How to Start Using Herbs Part 8: Infused Oils, Liniments, Salves, and Balms (What are They and How are They Used?)
Oh, this herbal topic is so near and dear to my heart! I even wrote an eBook with easy beginner recipes: Herbal Salves, Oils, Butters, and Balms, that you may enjoy if you want an in-depth look at making your own!
Herb infused oils are incredibly useful, not to mention absolutely beautiful sitting in your window sill. Here is a rundown about how to make herb infused oils, liniments, salves, and balms. But I warn you! This is a fun one! You may just get addicted!
Here’s a quick review about herbal infusions
In previous parts in this series, I have explained the infusion process for different solvents such as alcohol, water, vinegar, glycerine, honey, etc. I’ve also written a complete article about the best ways to infuse herbs in oils such as almond or olive oil.
Any and all of these solvents can be used externally as well as internally and are wonderful bases for infusing herbs. Below is a list where you can find out more about how to infuse herbs in a variety of solvents:
You can find out more about infusing herbs in water HERE.
You can find out more about infusing herbs in alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine HERE.
You can find out all the details on infusing herbs in oils for soaps, salves & balms HERE.
You can find out about how to infuse herbs in honeys and syrups HERE.
Find out the best carrier oils for infusing herbs for healing uses HERE.
And if you missed the previous parts of the series on how to start using herbs, you can find a complete list of links to those articles at the end of this post.
Now, on to the different herbal preparations we are discussing in this part of the How to Start Using Herbs series: Liniments, infused oils, salves & balms.
What is a Liniment? And How to Use an Herbal Liniment?
Herbal liniments are essentially an herb infused tincture (alcohol infusion) or acetum (a vinegar infusion) and are made the exact same way. The only difference is that a liniment is used externally. Liniments are mainly used to disinfect cuts, wounds, infections on the skin, and to soothe sore muscles.
Here is a liniment recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. This liniment recipe actually comes from another earlier book called Back to Eden, written by Dr. Jethro Kloss and is useful for inflammation of the muscles and as an excellent general disinfectant.
Dr. Kloss’s Liniment
1 ounce of echinacea root powder
1 ounce goldenseal root powder (organic)
1 ounce myrrh gum resin powder
1/4 ounce cayenne powder
1 pint rubbing alcohol
Directions to Make:
You make this just exactly like you would make an alcohol tincture. Place the herbs into a jar. Pour your rubbing alcohol over the top. Shake well. Allow to infuse for six weeks or so, shaking every few days to fully disperse the herbs in the solvent.
Once fully infused, strain out the herbal matter (marc) and bottle into four to 16 ounce amber glass bottles with a tight fitting lid.
*** IMPORTANT NOTE: Since this liniment uses rubbing alcohol instead of vodka or spirit alcohol, you’ll want to be sure you label it FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY.
Directions to Use:
Use a cotton ball to apply to the affected area several times a day for as long as it takes for the infection or wound to heal.
NOTE: For a sore muscle rub, you could add a few drops of wintergreen essential oil for extra analgesic power. This is my own addition, not Dr. Kloss’s.
This is just one example of a liniment, how to make it, and how to use it. The sky is the limit with these. I like to use apple cider vinegar in most of my liniments for topical use on the skin. They are not as drying as alcohol. However, if you are looking for a stronger disinfectant, go with the high proof alcohol or rubbing alcohol.
What is an Infused Oil? How Do You Use an Herb Infused Oil?
I’ve written pretty extensively about how to infuse an oil with herbs, both for culinary and medicinal uses. You’ll need an herb infused oil in order to make infused salves and balms, so this is actually the first step you’ll need to take.
An herb infused oil is an oil where the herb has been allowed to steep in the carrier oil (usually almond, olive, fractionated coconut, sunflower, etc.) either at room temperature or via extremely low heat for a period of time.
Essentially, an herbal oil infusion is made very similarly to a tincture, but using oil instead. You can find out the complete directions in this article.
The biggest difference between the infusions is the solvent.
With an oil infusion, you are going to have a significantly shorter shelf life of the infusion, depending on the oil you choose. You can find out more about the best oils for your herbal infusions as well as general body care uses in this article.
One of the most popular infused oils many herbalists love to start with is Calendula infused oil. Calendula is a plant with bright, sunny yellow or orange flowers. They are sometimes known as pot marigolds, and they have excellent properties for supporting skin health and rejuvenation.
The neat thing about Calendula flowers is they impart the oil with a lovely golden color—-just beautiful!
You can look for Calendula oil in my Etsy shop, as it is available seasonally, once harvest time is underway!
Here is how you can make Calendula Infused Oil
NOTE: Some people will refer to their infused oils as the actual plant oil. What I mean by this is they will say, “Calendula Oil,” when in fact, it is “Calendula Infused Oil.” Be sure you use the correct terminology, and if you are purchasing it instead of making it yourself, be sure you know what you are buying.
Step 1) Add your dried petals to the jar. I like to fill mine about 3/4 full.
NOTE: When using oil, be sure you use dried herbs. The moisture in fresh herbs will cause rancidity and possible spoilage and mold due to bacterial growth in the oil.
Step 2) Pour in your carrier oil of choice to within an inch of the top of the jar. Shake well. As the plant matter absorbs the oil, you may need to add more oil.
