Balms and salves are probably my favorite things to make with herbs, besides tinctures. They take time and love if you are infusing your oils the slow way, but the finished product is so rewarding.
Note that you don’t have to use infused oils if you are using essential oils in your recipe, but it just makes for a stronger and more well-rounded preparation, in my humble opinion. Plus, essential oils can get way expensive, and can be ineffective if you don’t let the melted oils cool down enough before adding them to the mix.
I have seen many people call balms and salves ointments as an umbrella term, but there is actually a difference between balms and salves.
Balms contain more wax, making them harder. They absorb into the skin slower than salves, making them better for creating a barrier to protect the skin and hold in moisture if needed.
Salves are softer and contain less wax, but are more readily absorbed into the skin, making them a better choice for things like sore muscles and hot skin conditions that may be made worse from oil sitting on top of the skin.
The general ratio of oil to wax in a balm is 1 cup oil to 1/2 cup wax, and the salve ratio is 1 cup oil to 1/4 cup wax. However, different climates can affect the consistency of your balms and salves. To check your consistency, you can drop about a tablespoon of still liquified preparation onto a plate and stick it in the freezer for a minute or two. If it is too hard, add more oil, and if it is too soft, add more wax. It is much easier to remedy a mix that isn’t to your liking if you do this little trick before pouring into jars, otherwise you will have a mess on your hands.
***There is a difference between ointments and creams. Creams are made by adding a water-based preparation like an infusion or decoction to oil to make an emulsion. They are more difficult to make and do need either refrigeration and/or essential oils or other preservatives to stay viable for any length of time. They are more readily absorbed into the skin than even salves though, so they make great muscle pain remedies and the like. Everything has its place!
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You can check out my Pine Tar Salve DIY and my Lip Balm DIY to get an idea of how you can tweak and add to your recipes. Find what works for you by experimenting, and don’t forget that you can divide or multiply your recipes to makes more or less of anything. The numbers are not set in stone. There is also always The Simpler’s Method that is amazing. You will have to do some experimenting for sure to figure out what works for you there, but with a little work in the beginning, everything can be easier and simpler later.
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