make your own: calendula salve.

January 8, 2018

For all of its loveliness, January is a month in New York that requires some amount of defending against. To fend off the cold we need extra layers of wool. To combat the blues we need friends and family and cheerful dinners in cozy spots. Cheeks and hands and other bits that might come into contact with the cold? Those need salve.

When it comes to protecting my hands and feet and the cheeks of my little guys, I prefer a thick salve to liquid oil and both of those far more than a watery lotion. Since having kids we’ve been given a number of baby lotions, but I admit that I’ve passed most of them along, none of them doing quite as much good work as a simple, rich salve. A salve goes on and stays on, forming a protective layer and soothing anything that’s gotten chapped or chafed before I could get to it. There are lots of lovely salves to be found for sale, and I’ve listed a few favorites below, but they’re also easy enough to make yourself if you have the time or the inclination. Last week, I walked to our local grocery in a snowstorm and carried home a bagful of flowery sunshine in the form of dried calendula flowers to use in a salve of my own.
Like other bright orange things found in the middle of winter, calendula flowers offer the professional and casual herbalist a bit of good cheer and a welcome reminder of summer during the bleakest time of year. I first encountered the flowers during my time on staff at Stone Barns Center. They’re edible and a lovely addition to things like salads, but they’re also useful for their anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. For skin that needs gentle soothing, applying calendula topically is one of my favorite herbal remedies. Here’s how to make your own calendula salve:

Calendula Salve

Adapted from Mountain Rose Herbal (a great spot to order calendula flowers if you can’t find them locally!)

What you need:

~ 1 ounce dried calendula flowers 

~ 1 cup olive oil 

~ 1 ounce beeswax, roughly chopped

~ 30 drops lavender essential oil

+ glass jars

+ an old pot

+ a candy thermometer (if you have one)

Step One: Make Calendula Oil

The first step is to infuse your olive oil with dried calendula flowers. The measurements can be fairly loose here. I covered approximately an ounce of dried flowers with a cup of olive oil. For the sake of time, I applied heat to speed up the infusion process. To do this, put flowers and oil into a heat-safe glass jar or measuring cup and heat the glass in a pot of water with an inch or so of water in the bottom of it, double-boiler style. Let the oil infuse for at least an hour, until the oil turns a deeper orange-y color. (A candy thermometer is handy for making sure that the oil doesn’t get too hot and damage the flowers—you’ll want it to hover around 100 degrees—but if you make sure to keep the burner low enough you don’t have to get too fussy with the temperature).

Once sufficiently infused (you can infuse up to five or six hours if you’d like!), use cheesecloth or a sieve (or both!) to strain out your oil. 

Step Two: Make Salve

Put most simply: a bit of beeswax melted into oil makes a salve. I strained my calendula oil directly into a heat-safe jar that I could return to my sauce pan and reheat, this time with beeswax included. Once the chopped beeswax melts into the oil, remove from heat, add the essential oil if you’re using it, and pour into clean jars. Allow to set and cool completely before covering.

Calendula flowers in olive oil. I heated the oil in this heat-safe measuring cup set into a pan of water.
A candy thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it helps to make sure you’re not over-heating the oil and risking damaging the calendula flowers. 

I used a bit of cheesecloth in a strainer to strain my calendula flowers after infusing the oil.

Everything you need: chopped beeswax, calendula flowers, and lavender essential oil.
Add your essential oil to the warmed oil and beeswax after the wax has melted and you’ve removed the pan from the stove.

Pour your liquid salve into smaller clean glass jars.

Tips:

+ If you have the time, you can skip heating the oil and simply leave your oil to infuse in a sunny spot for several weeks, turning every so often. 

+  If you don’t have a dedicated wax knife or grater, my favorite trick for getting beeswax off of kitchen items easily is to put them on a parchment paper-lined tray in a warm oven. The wax will liquefy and melt off, and a quick buff with an old rag will remove any that remains.

+ Like anything else you make yourself, you might decide to tweak this recipe until it’s just right for you. This ratio of beeswax to oil yields a fairly firm salve that requires some amount of warming in hand, but I prefer that to a salve that goes too soft in our overly warm January apartment. If you do prefer something softer, you can experiment with a bit less beeswax, or add in shea butter or other nourishing oils like jojoba or sweet almond. I like adding lavender essential oil because it’s kid-friendly and calming, but you can add whatever else you like, or omit essential oil altogether if you want a more neutral salve.

