One of the most beneficial and healthful additions I’ve ever made to my home medicine cabinet was integrating homemade herbal salves into my natural remedies kit. I’ve used them to replace all sorts of pharmaceuticals: Neosporin; anti-itch, antifungal and muscle-relaxant creams; conventional lotions; even in lieu of certain medications. As I began to use these effective remedies more, I started recommending them to friends—and getting peculiar looks in return. I quickly discovered that many people don’t know what salves are, let alone about their healing properties and uses for many common ailments.
So, what is a salve? As a general term, a salve is an ointment used for the nourishment, protection and healing of our skin and bodies. I believe in making health and healing as accessible and easy as possible, and my salve recipes are no different. My basic salve requires only three ingredients, so no home ever need be without a healing salve for almost any minor injury.
I included vitamin E and rosemary antioxidant (extract) in my simple salve recipe. Both make good preservatives but are not usually necessary—even without them salves last a year before going rancid as long as no water is introduced to them. If you do add these ingredients, however, they can prolong the lifespan of your salves to as much as two years. Both ingredients should be added after the salve has been removed from heat, as high temperatures will deteriorate or negate their preserving properties. Always do a consistency test before adding either of these ingredients.
You can also use essential oils in this last step. Lavender is a popular one to add for its scent, and it also provides extra preservative properties.
• Vitamin E oil can go rancid. To make sure yours is fresh, buy it in small quantities from a reputable source, keep it away from sunlight and heat, and make sure its lid is on securely. Then smell it before adding it to salves—rotten oil smells obviously bad.
• It is easier to make a salve harder than softer, so always err on the side of more oil than beeswax.
Make this easy Simple Salve.
About Herbal Oils
The healing effects of your salve will depend upon the herbs you use. We’ll discuss which herbs are best for various purposes later on; you can make herbal oils out of any of them using the same basic methods. Then incorporate their healing powers into simple salves. Herbal oils are easy to make, even for same-day use.
If you are using fresh herbs, such as those gathered from your own backyard, you’ll need more time, as these need six weeks to steep. To make one, place fresh plant material into a glass jar, cover completely with olive oil, then let it sit in a dark place for six weeks, shaking daily. Then strain out plant material, and the infused oil is ready to transform into a salve (it can also be used alone as a bath or massage oil at this point).
If you’re like me, and tend to prefer working within a shorter time frame, you can use the dried version of the herb (home-dried or purchased at a health-food store). One of the most important things to remember when making salves or herbal oils is that water can cause both of these items to go rancid or mold. If you need to wash out a container, do so days ahead of time, then use rubbing alcohol on the day of, as this will cause any residual water to evaporate rapidly.
• Check thrift stores for affordable dedicated salve- and oil-making utensils and pots. It will prevent cross-contamination. Plus, you’ll eventually need to recycle them and you don’t want to destroy high-quality kitchenware.
Try using herbal oils with these recipes: