Making your own Medicine - Herbal Salve

There is something incredibly satisfying about making your own medicine. It’s both empowering and powerful. No one knows what your body needs more than you do. Developing this intuition and awareness of the self can take time however it’s one of the most worthwhile things you can learn. Making salves, balms and infused oils is also a great hobby and plenty of fun once you get going! A lot of recipes are adaptations of the same ingredients, so once you have invested in your base materials, the combinations are endless!

Most salves contain the following (in varying amounts)

  • Beeswax (pastilles are easier to work with in my opinion however you can also buy a block and grate the required amount)

  • Shea butter (acts as an ‘emollient’ meaning that it softens the skin, traps in moisture to hydrate and also brings a creamier quality to the balm to minimise oiliness or waxiness. Cacao butter is a good substitute)

  • Coconut oil (acts as a fantastic carrier oil for infusing essential oils and as it cools, it hardens so helps a lot with creating a good consistency in your salve)

  • Essential oils (most homes have some – whether its eucalyptus oil or lavender – these all have important medicinal qualities despite their commonplace nature)

  • Herbs – pretty optional in my opinion, given that you can have concentrated effects with essential oils alone. The more you delve into herbs along your herbal journey, the easier it will become to mix and identify. For now, having dried Calendula off. (Marigold) flowers on hand is a simple and well-rounded medicinal herb for topical applications. Its uses are plastered around the internet.

  • Carrier oils – my personal favourite is Sweet Almond oil however olive oil is a great alternative and it is likely that you already have it in your pantry.

 All-Purpose Salve Recipe

One of the most popular salves is an “All Salve” meaning that it is gentle and can be used for a range of topical applications such as treating insect stings and bites, bruises, chapped skin, scrapes and minor abrasions. This recipe contains two common dried herbs – Arnica montana (Arnica) and Calendula offinalis (Marigold). These herbs can be purchased online, although most health food stores stock the dried herbs and can lead you to it if you ask. They have wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties and a wealth of other herbal actions.

This recipe will make you a couple of tins worth depending on their size. For a larger batch, simply double the ingredients! Initially this recipe was doubled, yielding about 200mL of salve.

Don’t forget that personal medicine making takes a little intuition, a little guesswork and lots of positive thoughts and intentions. Infuse the salve with good energy as well as good quality ingredients!

You’ll be needing the following ingredients:

15g beeswax

1/3 cup carrier oil (I used sweet almond oil)

1/8 cup melted coconut oil

1 tsp shea butter

1 part Arnica root

1 part Calendula flowers

Essential oils of your choice (oils that I think go well with this recipe: Chamomile, Lavender and/or Peppermint)


For the herbs, you have two options – a solar infusion (if you have more time to give) or the double boiler method. I prefer the solar infusion – it seems just a little more magical when the oil is imbibed with the sun’s warming rays.

For a solar infusion:

Take a clean jar and fill it with one part Arnica and one part Marigold.  Pour in your carrier oil until the herbs are submerged (by about 1cm of oil) and mix well with a spoon. Cover the opening of the jar with glad wrap (to prevent leakage) and screw the lid on tight. Give the jar a good shake and set it on a sunny window ledge. I label mine with the ingredients and the date so that all my potions and brews don’t get mixed up! Give the jar a good shake once or twice a day for 2 weeks. If it’s your jam, you can send the infusion some good thoughts and love – think or say “I love you, thank you for healing me” or any other combination of positive affirmations that take your fancy. Using some muslin cloth or a very clean cloth, strain the herbs into a glass bottle or jar using a funnel, squeezing the herbs to get every last drop of oily goodness. Let the oil sit for another two days so that any sediment from the herb can fall to the bottom. Carefully pour the oil off into a clean bottle for storage.


For the double boiler method:

Take a large saucepan and fill to ¼ full with water. Set a Pyrex glass jug or bowl in the water and add one part Arnica and one part Marigold. Pour in your Sweet Almond (1/3 cup) and melted Coconut oil 1/8 cup). Bring the water to a boil and then turn down, allowing the water to simmer and thus gently heat the oils and herb. This allows the healing constituents of the herbs to infuse into the oil. Be careful not to get any water into your oil. Leave the oil to simmer for 45 mins to an hour. Filter the oil into a bowl with some muslin cloth and a funnel, discard the herbs into your compost bin.

Now back to the salve!
In your Pyrex jug/bowl in the ¼ full saucepan of boiling water, pour in ¼ cup of your solar infused oil and also add 1/8 cup of melted coconut oil. If you have used the double boiler method, pour in your almond/coconut/herb oil combination. Maintain the water at a simmer and melt in your beeswax and shea butter. Once it is completely melted together, you can test the consistency by spooning a tiny amount onto some baking paper and popping it in the fridge to cool. Adding more wax will harden the salve, more oil will make it oilier or more shea butter for a creamier mix. Once you’re happy with the consistency, take the bowl out of the water and allow it to cool slightly before adding your essential oils. The scent of your salve is personal – I recommend starting with small amounts of essential oil until the fragrance is to your liking. For example, with this volume of salve, start with ten drops of Lavender (calming and warming) and ten drops of Chamomile (soothing and anti-inflammatory). Different essential oils have different strengths and properties – I encourage you to use your intuition with this and use the oils you are personally attracted to. Once you are happy with the smell, carefully pour your mix into a small tin or jar for storage. Allow it to cool and set completely before use. Make sure to label your salve with the date and ingredients and pop it in your first aid kit or bathroom cupboard, ready for use!

Alexandra McPhee