By Michelle Summer Fike
While there are many recipes available for home preparations of salvefrom-scratch-in-an-afternoon, I believe that with a bit more time and
attention, you can turn your quick salve into a ‘super’ salve.
our goal should be to make a high quality salve.
As organic gardeners, farmers and consumers, we have ready access to the ingredients
that will produce the finest of herbal salves.
What is a salve?
Salves are medicinal ointments which are applied
externally to the skin. Herbal salves are oil-based
herbal preparations that are thick like heavy cream
and solid at room temperature. Depending upon the
ingredients, they can be used to:
• heal and soothe the skin,
• draw inflammation or toxins from wounds,
• hasten wound healing,
Super salve recipe
1¾ cups herbal oil
½ teaspoon benzoin tincture or ¼ teaspoon
essential oil of benzoin (optional)
½ cup beeswax (or combination of beeswax and
another thickener)
Few drops of essential oil(s) of your choice
– Summer 2010
ease scarring and neuralgia (nerve pain),
soothe sore muscles,
soften rough or dry skin, and
treat a variety of skin conditions, including rashes,
itchiness, boils, blisters, shingles, diaper rash, cold
sores, scratches, eczema, psoriasis and cradle cap.
Making salves at home
Making a top-quality salve at home is a cost-effective and immensely satisfying way to become familiar with the medicinal properties of many common
herbs, and to expand your own options for organic
self care. There are two basic steps. First, you carefully prepare an herbal oil. Then you use this oil, in
conjunction with other simple ingredients, to make
your salve.
An all-natural, organic salve has only five ingredient categories:
1) the carrier oil(s),
2) the herb(s),
3) the thickener,
4) the scent, and
5) the preservative. The last two ingredients are
optional. Nothing else is needed!
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Carrier oils
Olive oil: The most universal carrier oil, with a great conditioning
effect on skin, and a long, stable shelf-life. Contains several essential fatty acids (oleic, palmitic and linoleic), is anti-inflammatory and is high in antioxidants.
Sunflower oil: High-quality, organic, cold-pressed sunflower oil,
produced in Canada, is a great option for salves. Contains potassium, vitamins A, B, D and E, lecithin, oleic acids and omega-6
fatty acids. Is absorbed easily, nourishes deeply and conditions
the skin, and is highly recommended for dry, weathered, aged
and damaged skin. A natural preservative is needed to avoid rancidity.
Apricot kernel oil: High in oleic acid and beta-carotene. Excellent for very dry skin, eczema, sensitive skin and wrinkles. Use
with a natural preservative.
The author, Michelle Summer Fike of
Pumpkin Moon Farm, preparing an
herbal salve.
Salve ingredients
Carrier oils: The carrier oil(s) you
choose will have a great impact on the
quality and efficacy of your final product. You can choose from a range of
oils for your salve, from poor quality
imports to high quality local and/or organic oils. Spend the money on great
oils—cheap ingredients create an inferior final product. I tend to use virgin
cold-pressed olive oil for most of my
salves. Virgin olive oil is slightly more
acidic than extra-virgin, and acidity is
helpful in extracting certain constituents from plant material. I also like
olive oil for its long shelf life, high nutritive profile, availability and reasonable price (even for very good quality
cold-pressed olive oil).
Herbs: The plants you incorporate into
your salves will determine how and
where you apply the salve. Certain
herbs are general wound-healers and
anti-inflammatories. Others are good
Sweet almond oil: Very popular, useful skin-care oil because of
its cell-regenerating properties, slippery/lubricating qualities, high
mineral content, stable shelf-life and clear colour. Softens, soothes
and reconditions the skin. Exceptionally rich in fatty acids and
unsaturated triglycerides.
Grapeseed oil: Extremely high in polyunsaturated fatty acids
and is readily absorbed by the skin. Makes a light, soft, silky
salve base. Is non-allergenic and good for sensitive skin. Use
with a natural preservative.
Avocado oil: Ultra-rich, containing vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E,
linoleic acid, amino acids, lecithin and chlorophyll. Strengthens
skin cell walls, provides intense moisturizing and repairs damaged skin. Very enriching.
Jojoba oil: Soothes and heals skin damaged by eczema and
psoriasis, softens and moisturizes, protects skin from dehydration. Great carrier oil. Good for the scalp, and is absorbed beautifully because it is similar to the oily sebum we secrete from our
Hemp seed oil: Exceptionally rich, high in phospholipids, sterols and proteins. High nutritional value; helps heal and regenerate skin tissue. With a balance of alpha linolenic, linoleic and
gamma linolenic fatty acids (EFAs), it can help reduce inflammation. Use with a natural preservative.
Soybean oil: High in lecithin, sterolin and a good source of vitamin E. Easily absorbed, leaving skin smooth. Use with a natural
preservative. Note that most, if not all, non-organic soybean oil is
made from genetically modified soybeans.
Wheat germ oil: Ultra-rich, high in vitamins E, A and D, and
proteins, lecithin and squalene. Viscous, great for irritations,
roughness, cracking, chafing and wrinkles. A good skin nourisher
with a high amount of natural tocopherols.
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Summer 2010 –
for nerve pain, infection, muscle tension, bruising,
acne, etc. Once you use a basic all-purpose salve
you have made from scratch, my guess is that you
will be so impressed and delighted, you may experiment with making other, more specific salves.
In our household, we use about five different
salves frequently, so I keep those pots well-filled.
These include an all-purpose general skin salve, a
burn salve, a tender-skin salve, a cold and congestion chest salve, and a pet/animal salve.
Thickeners: The thickener solidifies the oils so that
the consistency is semi-soft and not runny. Thickeners are all solid at room temperature. I use
beeswax produced by one of our farm neighbours.
Coconut oil and/or cocoa, shea and mango butters
may also be used as thickeners, though these tend
to be more expensive and are imported. I recommend using local beeswax as your primary thickener, using the others as only a portion of the total
quantity in the recipe.
A sampling of Pumpkin Moon Farm’s herbal products.
at the top of my list for salve use. Do not use any
synthetic scents or perfumes in your all-natural salves.
Preservatives: The final ingredient you may choose
to add to your super salve is a natural preservative.
In many cases, this will not be necessary. Olive oil
Scents: I make many unscented salves, but use es- salves have a stable shelf-life of at least one year, and
sential oils in others. Essential oils have aroma- refrigeration can further extend the life of your
therapeutic benefits from their scent alone (and they salves. However, if you use chickweed (or any other
make people feel so good!), and many essential oils ‘wet’ herb) in your salve, and/or a short shelf-life carhave wonderful skin-healing properties. Lavender, rier oil, I recommend adding a natural preservative.
Good options include:
tea tree, geranium, bergamot, eucalyptus, pepper•
of benzoin (made from friar’s balsam and
mint, patchouli, sweet orange and chamomile are
found at a drug store),
• benzoin essential oil (thick and
goopy, needs to be ‘spooned’ out
Effective herbal preparations
with a toothpick),
Plants have therapeutic properties because they contain a
• rosemary oil extract (different
variety of biologically active substances. An effective herbal
from rosemary essential oil, the
extract is sold as a natural prepreparation ‘captures’ these compounds. Skill and patience are
servative only),
necessary to achieve this.
• grapefruit seed extract, or
Plant compounds ‘dissolve’ most readily into water and acid
vitamin E (a few drops of vita(for example, vinegar or alcohol). Teas/infusions and tinctures
min E oil added to a batch of salve
are two common herbal preparations made from water and
also acts as a skin restorer).
alcohol, respectively.
I use either of the two benzoin
Oil is not as effective at extracting the medicinal compounds
preparations, and add vitamin E
from plants, and that is why skilled herbalists and herb-product
to several recipes.
manufacturers “digest” herbs to make strong medicinally-active
herbal oils for their salves. Digestion involves cooking finely
Salve-making tools
chopped plant material (I use a food processor) at a low
Besides your ingredients, you
temperature (around 100OF) for 1–2 weeks. This low, steady
heat helps release the medicinal compounds from the plant
• a sharp knife/food processor
• a measuring cup
material into the oil, resulting in a high-quality final product.
