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The Mathematics Behind Balms & Salves

The impetus behind writing this post was my frustration in finding measurement guidelines (the mathematics) to make a balm or salve. Many recipes give specific measurements for a specific recipe and that’s it–no  guidelines, no “WHY.” What if I need a small quantity (e.g., 1 ounce) or a large quantity of an odd number (e.g., 23 ounces)? What if I have funky containers and need to know how much salve I need to make to fill those containers? Read on to learn more…

Defined: Salve—a mixture of beeswax and herbal oils

Defined: Balm— salve that contains a high amount of essential oils

(*Note: through this post I will use the term salve as that is what salves with essential oils are usually referred to even though they are balms. Go figure….)

Why are Balms & Salves amazing?

  • Longevity & Stability: They are shelf-stable as they don’t contain water, which encourages bacterial growth/mold. They also last long on the skin, holding essential oils (EOs) and other beneficial chemicals to penetrate the skin to deep tissues.
  • Efficacy: They deliver therapeutic qualities of EOs, fixed oils and herbal infused oils to the body: they are thick and hold the volatile oils.
    • Depending on the EOs and herbal oils used they are great for muscle aches, scar reducing, chest salves for respiratory/allergy issues, anti-inflammatory (e.g., bug bites, scrapes and bruises)…the list goes on!
  • Efficient: They are incredibly easy to make!

Getting Down to It:

  • Ratios: Ratios are great as they allow you to adapt to any measurement you are using!
    • As a best practice a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio works best for a salve.
    • The more wax, the harder it will be, the more fixed oil, the “looser” it will be.
    • I do not recommend going lower than 1:4 or higher than 1:6 (this is my preference).
      • Explained: 1 part wax to 4 parts fixed oil for a “firmer” salve or 1 part wax to 5 parts oil for a “looser” salve.
      • Here your “part” could be weight (grams, ounces, etc.) or volume (tablespoons, cups, etc.). As a best practice: always stick with one measurement unit—don’t cross over (Grams and teaspoons…).
  • Jar capacity: Let’s say I find a nice jar (or jars) and want to use it to hold salve. I can find out its capacity by adding water to the jar using volume (tbsp. by tbsp. or tsp. by tsp.) or weight (gram by gram our ounce by ounce).
    • Simply measure the amount of water that fits into the container and take note!
  • Work in weight (e.g., grams): It is more precise to use a scale than it is to use liquid measure—especially as you are working with dry matter (e.g., wax) and wet (e.g., fixed oils) [Translation: high variability, air pockets with dry matter, etc.]
    • Many recipes mix up tbsp., cups and ounces…this is fine for something on the fly but it makes sense to be precise and measure by weight as it is standard and repeatable.
    • Invest in a decent scale for both culinary use and the creation of salves, creams and anything else (like aromatic fizzing bath balls!).

Mathematics, let’s talk ratios!

Ratios allow you to modify your amounts accordingly and they are based off the total amount of desired end product.

  • Given: I prefer to work in weight (mass) versus volume
  • Given: I prefer a looser salve so I will use a 1:5 ratio
  • Given: The desired end amount helps determine my numbers: I want to fill 12, 1 ounce jars (I am working in ounces by weight).
  • The mathematics:
    • Get the summation of the ratio (a.k.a. “parts”):  1 + 5 (ratio) = 6
    • Turn your ingredient amounts into percentages then multiply the percentages with the total number of ounces (i.e., 12)
      • Beeswax: 1/6 = 0.167 | (0.167 * 12 ounces) = 2 ounces of wax
      • Fixed/Herbal oils: 5/6 = 0.83 | (0.83 * 12) = 9.96 ounces of fixed oil (round to 10)
    • Done! Weight it out and get to work.

 Now you have just the right amount of salve at the desired consistency for your container!

Substitute the numbers in the formula (i.e., weight or volume) to fit your needs and you should be all set for salve making.

