A salve, is a soothing ointment meant to heal or protect. It is usually a thickened oil or fat. Today, salves are often made in home kitchens by combining an herbal infused oil with a thickener such as beeswax. Plant-based waxes may also be used, or an oil that is already solid at room temperature. Each method results in a different texture in the finished product and each individual ingredient represents its own unique qualities, benefits, and drawbacks to the preparation and individual witches often develop their own recipes based on their own preferences.
The word salve comes from the PIE root *selp- referencing medicine made of fat.
The word salve is also used metaphorically in reference to soothing feelings and repairing relationships.
Salves are generally used to protect the skin against weather damage, to heal the skin, or to apply medicine intended to be absorbed through the skin. Because it is thicker, salves are easier to use than liquid oils, more portable and less likely to spill and be wasted.
Drawing salves are designed to draw foreign objects, toxins, and infections out of the skin. They can be used, for example, for splinters, stingers, boils and pimples. One of these is black salve which contains activated charcoal for its highly absorbent, drawing qualities. Various types of clay may also be used for these same qualities. In addition to “drawing” ingredients, soothing and moisturizing herbs are used to soften the skin to loosen the foreign body and antibiotic ingredients are often included to prevent further damage from infection and to encourage healing.
Anointing oils can also be thickened into a salve, making them more portable and easier to use.
How to Make a Salve
To make a salve at home, we usually begin with an oil infusion. If multiple herbs are to be used for a salve, it is generally recommended that they be infused separately and the infused oils combined after straining, rather than infusing them all together in one jar. Occasionally, essential oils are used to add additional fragrance, or they may be used instead of fresh herbs.
Then a thickener, such as beeswax, is melted over low heat and added to the oil, stirred and tested by dropping a bit of the salve onto a cool plate to test the thickness of the mixture. Once the desired thickness is reached (and this varies by the intended use of the salve and personal preference), the salve is complete and may be stored and packaged.
Most salves have a shelf life of six months to a year when stored in a cool, dry place. A solid or dark container is recommended to ensure freshness as light can degrade the oils that make up the salve. Vitamin E capsules are often added to salve recipes to extend their shelf life.