melted, remove from the heat and add essential oils. Again, you can use any scents you’d like, but referencing an aromatherapy chart can help give your salve an extra boost. Try and match the medicinal qualities to the aromatherapy effects you’d like to achieve. For example, a soothing salve could contain lavender, while an invigorating one could contain lemongrass or rosemary.
5. Pour the salve mixture into the containers you’d like to store them in. Typically, 1/2 – 2 oz tins and small glass jars work the best, as you need to be able to fit your fingers into it to use it. Let the salve cool and harden, close the lid, and label.
Using Essential Oils in Your Salves
Essential oils are the distilled, concentrated oils of each plant, and contain the same healing properties as the dried and fresh herbs but also have beneficial aromatherapy effects. You only need to use a small amount when working with them, as their scents are highly concentrated. Listed below are some properties of essential oils. For further information, including metaphysical properties, check out Of The Goddess, Amrita Aromatherapy, and Witches Ink.
Antiseptic: Tea Tree, Lavender, Thyme, Bergamot, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cedar, Pine
Anxiety: Lavender, Chamomile, Basil, Clary Sage, Thyme, Jasmine, Patchouli, Rose
Bites and Cuts: Lavender, Tea Tree, Chamomile , Eucalyptus, Lemon
Blisters: Lavender, Tea Tree
Bruises and Muscle Aches : Geranium, Lavender, Cypress, Lemongrass, Wintergreen, Camphor, Blue Tansy, Blue Chamomile, Osmanthus, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Rosemary, Peppermint
Hangovers: Fennel, Juniper, Rosemary
Headache: Peppermint, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Spearmint, Helichrysum
Insect Repellent: Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Geranium, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Citronella
Rashes: Geranium, Eucalyptus, Lavender
Sleeplessness: Lavender, Geranium, Neroli, Clary Sage, Chamomile, Vetiver, Cedarwood, Sandalwood
Sunburn: Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Balsam Fir, Helichrysum
Travel Sickness: Peppermint, Basil, Coriander, Fennel, Lavender,
Main Image from The Nerdy Farmwife