Materials needed:

  • Scale
  • Double boiler (you don’t want to burn off any of the therapeutic properties, especially if you are using cold pressed or infused oil!)
  • Non-reactive, heat proof vessel for melting the wax & oils (a glass measuring cup is perfect for this as the handle makes it easy to pour the salve into the containers)
  • Small, non-reactive bowls to weigh out your ingredients
  • Non-reactive stirring spoon
  • EOs of choice (the accepted dilution rate for salves is 5%–30 drops per ounce)
  • Beeswax
  • Fixed and/or herbal infused oils of your choice depending on your intention of the salve
  • Glass containers for your salve (plastic may melt/deform as you decant the hot mixture and it is a best practice to use EOs in glass as some act as solvents)
20160610_103449

Getting ready to make a salve.

 

Steps for making a salve:

  • Place water in the bottom pot of the double boiler and put it over a low to medium-low heat—about an inch of water should be enough—you don’t want it to start boiling out the sides and steam or water droplets getting into your salve!
    1. Place the second pot on top of the pot containing the water to create your double-boiler (you may choose to put a small amount of water (½”) in this pot as well).
    2. Now, place the heat proof (e.g., Pyrex brand) measuring cup into the second pot
  • Put the desired EOs into your salve container (s) and set aside, putting the lid on to ensure the volatile oils do not evaporate! You can do this several days prior to making the salve to allow your special blend of EOs to harmonize.
20160620_103054

A blend of EOs ready for the salve!

 

  • Weigh out the desired amount of beeswax and fixed oils, then…
    1. Place the beeswax into the heat proof measuring cup and patiently allow it to melt.
    2. After the wax has melted, slowly add your fixed and/or herbal infused oils to the wax and stir to incorporate.
    3. Stir, stir and stir again! Ensure the beeswax and fixed oil(s) are fully incorporated.

      20160610_110021

      Melted beeswax and two of my own infused, fixed oils: calendula infused sunflower oil and vanilla infused jojoba oil.

  • Get ready to dispense the salve!
    1. Take the glass measuring cup out of the double boiler and wipe the bottom of the measuring cup to ensure NO WATER gets into the salve or the salve container.
    2. Dispense the mixture into the containers & cap the container to ensure the EOs don’t escape.
  • Gently shake the jar to disperse the EOs
  • Allow the salve to harden & set
  • Create a label for the container so you know what is in the salve (you may find yourself making several blends for different purposes)!
  • Ready to use!

Notes: you may add the EOs directly to the hot salve as it is on the stove while keeping the following in mind: EOs are volatile by nature. This means they readily evaporate and are flammable. Use common-sense-caution when working with any fixed or EOs near heat/open flame. Also, residue is left in the container you melted the wax in—why leave those precious, expensive EOs behind in a pot (unless you save every last drop like I do)? If you do put the EOs into the hot salve when on the double boiler, be sure to put them in immediately before you are ready to pour due to their volatile nature. Also be sure to stir well to distribute the EOs into the hot salve.

Notes: Sometimes the center of a salve may “collapse” due to the lid trapping heat. If you want to rectify this for aesthetic reasons do the following (only do this if your jars are made of glass):

  • Turn on your boiler to the low setting
  • Take lids off all of the jars and place the jars on a cookie sheet
  • Once the boiler is ready put the jars under the boiler long enough for the tops to even out (<= 1 minute)
  • Remove from oven and let cool

Notes: You may find you don’t like the consistency of a salve—don’t fret! Take a tsp full of the hot salve from the double boiler and place it in the fridge to cool, allowing it to harden. Test the consistency. If you want a thicker salve, add more beeswax; a thinner salve, add more fixed oil & be sure to take notes so you know what’s in your recipe! After all, ratios and measurements are important to keep in mind.

3 Comments

  1. I love salves. After taking your class I tried to do it on my own. It was a somewhat successful first try😌.

    This post will be very valuable for my next try.

    Like

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