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DIY Herbal Salves

DIY Herbal Salves

Learn how to make herbal salves for psoriasis, eczema, insect bites, burns and other irritations.

Salves are time-honored traditional remedies for a variety of skin problems, including wounds, burns, boils, acne, rashes and insect bites and stings. Salves can also be formulated to contain herbs that address pain and inflammation associated with inflammatory skin conditions, like arthritis, psoriasis and eczema.

Making your own salve is simple and satisfying. You only need three key ingredients – an herb-infused oil, beeswax and one or more essential oils.

To make an infused oil, start with a quality carrier oil suitable for use on the skin. I prefer sweet almond oil but olive oil, sunflower oil or apricot kernel oil also work well. There are two ways to make the oil: the solar method, or the heat method. The former is the traditional way and is just like it sounds -- the heat of the sun does all the work. Fill a mason jar or similar glass container with a lid about half way with dried herbs (fresh material contains water that would dilute the oil) and add enough carrier oil to cover the herb, leaving a ½ inch reserve of oil at the top. Put on the lid and place the jar in a sunny place for 4-6 weeks, turning the jar once each day. If the herb swells a lot (as some do) and displaces the oil reserve at the top, add a bit more oil to be sure the botanical material is fully immersed.

The heat method is faster, but requires your full attention during the process. Place an ounce of dried herb for each cup of carrier oil in the top of a double boiler or in a small crockpot (I have one just for this purpose). Heat the herb-oil mixture on the lowest setting (ideally at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 2 hours. Keep checking to make sure the mixture doesn’t overheat, or you’ll end up with scorched or deep-fried herbs. Strain and discard the herbs and let the oil cool. Transfer the infused oil into a clean glass container with a lid. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Basic Salve Recipe

1 cup infused oil

¼ cup grated beeswax

8-10 drops essential oil

Follow one of the methods described above to make an infused oil.

In the top of a double boiler, melt the beeswax over low heat. Add the oil and stir to combine. Remove from heat; add the essential and stir. Pour into tins. Let cool for several hours or overnight before capping.

Herbs to Use to Make Salves

Salves, lotions and creams made from chamomile are as soothing to the skin as a cup of chamomile tea is to frazzled nerves or an upset stomach. In Europe, the topical use of chamomile is approved by the German Commission E to treat inflammation.

Also known as Bruisewort and Knitbone, comfrey contains allantoin, a natural compound produced by plants and some animals that’s used in the cosmetic industry as a skin conditioner because it promotes new cell growth. Note: This herb is so effective at “knitting” skin back together that it should not be used on broken skin due to the risk of infection from sealing in bacteria that normally resides on the skin.

Like comfrey, this ground-covering “weed” also contains allantoin, as well as linoleic and oleanolic acids. With antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, this herb is a good choice to use to make salves for a wide variety of skin issues.

Also called pot marigold, calendula is a traditional ingredient in natural skin care products formulated to ease sunburn, rashes, psoriasis and eczema.

Arnica flowers are also a traditional ingredient in salves formulated to speed the healing of bruises and to address pain and inflammation associated with muscle strain and arthritis.

Lavender is an excellent addition to herbal salves because it helps so many skin conditions ranging from burns, minor cuts and insect bites to hemorrhoids.

Essential Oils to Use to Make Salves

Essential oils add scent, as well as antioxidant properties that help to preserve the salve naturally. Essential oils also provide additional healing benefits in the form of antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities. Suitable (and economical) essential oils to use when making salves include:

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