DIY: How to Make a Handmade Herbal Salve Part 3: Salve Making

This is the final part of a three part series on making your own handmade salve from harvesting fresh plant material and making an infused oil, decanting and now making the salve.

Salve Making

Supplies for salve making:

  • salve container(s)
  • stainless steel pan
  • beeswax (I prefer local, natural yellow beeswax, but any beeswax from the craft store will be fine)
  • grater, if your beeswax comes in a chunk rather than small pearls or kernels
  • small spatula
  • label and pen

Where to purchase salve containers:  Anything can be a salve container, a small jam sized mason jar, a little reused, clean, dry cosmetic container, a tiny tupperware.  Salve containers can be plastic, glass or metal.  Personally, I avoid plastic, which off-gasses and I believe negatively impacts the quality of medicinal and essential oils stored within.  Glass jars are non-reactive and also often very attractive. Glass jar are especially suitable if you plan to leave your salve in one place, like your medicine cabinet.  Glass has the negative attribute of potentially breaking or shattering.  I like to use metal tins. They are pretty much indestructible and are non-reactive.  Metal salve containers come in tiny 1/2 oz sizes up to 4 oz or more. The round metal tin with a slip off cap is the classic salve container.  You can also pour salve into a push up or twist up tube like a chapstick tube or deodorant stick. These are available in cardboard or plastic.

Two online vendors I recommend are SKS Bottle and Specialty Bottle. I have been pleased with the selection, pricing and customer service from both of these vendors over the years.

Many other craft supply, soap, candle, bath and body supply sites will also offer a small selection of salve and cosmetic containers.

Where to buy beeswax:  I use local beeswax that I get straight from the beekeeper.  I love the deep golden color and the awesome beeswax scent.  Many beekeepers sell beeswax alongside their honey at farmer’s markets.  Beeswax straight from the beekeeper  is sold in chunks of various sizes. This requires grating your beeswax which is a laborious process and not my favorite part of making salves and lotions and such. I think it’s worth it anyway to get that wonderful beeswax scent.  If you can’t handle grating it, you can buy beeswax in small pearls or kernels.  You can purchase it white or yellow, with natural scent or deodorized (although I don’t know why anyone would want to avoid the smell!) This type of beeswax can be purchased online or at craft stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics of Michael’s.

Step One: Gather your supplies and put everything in arms reach of your stove.  Grate a little pile of beeswax.  As I mentioned above, I hate this!  I recommend buying a cheap grater at Target or the like and using it as a dedicated beeswax grater. It is a real pain in the butt to wash off the beeswax. Do yourself a favor and don’t wash it, just buy an extra grater.

Some of you may be asking yourself, how much beeswax should I grate? I don’t work with a recipe.  I am outlining a flexible process of ointment/salve making that allows you to determine as you go along how hard or soft your want your salve to be. Personally, I prefer a slightly softer salve.  I dislike a rock hard salve. I like to twirl my finger around in the salve and easily get a little bit of salve on my finger to apply it  generously onto the skin. Follow along with the tutorial and you will see how you can gauge the goopiness of your salve and adjust it. Keep your beeswax and grater on hand in case you need to grate a bit more.

While making the Lemon Balm Salve for this tutorial I made 3 or 4, 1 oz containers of salve.

grated beeswax

 

Step 2:  Determine how many containers of salve you want to make.  Fill the salve container nearly to the top with infused oil and pour it into your stainless steel pan. Don’t fill it completely to the top because the beeswax will add some volume to your final product.  If you plan on just one tin of salve, do this step once.  If you plan to make 2, 3, 4 or more containers of salve, repeat this step once more for each additional container of salve.

infused oil in the pan

What are those floaty bits? As you can see from the photo, there are little stringy floaty bits in the oil. This is normal.  Your infused oil comes from a plant. It’s not highly processed, in fact, it’s a pretty rustic product. The oil used to infuse the plant material may pull all manner of plant constituents into the oil including things like mucilage, gums, sugars, other carbohydrates,volatile oils among other things.  Each plant has a unique chemical profile and each infused oil will look or smell different.  If it appears that your infused oil has a layer on the top and a different more sedimentous layer on the bottom, simply shake it well before you pour it.  You don’t need to worry about the floaties. They do not represent spoilage and they won’t impact your final product.   Mold looks like mold, in an infused oil it looks much like the mold you find on yogurt or a jar of pasta sauce. It’s hairy and white, blue, black or green and it smells bad.

