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How to Make Salves for Cuts, Scrapes, Burns, and Bruises

Sharon has been making and selling soaps and personal care products for about five years.

Making salves at home doesn't have to be hard.

Making salves at home doesn't have to be hard.

It’s easy to make an all-natural herbal ointment or salve for your home first-aid kit, for cuts and scrapes, bites, bruises, and stings. To make an infused oil all you need is an oil (olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil will all work), and a selection of healing herbs. The infused oil can then be thickened with beeswax, if desired, to make a salve.

It’s nice to have a homemade organic herbal salve on hand for your minor hurts— especially for your children’s. Grandmothers will especially enjoy being able to whip out a soothing herbal ointment or salve to soothe and heal the grandchildren’s boo-boos.

Here I offer tips and recipes for making your own herbal oils and salves at home. I discuss:

  1. Where to Find Materials
  2. Best Herbs for Your Salves (Injury Dependent)
  3. How to Prepare Herbal Oils
  4. How to Prepare Herbal Salves
  5. Using Essential Oils in Your Salves
  6. 3 Recipes to Try at Home

1. Where Do I Find Materials to Make Salves and Oils at Home?

Many traditional wound herbs have been used for thousands of years to stop bleeding, act as antiseptics and antifungals, and promote healing.

Most health food stores and herb dealers carry beeswax granules, as well as amber-glass bottles and jars for storing your homemade medicines. It’s also fun to search in thrift stores for beautiful and unusual bottles and jars for storing your finished ointments and salves!

Good Labeling Systems Are a Must

Be sure to label your bottle of infused oil (ointment) or your jar of salve. Honestly, my method for labeling amber or blue glass bottles is to apply duct tape (use a nice color) and write the contents on the duct tape with a Sharpie. If your containers are pretty junk-store finds, you may want to apply the label to the bottom—or print out labels from your computer printer.

2. Best Healing Herbs for Infused Oils and Salves

There are endless possibilities and combinations of herbs to use in infused oils and salves. When making infused oils, you can choose to use a single herbal ingredient, or combine several ingredients for more broad-spectrum usefulness.

The herbs I’ve suggested here are some of the most commonly used herbs associated with external application for healing, but there are many, many more out there.

My Favorite Herbs for Use in Healing Salves

  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is soothing and promotes healing. It also helps heal sore joints, pulled muscles, and broken bones (Frost, 2014).
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) helps stop bleeding and reduces inflammation. It is astringent and anti-inflammatory. One of the older names for yarrow was Soldier’s Woundwort and was used for staunching the flow of blood from wounds when applied externally (Applequist et al., 2011).
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is soothing and antiseptic, anti-fungal, and wound-healing. Calendula flowers are good to include in preparations to promote wound healing in diabetics who have problems with slow-healing wounds (Arora, 2013). Calendula flowers are one of the most used remedies for healing and prevention of infection in wounds in the Earth’s Children series of books.
  • Plantain (Plantago major) is a common weed that is probably growing in your yard. It has been used for centuries for cuts and scrapes, bites and stings. It is soothing, anti-microbial, anti-viral, astringent, and anti-inflammatory (Nejad et al., 2013). The infused oil has been recommended to treat babies’ diaper rash.
  • St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) is an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever (Greeson et al., 2001). For a comprehensive review of the useful properties of the herb, check out this in-depth review of St. Johnswort (Kenneth et al. 2011, beginning on page 211).
  • Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus rubra) is soothing and healing and was used by the Cherokee to prepare a salve. It is a well-known herbal remedy for application on wounds, burns, and inflammation.
  • Arnica (Arnica montana), Solomon’s Seal Root (Polygonatum biflorum), and/or Balm of Gilead Buds (from Populus deltoides) are good additions to any salve, especially for bruises, swelling, athletic injuries, pulled or sore muscles, and to ease pain.

3. How to Prepare Infused Oils

Infused oils are simple to make. They are usually made by heating herbs in olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil until the herbs are crispy.

  1. Put the herbal materials in a heat-proof dish, add enough oil to cover, and heat in a 115°-200° oven until the herbs become crisp. This takes from two to four hours, depending on the materials used.
  2. When the herbs are crisp, this means that their oils have been extracted.
  3. The infused oil can then be strained and bottled for use as an ointment, or thickened with beeswax (described below) to make a salve. To help preserve the oil, mix in the contents of one 400 IU Vitamin E capsule per cup of oil.
Finished salve in a pretty thrift-store jar

Finished salve in a pretty thrift-store jar

4. Thickening Your Infused Oil to Make a Salve

Herbal infused oils are thickened with beeswax to make a salve. Beeswax granules that are easy to dissolve in oil are available at most health food stores.

