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One of my favorite herbal preparations is the salve.  A salve is probably best defined as a soothing medicinal preparation that is applied topically and promotes healing and is also known as a balm.  While lotions and cremes are emulsions, a salve is an oil and wax based preparation.  It is easily adaptable to whatever purpose you might desire it.  There is no one right way to make a salve, and the combinations are practically infinite…from romantic aromatherapy to soothing itchy skin, there is a salve for every occasion just waiting to be discovered.

Perhaps my favorite recipe for tinkering, and the best illustration for building an herbal recipe in general, and a salve in particular, is Sophie and Collin’s baby balm, which has undergone several incarnations to get the combination that I am fond of.  When I first started, I had decided I wanted a massage oil for infant massage.  I wanted it to be soothing for the baby, healthy for her skin and relaxing to the both of us.  I initially chose lavender and chamomile, and infused them in olive oil, and ended up adding lavender essential oil to cover up the olive smell.  But it was messy…so I decided on a salve instead, and added beeswax.  Not happy with the recipe, and having read a bit about the benefits of sunflower oil for babies, I made the next batch with sunflower oil.  Eventually, I added calendula and then yarrow to the mix.  I switched around oils…and then one day, while filtering my latest batch, I tested the oil and found that I had found my perfect oil mixture in terms of smell.  At the same time, I played with amounts of beeswax, and adding other things, like lanolin or cocoa butter.   Everything worked…but somethings worked better than others.  Some things smelled better than others.  Some things that worked well didn’t smell as well as things that didn’t work as well…and I wanted both.

For a naturally impatient person (like myself), learning to build a salve was a wonderful exercise in patience.   If anyone is wondering why I call it “building” a salve, its because I see a salve (and many other herbal preparations) as a series of building blocks (the herb, the oils, etc) that can be put together in a myriad of ways.  To build a salve, one first needs a purpose.  What do you want to make?  Something for a baby?  Something for yourself?  Once the purpose is in mind, one needs to figure out what herbs best fit the desired outcome.  From here, one can either experiment with single herbs or they can choose herbs that they feel–either intuitively or through research–would work together effectively.   Once the herbs have been determined, the oils need to be selected.  Like with herbs, each carrier oil has its own pros and cons, correspondences, etc.  They can be used singly or in combination, and the herbs can be infused in them singly or in combination.  I choose to infuse my herbs together.  It could be all in my head, but I find it to be more synergistic…though, when initially experimenting with combinations, working from single herb infusions can be more efficient.  The finished oil then needs to be combined with the wax to the desired consistency.  As with herb and oil selections, there are waxes besides beeswax to choose from (though I rarely use anything other than beeswax and cocoa butter).

If you want to try your hand at a salve, most of the basic ingredients are available at your local grocery store and craft store.  If you are lucky enough to have specialty stores, like for soap making or herbalism or a tea shop, you are off to a great start…and if you have a local source for beeswax (try the local farmers market–if there is a local bee keeper, you can often get a good deal), you really in luck!  There are also quite a few ingredients for every effective healing salves that you can probably find in your own back yard (plantain and chickweed to name a few).  Olive oil, grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, and sunflower oil are probably the easiest oils to find in a grocery story at a reasonable price.  To infuse your oils, you need dry herbs…if you have a local organic grocery, CSA, a tea shop, herbalist, etc, they may carry whole bulk herbs for purchase, but if not there are a few reliable online herb suppliers.  Another option is to use essential oils in the carrier oil (rather than making the infused oil), which are sometimes easier to find– even some hobby/craft stores carry soap and candle making supplies and will have a small selection of essential oils (as well as beeswax).

Basic Salve Recipe

1 cup of oil (infused oil or carrier oil with essential oil)

1/2-1 oz beeswax (start with 1/2 oz and add beeswax depending on the consistancy you want) OR combination of cocoa butter and beeswax

Place oil in double boiler and heat.  Melt in beeswax (or other wax combinations) SLOWLY, testing for consistency.  If you add too much wax, your salve will be too hard.  To fix a hard salve, you can always add more oil, but depending on how delicate your recipe might be, it could throw it off.

My Fave Lip Balm

1/4 c sunflower oil infused with chamomile

a dollop of honey

10-15 drops of food grade peppermint oil

cocoa butter to desired consistency

Baby Balm–great for just about everything from after bath to diaper rash to dry skin

1 part lavender
1 part chamomile flowers
1 part yarrow
1 part calendula

Infuse herbs in equal parts sunflower and grapeseed oil.

Equal parts beeswax and cocoa butter into oil to desired consistency

Snotty Tot Chest Rub

30 drops Gully Gum Eucalyptus Essential oil

30 drops Camphor

30 drops Lavender essential oil

1/4 c carrier oil

Equal parts beeswax and cocoa butter into oil to desired consistency