Herbal Salves, Lotions and Ointments

salves, lotions, ointments

Salves, lotions, and oils are essentials for any herbalist and are used very frequently. They all serve a purpose in herbal remedies and body care. 


Salves are made with a combination of oil and beeswax. They are harder than ointments but they are another type of ointment that is used to promote healing. They are used in all kinds of settings and are the most common topical herbal remedy. 


These are a little trickier to make because if they are not emulsified properly, the water and oil will separate and spoil the product. Like salves, they are made with oil and beeswax but also include water and usually vitamin E oil as a preservative. When done correctly though, being able to make your own lotions infused with healing herbs is a gratifying experience. 


Like salves, these are used to promote healing topically but they use less beeswax in order to make them softer. 

The Process

It’s surprisingly simple to make these kinds of herbal remedies. The first step is to always infuse your oil. That’s the part that takes the longest. Once that’s done, you’ll want to use a double boiler or place a larger pot on top of a smaller pot that is filled halfway with water. In the larger pot or top part of your double boiler, you place your beeswax and oil. You want to gently warm them and combine them by using a fork or whisk. Do not add your essential oils until it’s been removed from the heat as heat will ruin the medicinal properties of most essential oils. 

Once removed from the heat, it will begin to harden immediately. You will want to pour it into the containers immediately. Allow to cool completely before capping.


How much beeswax do you use? The ratio of beeswax to oil depends on what you’re wanting to make. The more beeswax you add, the harder it will be. Equal parts beeswax to oil is pretty useless as it’s only slightly softer than beeswax. Too little beeswax and you end up with a gooey mess. Some recommendations (beeswax: oil):

Salves: 1:3-1:4 

Lip Balms: 1:3-1:5

Ointments: 1-6-1:7 

Ideal Herbs to Use:

Arnica Flowers: Sore, sprained or pulled muscles. Broken bones

Calendula: Skincare, burns, rashes, eczema, psoriasis

Coltsfoot Leaf: Sore, sprained or pulled muscles

Echinacea: Colds, congestion (good to make a chest rub)

German Chamomile: Skincare, headaches, sore muscles

Goldenseal*: Colds, congestion 

Horsetail Herb: Cuts, wounds, inflammation

Lavender Flowers: Skincare, headaches, sore muscles, wound healing

Lemon Balm: Cramps, headaches, chapped lips, hemorrhoids, rashes

Plantain Leaf: Wounds, sores, rashes, poison ivy/oak, bug bites

St John’s Wort: Burns, rashes, cuts

Yarrow: Wounds, sores, scars


If there is one downside to natural remedies it would be the shelf life. That being said, there are many ways to naturally preserve your remedies in order to get the most out of them. Ideally, you should only make enough salve or lotion as you know you will be able to use. You can infuse your oil and only take out a small amount to make your remedy. There’s no need typically, to make a large or full batch if you’re just making it for personal use.

If you want to extend the shelf life of your products, there are some excellent ways you can do this. Additionally, many of these preservatives have medicinal properties to them as well.
Vitamin E Oil: Most commonly used. 1 capsule per 50 mL is usually good enough
Tea Tree Oil: This is another good one but you need to be sure it’s safe for your purposes.
Rosemary EO: This is an anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, antiseptic as well as a preservative.Sage EO: Antiseptic as well
Grapefruit EO: Less common but is excellent for skincare products and has a pleasant fruity smell
Lotions only last a couple of weeks, perhaps a month or so if using preservatives due to the water that’s used. Salves and ointments will last longer and can be good for 3-12 months depending on your preservatives and if you refrigerate them or not. 
Recipe for Body Butter

Making salves, lotions and ointments can be a lot of fun and it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. So have fun this fall as you make use of those wonderful herbs you’ve grown all summer long!

*Goldenseal is an endangered plant. It can be grown in your garden for personal use but please do not forage for this herb.

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