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How to Make a Salve

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A calendula bloom.

Photo © Lauren Ware

Photo © Lauren Ware

Value-added products like salves, lip balms, lotions and creams can be a great way to generate income for your small farm business. Salves are very easy to make, and a lip balm is just a salve that is made to a certain hardness so that it can be rolled up in a lip balm tube (or you can leave it a little softer and put it in a tin).

All salves start with oil: this can be plain olive oil or another edible oil, or an herb-infused oil like calendula oil that has medicinal properties. Beeswax is used to harden the oil to a salve consistency.

Salves are easy to make. I'm going to outline the general procedure, so that you can adapt the recipe to suit your own production needs. If you are making large quantities of salve to sell at the farmer's market or to wholesale, you will need to adapt your methods. But salve is a very useful thing for hobby farmers, homesteaders, and anyone who is interested in herbal medicine.

Some good herbs to use in salve include:

  • calendula
  • plantain
  • chickweed
  • St. John's wort
  • goldenseal
  • comfrey

What is salve used for? Bug bites, scrapes, rashes, mild sunburn, chapped lips, and dry skin are the top uses. You can even make products like headache balm, stick deodorant, and other homemade cosmetics once you understand how to make salve.

Besides herb-infused oil and beeswax (or candelilla wax for vegan salve), you can add essential oils to salve to add scent and additional healing properties.

Ready? Let's make salve!

Gather Your Supplies

To make salve, you will need the following:

  • herb-infused oil of choice
  • natural beeswax
  • a double boiler, or another way to provide very gentle heating

Get Your Proportions Right

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to making salve. You can add more beeswax to make a very firm salve, or use less to make a soft after-bath moisturizer type salve. For anything you want to put into a roll-up container like lip balm or stick deodorant, you'll want to have your salve on the firmer side. Healing salves for bug bites and scrapes are usually rather firm too.

Four parts oil to one part beeswax is a good general-purpose firm salve ratio. Start here, make a small batch, and tailor proportions as you see fit.

Make Salve

Start by bringing your oil and beeswax to temperature in the double boiler. What temperature? Just warm enough to melt the beeswax. You don't want to expose your delicate, herb-infused oil to too high a temp, or you may reduce its effectiveness as medicine. Stir gently.

If you are adding essential oils, add them after you remove the salve from the heat, before pouring. Drop them evenly across the surface of the oil, and stir them in gently. Pour into clean, dry containers (to avoid contamination). Another way to add scent to your salve is by infusing the herbs with the scent you want into the oil before making the salve. For example, you could infuse both lavender and calendula into your oil to make a lavender-scented salve.

Wipe the rims of your containers if there is any spillage, before the salve hardens.

Let the containers of salve sit, open, until cool. Then screw on lids or cap lip balm tubes. Don't forget to label! Even if they're only for your own use, I promise you will forget what's in them more quickly than you can imagine.

Storing Salve

Salve should be stored in a cool, dry place. It has a shelf life of about a year, if you're selling it - maybe more if it's for your own use. It will lose potency and scent over time, and if you open some up and it smells like rancid oil, it's definitely time to chuck it out.

Have fun in your salve-making adventures!

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