How To Do Ointments / Salves

The term ‘Ointment’ comes by two other names, and they are: salve, and liniment, as the terms are interchangeable. So where ever you see either word used, you will know that they mean the same thing.

Ointments have been around for a very long time and indeed Nicholas Culpeper originally published in 1653 about them in his book “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician”.

“Bruise those herbs, flowers, or roots, you will make an ointment of, and to two handfuls of your bruised herbs, add a pound of hog’s grease dried, or cleansed from the skins, beat them very well together in a stone mortar with a wooden pestle, then put it into a stone pot, cover it with paper, and set it either in the sun, or some other warm place, three, four, or five days, that it may melt, then, take it out and boil it a little; then, whilst it is hot, strain it out, pressing it very hard in a press; to this grease add as many more herbs bruised as before, let them stand in like manner as long, then boil them as you did before. If you think your ointment not strong enough, you may do it the third and fourth time; yet this I will tell you, the fuller of juice the herbs are, sooner will the ointment be strong: the last time you boil it, boil it so long till your herbs be crisp and the juice consumed, then strain it, pressing is hard in a press and to every pound of ointment add two ounces of turpentine, and as much wax, because grease is offensive to wounds, as well as oil. 2. Ointments are vulgarly (commonly) known to be kept in pots, and will last about a year some about two years.”

In fact, it appears that something like a firm ‘ointment’ could have been used by ancient Egyptians back as far as 1347 B.C. Where it looks like men and women wore cones on their heads, made of wax, most likely beeswax, which some believe was impregnated with a scent. Then under or in the heat of the Egyptian sun would slowly melt perfuming them and working its way into the hair. I suppose this is the first recorded form of scented hair gel?

But what specifically are ointments for?

There principle purpose is to protect and nourish and deliver a medication to the skin. In essence, it acts a lot like a poultice, this is due to their semisolid non-aqueous composition and they are designed to hold to the skin, herbs and essential oils etc., for maximum absorption and any other additives you want to add. Or you could suggest that they are a very thick cream, because they are frankly doing the same, but much stiffer.

Originally, ointments were made from animal fats such as lard, as mentioned by Mr Culpeper above. The reason for this would have been due to its easy availability and general firmness with daily heat. Although you could use the same today, most formulas use beeswax and vegetable oil, which is obviously more acceptable to most people. And these days we know that Lard is very similar to the fat found under our own skin; this is similar to the idea of ‘treating like with like’.

Reasons why to use Ointments and Salves

First, they are designed to ‘stay on longer’, and to increase the affects of the ingredients on the person. They do create a thicker barrier over the area of treatment, protecting it from outside influences and infection, for example. Just as a poultice can draw, clean and disinfect a wound, so can salves, but with ointments you don’t need to worry about applying hot or cold and are much more flexible.

An ointment/salve can be made soft or hard if need be by just changing the oil/beeswax ratios a little, this makes it more adaptable to different areas of the body. And unlike a poultice, can be ready to go at any time once made and you can travel with it too.

And you know what’s in it, very important!

How to make a base for an Ointment

Typical Ingredients:

  • Beeswax
  • Vegetable oil such as olive oil or a herbal oil
  • Powder herbs
  • Essential oils
  • Herbal tinctures
  • Ratio for an ointment is 1/4 cup of ‘melted’ beeswax to 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • Ratio for dried powdered herbs is 28 grams / 1 ounce to a 1 cup of beeswax/oil mix
  • Ratio for essential oil is 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of beeswax/oil mix (much less for infants and children)

Once cooled and firmed, store in a refrigerator and label the containers, so as to not mix it with food.

And finally, it all depends on what you are trying make and how you want to apply it, but if it is too hard, remelt it and add extra vegetable oil, or too soft, remelt it and add extra beeswax. If the ointment contains essential oils, don’t place it around heat, as the oils will evaporate and you will lose them.

Injury Salve

This salve is excellent for injuries such as, sprains and strains, muscle injuries, and bruising.


  • 500ml of Calendula oil
  • 250ml of St John’s wort oil
  • 250ml of Arnica oil
  • 170 grams of beeswax
  • Enough shallow jars or tins to hold the volume of salve your making
  • Place all the oils into a double boiler
  • Raise the temperature to 65 C / 150 F
  • Place the beeswax into a separate double boiler or saucepan on low temperature
  • Melt until completely liquid (don’t leave it unattended)
  • Slowly pour the wax into the oils, stirring constantly until fully blended and clear
  • Fill all your jars to near full
  • Allow them to sit still until firm

Always clean your pots and pans when the mixture is still quite warm, as it is much easier to clean. You can clean them paper towelling or cotton cloths.