Other things:

If opening your own small apartment apothecary shop is not in the cards, here are a few other favorite salves that other people have already made:

+ Egyptian Magic is, well, magic. It’s made from olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. When I’ve needed something heavy-duty, I’ve used it on my own face and body and on my kids too. (You’ll either love or hate the old-school packaging on this powerhouse salve.)

+ Skipping Goat Farm A Little Love Organic Salve is a really lovely calendula salve made with olive and sweet almond oil that we enjoyed last fall. It has a subtle but lovely scent and it’s very soothing and easy to apply.

+ Nectar and Moon Daily Floral Salve is heavenly. Shop owner Alexandra Elle gave me a jar to try a few months ago and I’ve been slowly savoring it, using it nightly before bed on my hands and feet. It has a strong floral scent that’s lovely, especially if you like richly scented lotions or creams. 

What about you guys? Salve lovers? Favorite recipes or formulations to share?

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36 Comments

  • Reply Erica January 8, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I truly wish I had the tenacity to make a salve myself…alas.

    Have you ever tried Brown Bag Barber’s Universal moisturizer from Etsy? It’s a thicker consistency than moisturizer, I’d definitely call it a salve. I am obsessed with it…I use it literally everywhere (it’s 100% organic)…face, body, hands, leave-in conditioner. I’ve been slathering myself in it the last few days in NYC with these arctic temperatures!

    Also, the branding is super minimalist, which doesn’t hurt 😉

  • Reply Helen January 8, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Picked up dr. bronner’s magic balm in a pinch the other day and it works well! and it has a screw-on top, which somehow feels preferable. https://thrivemarket.com/dr-bronners-organic-magic-balm-baby-unscented

    • Reply Jennifer January 8, 2018 at 3:28 pm

      I also love the Dr. Bronners Arnica-Menthol balm in addition to their unscented. The one I keep going back to over and over though is Badger’s Sleep Balm (prefer the Sleep scent to their other nightime scents). It feels pretty oily, but I only use it at night which helps with not getting oily smudges on things.

  • Reply olga January 8, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I’ve been relying on Hugo’s unscented shea body butter for quite some time. But this looks wonderful! Is it also possible to use extra-virgin coconut oil or would that impact the texture to being too hard?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      Totally possible! Personally, I don’t feel like coconut oil is quite as good as keeping my skin super moisturized as olive or almond.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      Totally possible! Personally, I don’t feel like coconut oil is quite as good as keeping my skin moisturized as olive or almond.

    • Reply Natalie January 8, 2018 at 3:56 pm

      Speaking from personal experience, coconut oil will make it fairly hard when combined with the beeswax. I actually use coconut oil and beeswax in a wood butter I make for home use and if I’m remembering correctly, is based on a recipe that Erin has posted a while back.

      If you’d like to still use the extra-virgin coconut oil, I’d suggest using a liquid oil for your calendula infusion and then playing around with the beeswax and coconut oil ratios. I actually use a combination of coconut oil, beeswax, and calendula infused grapeseed oil in a salve that I make so it can work well: https://www.etsy.com/listing/529240976/herbal-skin-salve?ref=shop_home_active_1

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2018 at 8:57 pm

        All a matter of personal preference! The wood butter is coconut oil and beeswax and not terribly hard!

  • Reply Amy January 8, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    I have wanted to try Egyptian Magic for at least a year. If I can’t get to making my own salve, I may just do it. I do appreciate homemade, however. 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer January 8, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    I’ve been using Egyptian Magic since I was pregnant with my first. Love the balm, hate the plastic packaging. Do you know, is calendula safe to use on a baby bum? If I omit the essential oil.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2018 at 2:32 pm

      Calendula is super mild and widely used in baby products, so it definitely gets my approval. As for the essential oil, totally up to you! It’s very diluted in this recipe and I don’t omit it when using it for babies.

      • Reply Jennifer January 8, 2018 at 2:38 pm

        Thanks, great to know!

  • Reply samantha January 8, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    oooh, my nana used to make her own salve and this stirred up so many nice memories! thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Sarah January 8, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for this, I can’t wait to make it. Have been using clary all purpose balm by clary collection for both my son and I, which I’d also highly recommend!

  • Reply b January 8, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Love Egyptian Magic for hardcore moisturizing needs! The Super Salve Company is another favorite, their calendula salve is a fixture on my kitchen window sill for post-dishwashing hands.

    I’ll definitely be venturing into DIY territory come spring with our own florals and greens, thanks for the hopeful inspiration!