Step Three:  Heat your oil gently over low heat. Add a small amount of beeswax. Start conservatively. It is easier to add more beeswax to make your ointment firmer than it is to make an ointment softer.  Continue to gently heat the oil until the beeswax is melted.  Stir it with your spatula once or twice to make sure it is mixed.

beeswax in the pan

Step Four: Assess for firmness.

Dip a spoon into your pan and pull it up.  Beeswax has a high melting point.  That means that beeswax cools and hardens quite quickly.  When you have used very little beeswax your ointment will remain liquid on the spoon for awhile.  When you have used more beeswax and you lift the spoon out you can see near the edges of the puddle of oil the beeswax has already begun to  solidify, as you can see in the picture below.  If I had used even more beeswax the whole spoonful would rather quickly become solid.

dip spoon into oil assess for firmness

 

I can’t tell exactly how firm this will be at room temperature, so I stick the spoon in the freezer for just a minute or two.  I don’t want to freeze the salve; I just want to quickly bring the temperature down so I can assess how firm it will be.

After taking it out of the freezer I twirl my finger around in it to see if it I like it.  Nope. This one is a bit too soft for me.  So I turn back to my pan and add a bit more beeswax and repeat the process of gently melting the beeswax and testing it on the spoon after a brief rest in the freezer.

testing for firmness 2

 

 

The salve pictured below looks just right to me.  You can see that it is a bit firmer.

salve is firm and ready to pour

 

 

Now careful pour, spoon or ladle the hot liquid salve into your salve containers.  Be careful.  It’s hot. Leave your containers on the counter and bring the salve to the container not the container to the salve because the metal tin will be become very, very hot as you pour the salve into it.

hot, liquid salve in the container

 

Now just let it rest until it is firm.  If you are in a hurry you can use the freezer again to accelerate the process.

A note about salves with essential oils:  You can add essential oils to salves for fragrance or extra medicinal properties.  If you are using essential oils put them in the bottom of the salve container before you make the salve.  Do not heat them in the oil/beeswax mixture.  Simply pour the oil/beeswax into the container with the essential oils.  You do not need to stir or mix; the act of pouring for a few inches above the container will adequately incorporate the essential oils into the oil/beeswax.  If you do add essential oils put the lid on your salves immediately after pouring so as not to lose volatile oils to the air but keep them in the container.  If you don’t use essential oils you do not need to put the cap on immediately.  Keeping the cap off will accelerate the cooling process.

Here’s the finished product:  Pretty!

lemon balm salve

 

You can go in  a lot of directions with this basic techinque.  A chest rub is a salve and can be made using this technique. Likewise lip balm is a salve.  Solid perfume is a salve.  As mentioned above you can use essential oils for fragrance or medicinal properties, but you can also used infused herbal oils for color, mica for shimmer. You can add powders like Goldenseal or zinc oxide.   You can substitute some of the beeswax for a solid oil like cocoa butter or shea butter.  Have fun!

green salve
Here’s my Green Salve. Notice that it is a lot darker than the Lemon Balm salve simply due to using different darker oils. It is also firmer.

 

Rose Lipped Maiden Lip Balm
This salve is my Rose Lipped Maiden Lip Balm Butter. It is pink from alkanet infused oils and the addition of mica. I also experiemented with whipping it before putting it in the container in hopes of achieving a slightly fluffy texture.

 

 

 

2 Comments

    1. I like SKS Bottle https://www.sks-bottle.com/ although they don’t sell singles so if you are just getting started you might try somewhere else like the co–op or a surplus store like Ax Man. Specialty Bottle is another good company: http://www.specialtybottle.com You can also get containers from the same online retailers that sell bulk supplies and herbs like Mountain Rose Herbs http://www.mountainroseherbs.com however, expect to pay a bit more than you would if you bought a case from a packaging supplier.

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