Recipe and pro tips provided by Stephanie Kane, Gaia Herbs Global Sourcing Specialist, dedicated home herbal enthusiast, and all-around plant fan!
Herbal balms and salves offer a wonderful and beneficial way to use herbs at home. They are easy to make, simple to use, and provide a natural way to help protect and take care of your skin.
Best of all, the transformation of ingredients is fun and satisfying. After you try it once, you may just start making these herbal balms for everyone in your life as they make thoughtful homemade gifts that are sure to please.
What is an Herbal Balm or Salve?
Herbal balms and salves are topical applications for skin protection using vegetable oils infused with herbs as the base ingredient in combination with beeswax or natural butters.
Since balms and salves do not contain water, they are considered anhydrous formulations. With the lack of water, herbal balms and salves do not need preservatives and typically remain good to use for up to a year (or longer if stored in the refrigerator).
Many people prefer herbal balms and salves over oils for their skin as they are less messy and easier to use on the go due to their semi-solid state.
When Should You Use an Herbal Balm or Salve?
Herbal balms and salves can be used for a wide variety of topical uses. They not only nourish your skin but can also create a gentle moisture barrier that protects your skin and helps to support healing.*
Herbal balms and salves are great to have on hand all year round. They have been traditionally used to help treat a number of skin conditions and challenges, such as the following:
- aching muscles
- itchy and dry skin
- minor wounds, cuts, and scrapes
- rashes including diaper rash
- minor burns, sunburns, and redness
- chapped and cracked skin
- minor pains
- dull skin
- bee stings, insect stings, and spider bites
- poison ivy and poison oak
Dried Herbs Versus Fresh Herbs in Herbal Balms and Salves
You can purchase these herbs already dried, and it will still turn out fantastic, but I prefer freshly harvested and dried herbs (whenever possible) as they impart so much more vitality and color to your finished product.
Freshly harvested herbs also give you an opportunity to get outside and learn how to identify and connect with the plants being used. These plants commonly grow in most parts of the country, making them not overly difficult to find on an herb hunt, and they are also easy to cultivate in your home garden.
Be sure to do some research in advance on what these herbs actually look like, or even go on a local herb walk when you are first getting into foraging, so you are certain you are identifying these herbs correctly and harvesting sustainably. You want to make sure you are indeed collecting plantain...and not poison ivy. See our list of wildcrafting resources at the end of this article for some helpful foraging tips.
For your first try creating an herbal balm or salve recipe, you can also choose one of the herbs listed in the recipe below and just use this herb to keep it simple. I would recommend Plantain if you plan on using just one herb as it's the easiest to find!
When using freshly harvested herbs, it is also important to note that you must completely dry out the herbs before using them in your recipe to prevent moisture from causing your herbal balm to go rancid. See my pro drying tips (plus a few other helpful pointers) at the end of this article.
Herbal Teas Add Extra Nourishment to Herbal Balms
Herbal teas can also be used as a surprising and helpful addition to herbal balms and salves, as they typically contain a nice variety of beneficial dried herbs.
My personal favorite to add is Gaia Herbs Bronchial Wellness Tea. The same herbs that provide that soothing nature to your throat, Plantain and Grindelia, offer the same support for your skin.* And the essential oils in the Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Star Anise, and Thyme in this tea will also impart a lovely aroma to your herbal balm.
Now is the perfect time of year to stock up on Bronchial Wellness Tea, as a cup of this warm and comforting beverage supports respiratory health and is a great way to end the day, especially with the chillier weather setting in.* You will only need a couple of tea packets for this recipe, so you will have plenty of tea leftover to enjoy this season!
DIY Soothing Herbal Balm
Recipe Yields: Two 4-ounce jars of balm
- Small glass bowl or glass measuring cup
- Small saucepan
- Fine mesh strainer
- Two 4 ounce Mason jars or containers
- 2 packets Gaia Herbs Bronchial Wellness Tea
- 1/4 cup total dried herbs - any combination of Plantain leaf, Yarrow flower, and Comfrey leaf
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons beeswax (shea butter can be used to make a vegan salve)
Making the Oil Infusion:
- Prepare a double boiler by setting the small glass bowl or measuring cup in the middle of the saucepan and adding water to the saucepan. You will want the water to come up about an inch from the bottom of the bowl or measuring cup, but not risk the water boiling over into the bowl.
- Cut open the tea packets and empty into your glass bowl or measuring cup and then add the other herbs and the oil.
- Simmer the water for 20 minutes. Do not use a lid over the bowl or measuring cup, as you want to allow any water to escape.
Making the Herbal Balm:
- Add beeswax to a clean bowl or measuring cup.
- Line your strainer with cheesecloth and pour the oil infusion mixture over the strainer into the container containing the beeswax and place back over the double boiler. It will take about 5-15 minutes for the beeswax to fully dissolve.
- If you are using essential oils to add scents to your salve, put a few drops in the bottom of your jars or containers at this stage.
- Once the beeswax is fully dissolved, pour the blend into your jars or containers. The essential oils will automatically blend into the oil during this stage.
- Allow your herbal balm to firm up on the counter at room temperature. This typically takes 1-2 hours for the balm to become semi-solid.
Helpful Pro Tips from Stephanie:
- Drying fresh herbs: If you have harvested extra herbs and want to dry them for later use, the best method is with a dehydrator. However, if you do not own a dehydrator, you can also leave the herbs hanging in your kitchen for several days, or place them in your oven on the warm setting and leave the door cracked (the ideal oven temperature is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.) You will know when herbs are completely dry and ready for storage when the herb stems snap cleanly in two.
- Oil selection: I personally love a blend of olive oil, castor oil, and coconut oil, but you can use whatever you have on hand when making an herbal balm.
- Beeswax: I prefer using local beeswax, which often comes in a block and can take longer to melt. You can also use beeswax pastilles, which may be easier to find as they can be ordered online or purchased in most natural food stores or craft stores and these tend to melt more quickly.
- Double boiler: I like to use my glass measuring cup as a double boiler. Even though it will be resting on the bottom of the saucepan, they are very sturdy and I have never had it overheat, and the spout allows for easy pouring into your jars (make sure to use a potholder on the measuring cup handle to prevent burns).
- Containers: For containers, 4 ounce Mason jars are my favorite choice. Once you start making salves, you’ll be cleaning and saving every container from the things you purchase!
- Skin patch test: You should test a small place on your skin first before applying the herbal balm overall. While this recipe is typically soothing to most people, it is always good to do a patch test first to avoid any potential allergic reactions.