  • Reply Tony January 8, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    This brings back memories of my Mother bubbing liberal amounts of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly over my face and hands to protect from the biting wind. No matter how much I protested I ended up one of a number of shiny faced kids going to school.
    Me, being a big ol’ rusty man I still use Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. This sounds great as I sometimes feel self-conscious at work when I hand someone a slippery clipboard to sign a work order. This should fit into my lifestyle and the direction I am heading. I am really going to give this a try

  • Reply Juliette January 8, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    Bager also has some very nice balms – scented or unscented – all organic. We love their baby balm for kids (and adults)

  • Reply Juliette January 8, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    Sorry, BADGER, not Bager 🙁

  • Reply Emily January 8, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Can you recommend a good source for the Washi tape? I can’t seem to find any plain ones anywhere.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      I love MT brand washi tape!

  • Reply Jess January 8, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    I have a couple of jars full of herbs and oil sitting on my windowsill right now for a solar infusion. My four year old and mixed them up (for lip balm and hand salve ) and he’s in charge of shaking them every day. In a couple weeks we’ll be making the salves and then using them daily! These cold, dry days of winter are rough on my hands!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 9, 2018 at 9:35 am

      sounds perfect!

  • Reply linda January 8, 2018 at 11:40 pm

    ooh this is something interesting to try! can i replace the olive oil with avocado oil?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 9, 2018 at 9:34 am

      i’m sure you can!

  • Reply Sophia January 9, 2018 at 9:21 am

    I love the simplicity of this particular recipe/formulation. Can’t wait to try!

  • Reply christina January 9, 2018 at 11:10 am

    I did the Rosemary Gladstar’s herbal certification in the early 1990’s. It was such fun to make tinctures and salves. If anyone is interested in her course, I learned an incredible amount about herbs and more. I’m not sure she still does it as that was a while ago. But my daughter, then @ 6 yo, would help me gather the herbs and make the salves. I would joke that she was ‘priestess born’.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 9, 2018 at 12:03 pm

      How lovely! I grew up with her book on the shelf at my mom and dad’s house! Much loved!

  • Reply Eva January 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    I agree with you about lotions, the salve is definitely the way to go! I like to put it on my cuticles and knuckles a few times every day – it makes a huge difference without much effort. I didn’t realize it was so easy to make, thanks for sharing this great recipe!

  • Reply Rose Cearley January 9, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this; I hope to make some tomorrow. I made some orange garlands after reading one of your Christmas posts and loved the process and the end result. I really like your aesthetic and philosophy about living simply yet well.

  • Reply Simple N Chic January 9, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    I am big big big fan of salve! thank you for sharing wonderful recipe. I will give a try

  • Reply Laura January 10, 2018 at 9:23 am

    I’m so interested in this! Especially since I grow my own herbs in the summer. Is there a certain grade of beeswax you use for cosmetic purposes? I’ve seen some conflicting information online.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 10, 2018 at 10:47 am

      I usually buy fresh beeswax for this kind of project (as opposed to using the wax I melt down from candle stubs, etc.) I suspect there’s not a huge need to be too fussy about this, but you can stay on the safe side and order from a place like Moutain Rose Herbal: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog/ingredients/waxes

      • Reply Laura January 10, 2018 at 11:50 am

        Excellent, thank you for the resource.

  • Reply Alix January 10, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    What a fun project — can’t wait to give it a go!

  • Reply Brittney January 11, 2018 at 11:46 am

    This post has inspired me to try my hand at making homemade salves as wedding favors for my April wedding!

  • Reply Rachel January 12, 2018 at 9:57 am

    Not sure if it counts as a salve but Waxelene is my holy grail product. I discovered ti when I was advised by my allergist to stop using conventional white lotions altogether and switch to vaseline to combat my eczema. Up till then, none of the special products I had tried had worked and I was desperate, but I didn’t want to become dependent on a petroleum product (and its plastic packaging). Waxelene is presented as the petroleum-free alternative and once I tried it, I finally managed to eradicate my eczema. It is made with just 4 ingredients, it’s cruelty free, and the large size I buy comes in a nice glass jar that it easily repurposed after it’s empty. I now have old Waxelene jars scattered around my house serving every function imaginable! It’s also good for SO MANY different uses, from beauty and health to housework, to pet care, etc. etc. Their website lists out uncountable ways to use it and a little goes a long way, so it lasts forever! I keep a small tub of it in my purse and use it as lotion, chapstick, and eye cream, and I cannot say enough good things about it!!!

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