• a slow cooker
– Summer 2010
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a wooden spoon
a candy or meat thermometer
a large glass jar, measuring cup,
bowl, or glass pot (something seethrough)
• a second bowl
• a stainless steel pot
• a chopstick
• a gravy pourer or other small
tool for pouring hot liquids
• clean jars with lids
• a small pot and a half-cup
measuring cup dedicated for the
beeswax (they are very hard to
clean once they’ve been coated in
beeswax, so consider buying a second-hand pot and measuring cup
just for beeswax and forget trying to clean it).
Making herbal oil
The first step in making a beautiful herbal salve from scratch is to
make a pungent, strong, effective
herbal oil. This is where my recipe
differs from many of the ‘salvein-a-day’ recipes. While it is possible to make a salve quickly, it is
doubtful that many therapeutic
properties from the herbs will be
present in the final product if the
herbs are warmed or steeped for
only a matter of minutes or hours.
To make a truly effective herbal
salve, you need to patiently allow
the oil and plant material to steep
My tool is a slow-cooker with a
‘warm’ setting. (Slow-cookers with
only ‘low’ and ‘high’ settings don’t
work—even the ‘low’ setting
brings the oil temperature up too
high). You can mix all the herbs
you have chosen together to create one mixed batch of oil, or you
can create several batches of
herbal oil, one herb at a time. You
can make a batch of mixed herbal
oil in July or August, since several
Thickeners for salves
Beeswax: Softening, soothing and emollient, with antioxidant properties. A great skin-healer. Beeswax locks in moisture, fosters cell growth
(with its vitamin A content) and protects skin from damaging environmental factors. It creates a long-lasting protective coating against the
elements. Is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-allergenic and a germicidal antioxidant.
Coconut oil: Will help irritated and sensitive skin, and acts as a lovely
general moisturizer, forming a protective layer that retains moisture.
Contains antiseptic fatty acids and helps relieve chronic skin inflammation, eczema and psoriasis.
Shea butter: A superb emollient, ideal to smooth and replenish dry
skin. High in oleic and stearic acids. Maintains skin moisture and elasticity. Also protects the skin against harmful UV rays. Useful for stretch
marks, sunburn, dermatitis and dry scalp.
Cocoa butter: A wonderful moisturizer, will keep skin soft and supple.
Absorbed readily. Useful for eczema, dermatitis, sensitive skin, protection from the elements, and stretch marks. Contains many natural antioxidants and cocoa mass polyphenol (CMP), which has been shown to
have a wide range of therapeutic benefits.
Mango butter: Emollient, antioxidant, regenerative, softening, soothing, moisturizing and protective. Restores flexibility, improves wrinkles,
helps heal wounds, treats dry skin and rashes. Protects against UV
herbs used in salves are ready to
harvest at the same time of year.
You can also use a mix of high
quality dried organic herbs and
make a single mixed batch of oil
any time of the year. At Pumpkin
Moon Farm, we sell an herbal oil
starter kit of mixed dried herbs.
When using fresh herbs, harvest them early in the morning,
after the dew has dried but before
they have received too much direct sun. Leave your herbs in a
basket or bowl for a few hours.
The herbs respire some of their
water content as they wilt, and
reducing the water content in your
fresh herbs helps minimize the
sediment that will form.
Chop herbs very finely with a
sharp knife or pulse in a food
processor until minced. Place two
cups chopped herbs in the slow
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cooker and toss lightly with your
fingers so they are not packed
down. The same amount of dried
herbs can also be placed in the
slow cooker and tossed in the same
way. Now, cover the herbs with
your oil(s) of choice, adding two
cups of oil until all of the plant
material is submerged. Use a
wooden spoon to stir and push the
herbs lightly to ensure there are
no air pockets. Once the herbs are
covered in oil, stir thoroughly and
add a bit more oil or herbs (if necessary) to create a thick herb-oil
mixture. Make a tea with any leftover herbs.
Next, turn your slow cooker on
to the ‘warm’ setting. Don’t put
the lid on the crock—the temperature of the oil will get too high
with the lid on. Throughout the
day, stir the oil gently and check
Summer 2010 –
quality products are made from cooperating with
nature, not by rushing her.