  1. The suggested amount of beeswax is about 3/4 oz. of beeswax per one cup of oil.
  2. Mix in the contents of one 400 IU Vitamin E capsule per cup of the strained infused oil before adding the beeswax. Since some kinds of beeswax may weigh more than others, the conversion from ounces to tablespoons can be a little uncertain.
  3. If you are willing to wing it on this one, I would suggest adding about 1 tablespoon of beeswax per ¼ cup oil, if you are using coconut oil, and a little more if you are using olive oil or almond oil—4 or 5 tablespoons of beeswax per cup of oil.
  4. The thickness of the salve isn’t extremely critical anyway, and it will vary depending on the temperature it is stored at.
  5. After straining the infused oil, re-heat it in a saucepan over medium-low heat to dissolve the beeswax.

5. The Healing Powers of Essential Oils in Salves

Several essential oils make good additions to infused oils and salves, because of their healing, antiseptic, and anti-fungal properties.

  • Oil of thyme provides powerful antiseptic properties and also adds fragrance.
  • Rosemary essential oil is a good choice for its wound-healing properties and pleasant fragrance.
  • Tea tree oil is often added to proprietary preparations for cuts and scrapes and other minor injuries for its antiseptic and anti-fungal properties.

Notes on Essential Oil Use in Salves

A few drops of rosemary oil, thyme oil, or tea tree oil may be added if desired for use on wounds or bruises. It would be best to add no more than seven drops of essential oil per cup of ointment or salve so the oil does not irritate the skin.

If you are planning to use plantain oil or salve on a baby’s diaper rash, essential oils should be omitted, since they might irritate sensitive skin.

It is probably best to omit essential oils from a salve intended for burns since they might sting or irritate the skin.

6. Choosing Herb Combinations for Salves (With 3 Recipes)

How to decide which herbs to use? I’ve suggested three possible combinations of herbs to make healing ointments and salves using the herbs listed above.

Several of the herbs listed make a fine ointment or salve when used alone: Calendula is a soothing and healing antiseptic, plantain and yarrow both work alone as all-around wound herbs. Don't feel you must use a long list of ingredients.

Even though the herbs in these recipes have been chosen for specific purposes, or combined with the idea of broad-based effectiveness, you don’t need to use them all.

You can select herbs for your own custom blend using combinations of healing herbs that meet your specific needs.

Recipe 1: A Salve for Basic Healing

This is a great all-purpose salve all manner of minor hurts. Plantain leaves collected from your yard can be used alone for a soothing, anti-microbial, anti-viral, astringent, and anti-inflammatory salve for cuts and scrapes, bites and stings, and even diaper rash. Plantain is a common yard weed. You should be able to find plenty without looking far beyond your back door!

You'll need:

  • Plantain leaves
  • Coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil sufficient to cover
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Beeswax for salve (if desired)

Put the plantain leaves in a heat-proof dish, add enough oil to cover, and heat in a 115°-200° oven until the herbs become crisp. This takes from two to four hours, depending on the temperature and on the materials used. Strain through a coffee filter, add one 400 IU capsule of Vitamin E oil per cup of oil.

Now you can either bottle the infused oil for later use, or prepare a salve by adding 3/4 oz. of beeswax per cup of oil to thicken. Warm the oil on the stovetop, if necessary, to dissolve the beeswax in the infused oil.

A Second Method for Preparing Plantain Leaves

Another method for making an infused oil of plantain leaves is to fill a jar with the crushed leaves, add olive oil or other oil to cover, put a lid on the jar and let it sit in a sunny window for about two weeks. Strain and bottle, or add beeswax to make a salve, adding Vitamin E to preserve.

Recipe 2: A First Aid Salve for Cuts and Scrapes

This recipe has all the virtues of the salve made from plantain alone but includes additional ingredients to stop bleeding and promote healing. Solomon’s Seal root is included because it works to heal bruising. You'll need:

  • Plantain leaf
  • Yarrow leaf
  • Comfrey root or leaf
  • Calendula flower
  • Solomon’s Seal root
  • Coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil sufficient to cover
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Beeswax for salve (if desired)

Put about equal parts of each herb in a heat-proof dish, add enough oil to cover, and heat in a 115°-200° oven until the herbs become crisp. This takes from two to four hours, depending on the temperature and the materials used. Strain through a coffee filter, add one 400 IU capsule of Vitamin E oil per cup of oil.

Now you can either bottle the infused oil or prepare a salve by adding 3/4 oz. of beeswax per cup of oil to thicken. Warm the oil of the stovetop, if necessary, to dissolve the beeswax in the infused oil.

Recipe 3: Minor Burn Salve

This recipe is especially soothing for burns. It is antiseptic, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory. Slippery elm seems to be especially healing for burns, and comfrey root especially soothing. St. Johnswort helps relieve pain.

  • Calendula flower
  • Plantain leaves
  • Slippery elm bark
  • Comfrey root
  • St. Johnswort
  • Coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil sufficient to cover
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Beeswax for salve (if desired)

Put about equal parts of each herb in a heat-proof dish, add enough oil to cover, and heat in a 115°-200° oven until the herbs become crisp. This takes from two to four hours, depending on the temperature and the materials used. Strain through a coffee filter, add one 400 IU capsule of Vitamin E oil per cup of oil.