This formula should last about two years, kept in a cool dry place out of the sun.

Healing Salve

This salve is good for small direct injuries to the skin such as cuts and scrapes, and sore, irritated, rashy and inflamed skin.


  • 50 grams of Plantain/Ribwort (dried)
  • 50 grams of Calendula flowers (dried)
  • 50 grams of Goldenseal leaf (dried)
  • 100 grams of Comfrey root (dried)
  • 1 1/4 litres of vegetable oil
  • 170 grams of beeswax

To make the Herbal Oil

  • This herbal oil can be used ‘as is’ or then combined to make a cream also
  • For best results it is best to keep the herb/oil mix in between 43 to 49 C / 110 to 120 F
  • You can modify slow cookers to do this, don’t use stove tops as they are too hot
  • Heat for a minimum of a week, but two weeks is much better
  • It should last about 2 years, due to using ‘dried’ herbs

Herbal Oil Method

  • Measure the required amount of dried herbs to oil
  • Finely grind or crush herbs until at least a course powder
  • Place these into a wide mouth glass jar
  • Pour in all the oil, mix thoroughly and place on a lid
  • Shake and stir it up
  • Place it in your preferred ‘heating device’ with water outside
  • (If you have nothing suitable then place it in a very warm spot, but not in the sun)
  • Shake or stir it several times each day, as it will settle
  • After 1 to 2 weeks place the herb/oil mix into a cloth bag and tie the end
  • Place this bag in some form of press or tincture press
  • Slowly add pressure until very firm and drain into a container
  • Allow to sit over night to allow very fine particles to settle
  • Finely strain again or decant, and try to leave any sludge at the bottom
  • Bottle, Label, and dark coloured bottles are best, kept cool and out of sunlight

Once this is done, follow the same procedure below, which is the same as the injury salve.

  • Place all the ingredients into a double boiler
  • Raise the temperature to 65 C / 150 F
  • Place the beeswax into a separate double boiler or saucepan on low temperature
  • Melt until completely liquid (don’t leave it unattended)
  • Slowly pour the wax into the oils, stirring constantly until fully blended and clear
  • Fill all your jars to near full
  • Allow them to sit still until firm

Do not make your ointments in aluminium or plastic containers unless you know there are no chemicals which could be drawn out of the plastic. If they contain essential oils the best thing to store them in is porcelain or glass containers and keep them in out of the light and in a cool place.

Choice of Oils for Ointments

The most commonly used oil for an ointment is olive oil, usually due to it being in most homes. But really you can use any vegetable oil, and I would suggest only using an organic oil, and if you can afford it, use certified organic oil. Definitely don’t use cotton seed oil or Canola.

Possible oils could be:

  • Your own pre-made Herbal Oil
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Almond oil
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Vaseline and paraffin wax (Of which I’m not a big fan)

Choice of Herbs for Ointments

Similar to most herbal oils and creams, really the choice is endless, because it is really a type of thick paste, with whatever you want add in. But a possible selection of herbs you could choose are: Calendula, Arnica, St John’s wort, Comfrey, Goldenseal, Plantain, Ribwort, Chickweed, Powdered Acacia gum, Marshmallow, and Slippery elm.

Variations of Ointments

A variation could be to make a chest rub/inhalant, which adds the essential oils of Eucalyptus oil (2ml), Pine oil (1ml), Peppermint oil (2ml) for each 30 grams of base.

A coconut oil version of ointment could be, 7 parts coconut oil, 5 parts of your chosen powdered herbs, and 6 parts beeswax. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, and when finished finely strain if there are any course bits, and then pour into suitable jars. Pure organic Coconut oil is a natural preservative.

An old Russian traditional ointment formula still practiced in the country, is where they simmered Marigold, St John’s wort and Arnica in butter. Normally a butter ointment doesn’t last any more than a few weeks, keep in the fridge.


There isn’t much to be concerned about ointments other than a possible allergic reaction to a specific herb, and being careful with essential oils, especially with babies and infants.

Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.

Kind Regards,

Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda


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“A true friend can be a fragrant balm to the aching soul”

Herbal Panda


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