How to make a herbal balm or salve

Balms & salves are beginners’ favorite preparations. They are easy to make as they consist of only 2 main ingredients: herbal infused oils and beeswax: really difficult to fail!
Herbalists adore these preparations since it is the easiest and more efficient way to receive the benefits of herbs and create homemade natural "remedies". Balms & salves do not contain water, so no worries for fungi and bacteria growth, no need for preservatives.

Still, due to their structure they have two disadvantages:
  • their oily texture, which can be improved by adding starch (e.g. corn flour) at a rate of up to 10%
  • they are prone to oxidation due to their high content in vegetable oils. Therefore the addition of an antioxidant such as vitamin E (tocopherol) at a rate of 0.5-1% on oils is  necessary.
Balms & salves owe their healing properties to the herbal infused oils they consist of. What you have to do is to simply add a certain quantity of beeswax or plant wax solidifying the oil to the extent you need. The more beeswax, the more solid the result.

You can find hereby a few formulas having different wax & oil ratios and consequently different textures:

The herbal formula (salve) 
  • 15% beeswax or plant wax such as carnauba or soy wax 
  • 85% herbal infused oils in a liquid form 

This is the classic salve formula used for healing preparations. Once applied it forms a thin protective layer. Using this formula you can easily make an arnica anti-inflammatory salve or a lavender relaxing one. 

The rich formula (balm) 
  • 15 % beeswax or plant wax such as carnauba or soy wax 
  • 25% vegetable butters such as cocoa or shea butter 
  • 60% herbal infused oils (liquid) 

This formula produces a more stable preparation suitable for lip or massage balms. 

The stable formula (balm) 
  • 25% beeswax or plant wax such as carnauba or soy wax 
  • 75% herbal infused oils (liquid) and/or vegetable butters. 

This stable formula produces a balm suitable to be used during summer months and firm enough to retain its shape when molded e.g. a lipstick or a solid lotion bar. 

What you’ll need 
  • A heatproof glass or stainless steel cup (Pyrex pitchers work great) 
  • 1 saucepan to be used as a double boiler (bain marie) 
  • Measuring cups (1 cup =250 ml) & measuring spoons (1 teaspoon=5ml, 1 tablespoon=15ml) 
  • 1 stainless steel whisk or a small hand mixer 
  • High accuracy scale in case your recipe is in grams 
  • Lidded jars to store your salves & balms. 
You should sterilize your equipment before starting the aromatic cooking. This work cannot be quick and dirty. 

How to make balm or salve 

  • In a bowl or a Pyrex pitcher blend the vegetable oils, the vegetable butters and the waxes grated or in small pieces. 
  • Place a heat-proof saucepan filled with water to low temperature. 
  • Place the Pyrex pitcher into the saucepan taking care the water to surround the glass to the level of the ingredients. 
  • Wait until the beeswax or plant waxes completely melt. Stir thoroughly. 
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly but not set. 
  • Add the essential oils, the sensitive vegetable oils -such as evening primrose, rosa mosqueta, borage- and Vitamin E Oil (if using).
  • Pour into glass jars and allow to cool and set completely. Store in a cool place. 

This article was originally posted in July 2007.