Topical herbal treatments can be a gentle yet effective way to address painful scrapes, itchy rashes, and dry, dull skin.
While you can often find these at your local health store, they’re often quick and simple to make at home. These topical remedies not only nourish your skin, but can also create a gentle seal that protects and helps your skin absorb nutrients.
There are three primary types of topical herbal treatments: infused oils, salves, and creams or lotions.
- Infused oils are made by steeping herbs in a carrier oil like olive or almond to extract the medicinal plant constituents that will help soothe your skin.
- Salves are solid combinations of oils and a wax such as beeswax or soy wax.
- Creams and lotions, as you’re likely familiar with, vary from thicker to more light in texture, and combine oils with water to create a hydrating topical treatment.
The first step in making these remedies at home is to infuse oil with dried herbs. Once you’ve done this, you can use the oil alone as a topical treatment, or mix it to make a salve or cream.
Oils keep for up to a year, so you can mix and match depending on what you need in your home remedy toolkit.
Don’t forget: Do a patch test before applying anything new to your skin, to prevent an allergic reaction.
Makes approximately 8 ounces.
- 4 oz. dried herb
- 8 oz. body-safe carrier oil, such as olive oil or almond oil
- quart-sized mason jar
- crock pot or stock pot
- Finely chop or powder your dried herb and add to the mason jar. Cover with the oil, and stir gently to distribute the herb throughout the oil.
- Put the cap on the mason jar, and place the jar in a water bath in either a crockpot or a stock pot on the stove (if using the stock pot method, place a mason jar lid ring under the jar with your oil in it so the glass is not directly on the metal of the pot).
- Gently heat the water and oil for 3–5 days, trying to keep the oil temperature around 110 degrees. The “warm” setting on a crock pot is ideal.
- After 3–5 days, remove the jar and let the oil cool slightly so it’s not too hot to the touch, and then strain your oil through muslin, cheesecloth, or an old and clean t-shirt to remove the dried herbs.
- Store your oil in an airtight jar in a dark, cool place. It will last for up to a year.
Makes approximately 9 ounces.
- 8 oz. infused herbal oil
- 1 oz. beeswax, either grated or pellets
- a double boiler
- clean glass jars or metal tins
- essential oils, if desired
- Warm oil in double boiler. Add beeswax and stir until melted. Test the consistency of your salve by dipping a clean spoon into the mixture, and putting it in the freezer for a few minutes. If it’s softer than you’d like, add more beeswax.
- Pour the still-warm salve into containers (old jam jars or small metal tins work well). If adding essential oils, do so now (only a few drops are need) and stir with a chopstick or other clean implement.
- Put the cap on the containers, and store in a dark, cool place. Salves will last up to a year.
Makes approximately 16 ounces.
- 1 cup distilled water or rosewater
- 3/4 cup carrier oil (almond, or an herb-infused oil)
- 1/2 oz.–1 oz. beeswax (less for a thinner consistency, more for a firmer cream)
- a double boiler
- blender or immersion blender
- clean glass jars
- essential oils, if desired
- Combine the oil and beeswax in a double boiler and gently heat until the beeswax melts. Pour the oil mixture into a blender, and let cool to room temperature. The mixture will turn cloudy and thicken.
- When the mixture has cooled, turn the blender on high speed and slowly add the water to the oil at the center of the vortex in a smooth, thin stream. If your blender tends to get hot, you may need to pause and let it cool off before continuing — the heat will re-melt the oil and beeswax, preventing a proper emulsion.
- Watch the mixture for when it turns white and develops a thick consistency. The blender will start to stutter as the cream becomes too stiff to take more. You may not use all of the water, and that’s fine!
- If you’d like to add essential oils, you can gently fold in 1–2 drops now.
- Pour your cream into the glass containers, using a spatula to get all of the cream out of the blender. Cap and store in a cool, dry place. Creams will last up to a month, and that can be prolonged by storing in the refrigerator.
Note: Severe burns require medical treatment. This salve is best suited for mild burns and scrapes. If you have any concerns, seek medical treatment.
- 8 oz. herb-infused oil using equal parts comfrey leaf (Symphytum sp.), oregon grape root (Berberis aquifolium), and calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- 1–2 drops lavender essential oil (Lavandula sp.)
For this cream, replace some of the water with aloe for a cooling and soothing experience.
- 2/3 cup distilled water
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel
- 3/4 cup herb-infused oil with equal parts lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and marshmallow root (Althea officinalis)
- 1–2 drops tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- 1 cup rosewater
- 3/4 cup herb-infused oil with equal parts yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- 1–2 drops clary sage essential oil (Salvia sclarea)
Now that you know the basics for creating topical herbal remedies, you can try your hand at these simple recipes and fill your first-aid kit with natural treatments to help ease scrapes, rashes, dry patches, and other minor mishaps.
Sarah M. Chappell is a clinical herbalist, writer, and teacher based in Asheville, NC. When not making alcohol-free herbal remedies or sharing how to use tarot as a tool for self-care, she enjoys knitting, playing with her rescue pit bull, and posting on Instagram.