Step 3) Allow to steep for several weeks. I like to make sure mine get at least 4-6 weeks, and often longer.
NOTE: Some people prefer to place their infusing oils into a dark cupboard. Others, like myself, prefer to place them in a sunny window or warmer area which allows the gentle heat to speed up the infusion process. Some herbalists believe additional healing powers are imparted by the sun’s rays, too.
Step 4) After several weeks, strain off the herbal matter (marc). Bottle the infused oil up and enjoy! It should be a lovely golden color.
NOTE: You can easily do a double infusion by repeating the process with new dried petals and using the oil from the first infusion. This double infusion will give you an incredibly strong infused oil.
How to Use Your Infused Oil:
Since this section of the series is discussing external uses, that will be the focus. HOWEVER, you can certainly use these herbal infused oils as bases for salad dressings, in your cooking, and even added to your coffee or tea if you like. That is….as long as they are safe for internal use.
If the herb is safe to consume, and the carrier oil you use is safe to consume, then your infused oil is also safe to consume! Easy peasy!
For external use:
1) Use as a massage oil
2) I’ve heard some women enjoy calendula infused oil for vaginal dryness.
3) Use it as a strong infused oil and add some essential oils for additional effect.
4) Use it as a skin softener.
5) Use it to make a wonderful salve!
And that brings us to….SALVES & BALMS!
What is a Salve or Balm? How to Make and Use Them
So, I wrote an entire book including some wonderful healing and beautifying recipes on infused oils, salves, butters, and balms…. Therefore, this section will be quite brief.
A salve (and an ointment and a balm) is a mixture of an oil and beeswax, melted together then solidified. That is the very most basic description. They can be very thin and oily, or they can be semi-hard, or they can even be quite hard (requiring body heat to melt).
Salves are usually used for medicinal purposes, as are ointments and balms; but can also be used in beauty therapies.
You can use them for detoxification, pulling out slivers, as antibacterial ointments (think homemade Neosporin), soothing burns, cuts, wounds, infections, and much more. You can create some wonderful achy muscle and joint pain salves and balms, as well as products for beautifying your skin!
What makes a salve work so well is the strength of the herbal infused oil you use, the actual mixture or blend of herbs used, and any essential oils you add to the product.
The thing that makes a salve a salve is the viscosity, or thickness of it. You start out with an infused oil, and obviously that will be runny and thin. But when you melt some beeswax into your infused oil, you end up with a semi-solid to a hard bar (like a lotion bar or chapstick) that you can use on your skin and lips—-anywhere on your body, really.
The more beeswax you use, the firmer your salve will be.
Basic Salve Ratio & Recipe:
So, to make the perfect salve that has a medium consistency, I like to use 1 cup of infused oil to 1/4 cup of beeswax pastilles.
Step 1) Pour the oil and the beeswax into a Mason jar—
Step 2) Melt together in a double boiler set up. To do this, just place the Mason jar into a pan filled with about one inch or a little more of water. Set to very low, and allow the beeswax to melt into the oil.
Step 3) Remove from heat. Add any essential oils, etc. you like. Then quickly pour the mixture into tins, small jars, etc.
That’s it! SO easy and useful.
Here are links to some salve recipes you may enjoy, and of course, you can find LOTS more in my Salves, Oils, Butters, & Balms eBook:
Soothing Rose Petal Salve (great for Valentine’s Day—-or any time as it is a wonderful heart opener and stress reliever)
Lavender Infused Salve (love this for tension and calming)
Anti-Itch Salve (great for dry winter skin)
and more! Do some searching on the blog and do some browsing around! You’ll find all kinds of great ideas.
Final Thoughts on Part 8 of the Series How to Start Using Herbs: Infused Oils, Liniments, & Herbal Salves
Creating herbal salves and infused oils can be a lengthy process due to the infusion time required, but it’s quite easy. It’s just one of those things you have to have some patience with!
Herbalism is like that, actually. We wait for the plants to grow. Then we wait for them to dry appropriately. Then we wait as they infuse into their solvent (in this case, oil). Then we prepare or use the product! It’s all about time, really.
And knowledge. You do have to know which herbs to choose, and that is why it’s a good idea to find some great recipes to start with and then branch out with your own creations from there.
The eBook, Herbal Salves, Oils, Butters, & Balms is a good place to begin (and can be downloaded immediately), but then so are other wonderful books, like Jan Berry’s 101 Easy Homemade Products for your Skin, Health, & Home (there is a lot more than salves in her book, actually).
I hope you’ll give infused oils and salve-making and liniments a try! Have you made your own before? Share your experiences and questions in the comments section below—-
You may also enjoy the other articles in this series on How to Start Using Herbs:
Hey! You may be interested in joining the private Facebook group: Practical Herbs with Heidi, which is a supportive group dedicated to helping each other learn about using herbs. Herbalists of ALL experience levels, even total beginners are welcome there.
Are you interested in a wonderful, science and research-based online school for herbalism? The Herbal Academy of New England has offerings for everyone at any level and interest. They have been one of my favorite schools!
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. This writing is for informational purposes only and not meant or implied to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease or illness. Please be sure to seek advice from a qualified medical doctor for any health issues, especially if pregnant, elderly, or immune-compromised, or on medication. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.