Infuse Oils for Herbal Salve Recipes

Craft powerful plant-infused salves to treat a variety of topical conditions, from bug bites to arthritis.

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Perhaps the most versatile item in the artisan herbalist’s arsenal is herb-infused oil. The diversity of potential applications, as well as the multitude of products into which infused oil can be crafted, truly makes this form of extraction a powerful ally in any apothecary. The medicine-maker may choose to use their oils to create salves, balms, and lotions or in a pure oil application for topical or culinary use. Whichever method they decide upon, they will find great gratification in the ease with which these products can be made and how beneficial and powerful the resulting medicines are.

Gathering the Ingredients

Infusing herbal oils is a simple yet remarkably satisfying process. As with the preparation of any other extraction, the first step is choosing the proper ingredients and gathering the needed equipment. Aside from the herbs and oils, a vessel is the only other mandatory tool, and for this job, a glass jar is highly recommended, particularly one with a screw-on lid. Glass is far superior to plastic or metal, especially for long-term storage of your medicinal oils. Clear glass is suitable for this task, as the oil will be stored in a cool, dark location throughout the extraction process.

Choosing the Right Oil

When crafting herbal oils, the focus of most recipes is typically on the herbs to be used, their medicinal benefits, and the desired purpose of the final products. While these are all obvious and important considerations, many herbalists fall short by not taking more time to understand and properly select the other main ingredient: the oil. Just as the herbalist selects particular herbs based on their active chemical constituents, the oils used (also derived from plants) have their own characteristics and chemical constituents. This suggests that different oils have different uses, benefits, and applications. Taking the time to choose the proper oil – one that complements and enhances the herbs being used in the formula – will increase the product’s potency as well as the herbalist’s success.

Bottles of essential oil or infusion of medicinal herbs and berr

The oils most commonly used by at-home herbalists are olive, coconut, grapeseed, and sunflower. All of these are fine choices; which to use will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish and your preferences. If carbon footprint is a concern, consider purchasing oils that aren’t imported from far away. Sometimes, it’s possible to source oils that have been pressed locally. You can even try pressing your own! Small, home-scale oil presses are available for purchase and may be a viable option for herbalists interested in a more do-it-yourself approach to their craft.

When searching for quality oil to purchase, look for oils that are labeled as cold-pressed or expeller-pressed. You don’t want oils that are produced using heat (which degrades the nutritional value of the oil) or those that are extracted by the use of chemicals. Chemically extracted oils are refined oils; they have very little flavor, scent, or color but also lack any significant nutritional value. While they may serve a purpose for some, these are not the high-quality oils that should be chosen for an herbalist’s work. Chemically extracted and purified oils should be avoided, especially when the herbalist is crafting topical, oil-based wellness products.

Infusing Your Herbs

Composition of bottles with oil on wooden stand

Once the appropriate herbs, oil, and vessel have been selected, it’s time to begin the extraction process. Simply pack your chosen herbs into the vessel, then add the oil, pouring until the plant matter is completely submerged and the level of the oil is above the herbs by approximately 1 to 2 inches. Next, using a small tool, such as a dowel, skewer, or even a pencil, poke through the submerged plant material a few times to release any air that may have been trapped. Once there are no more bubbles floating to the top, place the lid on the container and label the vessel.

Crafting a Salve

The herbal salve is possibly the most well-known wellness product crafted from infused oil, and it can be used for a wide range of ailments and conditions. While the formula can and should be adjusted by the artisan herbalist to their preference, the basic ratio is 1.25 parts beeswax by weight to 16 parts oil by volume.

Basic Salve Recipe

To test the consistency of your salve or balm before pouring, a small amount of the blended oil can be put on a plate and placed in the freezer to cool, similar to how one would test a jam or jelly. Yield: approximately 18 ounces (by volume) of final product.

  • 1.25 ounces beeswax (by weight)
  • 16 ounces oil (volume)
  1. Use a double boiler to melt the beeswax into the oil while gently stirring the mixture to blend. If a double boiler is not available, substitute a stainless steel bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. Remember, this bowl will become very hot, and caution must be used to avoid any injury.
  2. Once the wax is melted and blended into the oil, carefully pour the hot oil mixture into containers. Any size or shape container will do, depending on need and desire, but soft plastic should be strictly avoided. Remember, this oil will be quite hot, so thin plastic is not a safe choice.
  3. As the oil and wax mixture cools, it will solidify and the final consistency of the product can be tested. Be sure to label the container of herbal medicine for easy identification in the future. You have now created a freshly handcrafted herbal salve!

Sore Muscle Salve

This basic recipe is a perfect blend of herbs for topical treatment of sore and tired muscles.

  • 1 part cayenne peppers
  • 1 part wintergreen leaves
    1. Combine equal parts of both ingredients and infuse in oil of choice for 4 to 6 weeks.
  1. Process as described in “Crafting a Salve.”
  2. Use topically as needed.

Arthritis Relief Salve

This herbal blend brings relief from inflammation, joint pain, and arthritis.

  • 2 part nettles
  • 1 part cayenne
  • 1 part witch hazel
  • 1 part turmeric
  1. Combine ingredients and infuse in oil of choice for 4 to 6 weeks.
  2. Process as described in “Crafting a Salve.”
  3. Use topically as needed.

Bug Bites and Boo-Boos Salve

This is a topical ointment for healing minor abrasions, skin irritations, and insect bites.

  • 1 part comfrey
  • 1 part yarrow
  • 1 part chickweed
  • 1 part plantain
  1. Combine ingredients and infuse in oil of choice for 4 to 6 weeks.
  2. Process as described in “Crafting a Salve.”
  3. Use topically as needed.

Alternatives to Beeswax

large pieces of natural beeswax, close-up, raw materials for can

Some herbalists may decide – for themselves, for family, or for their clients – not to use beeswax in their formulations. This can be due to a vegan lifestyle or for various other reasons. Although beeswax is mentioned a number of times in the previous recipes, there are certainly alternatives to this ingredient. The most popular alternative to beeswax is carnauba wax, a vegetable wax obtained from the leaves of the Brazilian palm tree, Copernica cerifera. Carnauba is the hardest natural wax available and is used widely in various commercial cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications.

Emulsifying waxes are another alternative. These products are made from either vegetable or petroleum-based waxes that are treated with detergents to create a white, waxy solid; these types of waxes are used quite extensively in commercial lotions, balms, and other blends.

While it’s certainly up to the individual to choose which ingredients they prefer to use in their products, it’s important to remember that everything applied to the skin is absorbed directly into the body; it’s wise for the artisan herbalist to always choose the most responsibly harvested, ethical, and safe ingredients for use in their formulas.

This excerpt is from The Artisan Herbalist: Making Teas Tinctures and Oils at Home by Bevin Cohen (New Society Publishers.)