DIY Herbal Skin Salve & Paw Balm

a yellow salve in a white container being held in someones hand

Posted by Bonnie

I want to start by saying I am a recent believer in the power of an herbal salve. I have always been a modern medicine junkie – I believe in it. I use prescriptions when prescribed and if I get a scrape, I use an antibacterial cream. So what changed? After having my second child six months ago (and living in a Canadian climate with harsh, dry winters), I have had daily flare-ups of hives and dry patches of red skin that are extremely itchy. I’ve tried all kinds of expensive lotions and medicinal ointments to find relief with no success. Since moving to our own homestead I have been trying to become more self-sufficient and live more naturally. I figured I would roll up my sleeves and give salve making a try – and LET.ME.TELL.YOU…. Within literally moments of slathering my salve on my skin, the red patches and hives disappear. One of our dogs recently got frostbite on her paws, and now we treat the dogs paws before they go outside; No more frostbite and no more ice damage. 

Healing salves in different forms have been used for thousands of years to help those suffering from skin irritation, inflammation and more; But what exactly is a salve? Salves are also known as ointments or balms whose function is to protect and promote the healing of the skin. This is achieved with natural ingredients – Pretty much any ingredient you want, in fact!

A salve contains some mix of (but is not limited to) the following three ingredients:

  1. Carrier oil(s) infused with herbs
  2. Beeswax
  3. Essential oil(s)

A carrier oil is an oil that is used to dilute an essential oil before being applied to the skin. Common carrier oils are olive, coconut, jojoba, or sweet almond among others. When selecting a carrier oil for skin use it is important to choose one that won’t clog your pores, or take too long to absorb leaving a greasy feeling on the skin.

So let’s make a salve! Better yet, let’s make a lavender & calendula salve because not only does it smell amazing, but these ingredients have some amazing natural benefits. I will be using the following ingredients:

  • Lavender & Lavender Essential Oil: Thought to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help with irritations like minor burns and itchy or swollen bug bites. Lavender is recognized as a calming, soothing scent that can help relax sore muscles and help with insomnia. Lavender is also thought to have antidepressant properties (great for winter when your vitamin D level dips).
  • Calendula: Thought to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It relaxes and calms tense muscles. Calendula is also thought to help increase blood flow and oxygen to damaged and infected tissues resulting in faster healing of burns, bruises, cuts and ulcers.
  • Peppermint Essential Oil: Thought to have antimicrobial properties. It provides a cooling sensation, helps relive sore muscles and has a calming effect on the body.
  • Coconut Oil: Thought to be antimicrobial and antifungal. It absorbs quickly into the skin, does not block pores and is highly moisturizing.
  • Jojoba Oil: Mimics the naturally occurring human sebum (skin oil) which makes this an excellent moisturizer. Also contains vitamins A and E, which are believed to be antibacterial and has been shown to help even acne prone skin.
  • Olive Oil: Has antioxidant properties and does not clog your pores. Contains vitamins A, D, K and E.
  • Vitamin E: A moisturizer that can help reduce the appearance of skin defects such as scars. It is also an antioxidant thought to help prolong the shelf life of more perishable oils.

The size of container you want to use will determine how much oil to use. Use the following ratios, and measure out the oil for your infusion. 

Ingredients

  • 20% beeswax
  • 26.5% of each olive, coconut and jojoba oil
  • 2% vitamin e
  • essential oil to your scent preference (I use about 15 – 20 drops each for a 4 oz container)

Don’t worry about getting the proportions exact – You can always melt it again and adjust your ingredients. For example, I use slightly more beeswax – about 25-30% – when making the paw balm. It is more difficult to spread, but gives a nice protective coating. Before adding your essential oil, you can always drop a small amount on freezer paper and chill for a few minutes to ensure it is the consistency you’re looking for. For the dog balm, I like to use a stick applicator. It is basically a huge lip balm tube and holds half an ounce. You can also re-purpose a stick deodorant container if you’ve got an empty one – Otherwise, both types of tubes I have found available at local craft stores or you can buy them online.

Ok –  it’s time to get started. The first thing you need to do is create an oil infusion as the base of your salve. There are two basic ways to do this: cold infusion and hot infusion.

A cold infusion is basically what it sounds like. It is the combination of your carrier oil(s) and your herbs with no heat applied. This process can take up to 6 months to complete.

A hot infusion uses the same combination of carrier oil(s) and herbs but applies heat – Either through a double boiler, a mason jar (or other sealed container) in a simmering pot of water, or a hot bath in a crock pot.

My skin problems are happening now, and my dogs need the balm this winter not in July, so I used the hot infusion. However, I am always concerned about losing some of the natural properties of my ingredients through heat application so it would be a good idea to start a cold infusion at the same time. This way, when you use up your first batch of salve your oil infusion will be ready and waiting for you.

To make my infusion I filled two 500 ml mason jars with lavender and calendula (separately) and melted my oils together in a small saucepan on the stove. Then I poured in enough of my oil mixture to cover the flowers and simmered them in a pot on the stove for about 6 hours (you can also use a crock pot on low). Ensure the water level in the pot was always high enough to keep my flowers covered, but not to submerge the jars.

Once the infusion process was complete I covered the jar openings with cheese cloth and strained the infused oil into a different, clean mason jar. I saved my oily flowers in their original jars and placed them in the fridge to use later in cold process soap.

I set up a double boiler using a pot and a small stainless steel bowl to melt melted the beeswax. Once the beeswax was melted I added the oil infusion and peppermint essential oil before pouring into small cosmetic jars. Let it firm up overnight and then salve away!a yellow salve in a white container being held in someones hand

I am such a salve believer now, and Kyle teases me mercilessly for it. I use it on cracked feet, dry skin, hives and whatever my red patches are. It goes on the dogs paws daily. I also use it on my kids for any scratches or scrapes, and as a preventative barrier for diaper rash. This is because it WORKS!

Compare the ingredients in commercial dog balms to those in this one. I didn’t find a single option at a big box pet shop that contained essential oils or herbal infusions. So what does this mean? They may protect your dogs paws, but they won’t provide healing properties and will cost you so much more than doing it yourself.

There are so many different and beneficial combinations you can try using this recipe by substituting herbs, carrier and essential oils. Which combinations do you want to try?

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