After 10–14 days (go to 14 days if you’ve left the
slow cooker off for any long intervals or if you are
using dried herbs), strain your oil through cheesecloth into a glass container. Squeeze the cheesecloth
tightly to extract all the oil. Let the oil sit for several hours or overnight. The next day, you will see
some sediment at the bottom. Carefully pour off
the clear oil into a second bowl, making sure the
sediment remains behind. I often strain mine two to
three times—the sediment gets stirred up as I pour,
and I need to let it re-settle before pouring off the
last of the clear oil. Once all your clear oil has been
poured off, compost the remaining cloudy oil/sediment mixture.
Congratulations! Now you have a glorious, pungent herbal oil and you are ready to make super
salve! At this point, if you are going to store your
oil for making salve at a later date, pour it into a
Calendula flowers are used in salves for their
gentle healing properties.
the temperature. If the oil goes above 110OF, turn
the slow cooker off and place the lid on. After a few
hours, take the lid off and turn the slow cooker back
to ‘warm.’
There is a bit of a song and dance to this—it’s
more art than precision. Rarely will the oil come to
100OF and stay there. Often, throughout the 10–14
days that it takes me to make a batch of oil, the temperature will get too high and I’ll need to turn the
slow cooker off for a while. I also turn mine off overnight and leave the lid on.
Natural healing takes time,
and quality products are made
from cooperating with nature,
not by rushing her.
I would like to find a slow cooker with a temperature dial that I could set to 100OF, but so far, I have
not found a unit like that. Until I do, this patient
caretaking of each batch of oil is a wonderful teacher,
reminding me that natural healing takes time, and
– Summer 2010
Herbs for salves
Weedy herbs: Have wonderful skin-healing properties and are commonly found in gardens, lawns,
fields and urban areas. Easy to find, easy to use,
these herbs should account for the majority of
your herb content general-purpose salves. Includes chickweed, plantain, comfrey, self-heal,
red clover, cleavers, St. John’s wort, burdock root
and yarrow.
Antibiotic herbs: To be added to salves to counter infection. Includes chaparrel, wormwood,
goldenseal root (goldenseal is endangered, so buy
only organic goldenseal, never wildcrafted),
echinacea root and usnea lichen (old man’s
Flower herbs: Used for their gentle yet thorough
healing properties. Great in salves for sensitive/
damaged skin and for pets, children, babies and
the elderly. Includes calendula, chamomile, elder,
rose and lavender.
Specialized herbs: Many herbs have very specific properties, often confined to one or two specialized uses. Includes mullein flower, cayenne,
garlic, witch hazel, mugwort, dandelion flower,
arnica and cloves.
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cupboard until next time). Continue heating oil until beeswax is
melted, stirring often with a
chopstick. Remove mixture from
the heat. Add essential oil(s) if you
want. Stir.
Using a gravy pourer, pour hot
mixture into clean jars, filling
right to the top. Place filled jars
on the counter, cap lightly, and
allow to cool for a few hours.
When cool, wipe down the outside
of the jar, cap tightly and label.
Store away from light in a cupboard or medicine cabinet. Use it
within two years.
A selection of Pumpkin Moon Farm products.
glass jar, label with the name of
the herb, carrier oil and bottling
date, and store in a dark, cool cupboard or basement. Use it within
a year.
Making super salve
Place 1¾ cups of your herbal oil
(or a mixture from various
batches) into a stainless steel pot.
If you are using a natural preservative, add it to the oil and stir
with a chopstick. Warm the oil
slowly on the stove on mediumlow heat.
In a separate small pot, melt
beeswax and/or thickeners on medium heat. Be careful not to overheat the beeswax. Add ½ cup to
the herbal oil when melted. (Any
excess will re-solidify so leave it
in the pot to cool and store in a
Michelle Summer Fike is the owner
of Pumpkin Moon Farm, an organic
herb and seed farm in Nova Scotia’s
Annapolis Valley. To find out more,
go to
Photo credits: Deborah Nicolson,
Our Nature is Organic
Summer 2010 –