Now you can either bottle the infused oil or prepare a salve by adding 3/4 oz. of beeswax per cup of oil to thicken. Warm the oil of the stovetop, if necessary, to dissolve the beeswax in the infused oil.

Sources

Applequist, W. L., & Moerman, D. E. (2011). Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.): a neglected panacea? A review of ethnobotany, bioactivity, and biomedical research. Economic Botany, 65(2), 209.

Arora, D., Rani, A., & Sharma, A. (2013). A review on phytochemistry and ethnopharmacological aspects of genus Calendula. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 7 (14), 179. Chicago.

Frost, R., O'Meara, S., & MacPherson, H. (2014). The external use of comfrey: A practitioner survey. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 20(4), 347-355.

Greeson, J. M., Sanford, B., & Monti, D. A. (2001). St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum): a review of the current pharmacological, toxicological, and clinical literature. Psychopharmacology, 153(4), 402-414.

Klemow, K. M., Bartlow, A., Crawford, J., Kocher, N., Shah, J., & Ritsick, M. (2011). 11 Medical Attributes of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Lester Packer, Ph. D., 211.

M., Jacob. (January 30th, 2017). Yarrow: The Healing Herb of Achilles. Plant Profiles in Chemical Ecology: The Secret Life of Plants. Evergreen State University. Accessed February 17th, 2020.

Nejad, A. M., Kamkar, A., Giri, A., & Pourmahmoudi, A. A. (2013). Ethnobotany and folk medicinal uses of major trees and shrubs in Northern Iran. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 7(7), 284-289.

Ulmus rubra - Muhl. N.D. Plants for a Future. Accessed February 17, 2020.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 27, 2014:

I envy you your formal training in herbalism. We are just granny women in my neck of the woods!

Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 27, 2014:

I can make some of that up for her!

I enjoy your hubs very much, but I am a little limited with what I can do on my home computer. It takes about a year to load anything.

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on April 27, 2014:

I use a combo of calendula, comfrey and plantain on mine. Heals it up, and helps with the itch. :) Thanks for the link.

Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 27, 2014:

Here we have a 6-month growing season, from last frost to first frost, withblazing hot summers and very cold winters. The only person I've ever personally met with sun allergy is a very outdoorsy type, but very fair-skinned. Her sun rash develops into actual welts. I made her some elderflower vinegar, which didn't do the job, but she said was soothing.

Here's a link that seems to be the best I can find on this: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/8-natural-ways-to-p...

To me, this seems like it might be the answer--and explain this "new" disease. I will probably never find out if she is trying this approach. Some of these items are a bit expensive--even here in tomato country, unless you grow them yourself. I suspect we modern peole are not giving our bodies the "makings" for sun protection.

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on April 27, 2014:

I get a rash at the beginning of the sun season, but it goes away. Not sure it's a sun allergy. I honestly think that people don't get enough sun, and when they do, their skin has a reaction. I live where we have 6-8 months of cold/winter, so I think that is why I get it. I use to sunbathe years ago, and never had an issue. I suppose it could be dietary, but I eat very well, and wouldn't know what it was. For me, I figured the change had something to do with it.

PS...St. John's Wort has many interactions. I did a hub on it. You can like to it if you wish.

Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 26, 2014:

St. Johnswort is another one that can cause photosensitivity. It is a good application for burns, but not for sunburn.

Sun allergy seems to be an emerging problem these days--a condition I never heard of until recent years. I have done a little looking around for help for this, since I know people who suffer from it. I'm coming up empty--except for dietary changes. Do you have thoughts on this?

Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 26, 2014:

I agree that people who have serious or chronic illnesses or who suffer from allergies should have a look at possible allergic reactions or drug interactions to specific herbs. People who suffer from sun allergy should probably stay away from calendula, since it can cause photosensitivity. There are, of course, caveats to using herbs--just as there are caveats to using pharmaceuticals.

The cold infusion method is probably preferable, though more time-consuming. OTOH, warm infusion has been around forever, long in traditional use. Some materials, such as mullein flowers, have tradionally been prepared using cold infusion.

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on April 26, 2014:

I've enjoyed reading a few of your hubs. May I say that the issue I see is that you don't mention any cautions to the herbs. As a medical herbalist, it scares me to think someone would just read this, use the herb, and actually have an allergic reaction or worse yet, a drug interaction. I never heat my oils to those high temps as can destroy the oil as well as the property of the herb. Cold infusion works best, and if heat must be used, never above 90, by using the bain marie method.

Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 25, 2014:

Thanks so much! I enjoyed writing this one.

Jill Spencer from United States on April 25, 2014:

What a great hub! This summer, I'm going to make herb-infused oils following your advice. Thanks so much! Shared & voted up. --Jill