You'll find a list of all my blog posts in the blog archive.

Rose salve.

Botanical name: 

Xmas is getting near, and so are xmas markets.

I've been selling my salves at a few local markets every xmas for the last few years, and last week got an order for 5 rose salves, "they're so good, and make such good presents". Right, I was all out, and needed to make some more salves anyway, so I got to work.

Photo: Rosa x damascena. Pic: Dried rosebuds, whole and powdered.
Here's the roses I used. There's an abundantly flowering rose right next to the house, but while its scent wafts nicely on the evening breeze around mid-summer, the dried flowers have no scent whatsoever ... I know, 'cos I picked them. I only did that one year, though, after that I've left them on the bushes.

These days I buy organically grown dried Moroccan rosebuds by the kg. I think it's Rosa damascena, but I could be wrong. Whatever, it's very strongly scented. (An aromatherapist friend promised me Bulgarian contacts for 2-4 kg high quality dried roses a year, but I haven't heard from her again, so shrug.)

When making salves the scent of the rose is very important: the stronger the dried rose, the stronger the salve. Even with the strongest of roses you need to double infuse the oil to get a scented salve, unless you cheat and add essential oil of rose of course. I very very very very rarely cheat when making salves, because people are allergic to essential oils; they're not allergic to my salves. When I do add an essential oil I always mention it on the label.

So it's, powder up 200 g dried rosebuds (I just zap them with the blender), pour 1.3 liter oil into the top bit of a waterbath, add 100 g powdered herb to the oil, add a bit of calendula flowers, and let sit for 1.5 hours on medium heat. I usually leave it on 4 (of 6), once the water has started to boil.

Photo: Waterbath. Pic: A simple waterbath.
This is just a small kettle inside a larger one. Water in the larger one, oil'n'herb in the top one. I stir with an unpainted bamboo chopstick. My usual setup involves a larger kettle and a steel bowl, with three chopsticks in the water bit holding the bowl away from the sides of the kettle, and one chopstick to stir with.

Once your salve has been on the waterbath for 1.5 hours you let it cool for about 20 minutes; then wipe the underside of the oil'n'herb bowl and pour the mess into a cheesecloth. Take the 4 corners and start to wring. Pour the oil back into the top bit of the waterbath, top it up with 0.3 liters oil (you left lots of oil in your discarded dried roses), add 100 g dried roses, add more calendula if you so like, and let sit again for 1.5 hours.

Let cool again, strain through another cheesecloth, and measure how much infused rose oil you have. Add 1 part (by weight) of beeswax to 8 parts (by volume) of oil: 100 g beeswax to 800 ml oil makes about 30 x 30 ml salve jars. Hotter climates might need more beeswax to the oil; 1:5 makes very hard salves for our temperatures, but might be just about right for hot places. 1:10 makes a very soft salve, so soft in fact that you can pour it, even up here. Not good.

Clean your waterbath bowl -- you don't want bits of dried herb in your salve once it's done -- with a dry cloth or a dry paper -- you don't want water in your salve. Pour the oil back into the bowl, add the beeswax, and put the heat onto full, or the wax won't melt. Let sit until the wax is all dissolved and give it a few twirls with whatever you're stirring with, just to make sure that there's beeswax in all the oil and not just in some parts of it.

Take the top bowl off the waterbath and put it next to your jars. I use a syringe (50 ml) to pull liquid hot salvemass from the bowl and push it into the jars; when done correctly it has a lot of pros:
- you get the right amount into the jars (30 ml, for me)
- it's not messy
- it's rather faster than pouring straight from the bowl, because it's not messy
Cons, well, one of my four syringes used to get stuck halfway, and you had to really push so it would go further. Splash, liquid salve all over the place. Throwing that particular syringe away gave me great satisfaction.

Let the salve cool and congeal before you add lids and labels, or you'll have salve all over the insides of the lids -- not pretty at all.

Calendula is in almost all my salves, because a little calendula never hurt anybody, and it's an extremely efficient healer.


You have to wipe the underside of your bowl before you pour your oil'n'herb into another bowl with a cheesecloth draped over it, because you don't want any water whatsoever in your salve. Water means mold. Remember to also wipe the underside of the rim of your bowl/kettle, you'll find there's lots'n'lots of water there.

You have to use a scentless oil for rose salve. While roses on the bush smell very strongly, scented oils (sesame, almond, walnut etc.) overpower it easily, leaving you with a rose salve with no rose scent. And what's the use of that? Safflower is a nice scentless oil; for home use, rapeseed works as well.

Use a good cold-pressed oil, preferably from organically grown plants. Most (but not all) cold-pressed oils contain loads of vitamin E. Vitamin E means slower rancidity. Forget all the cheap cooking oils, they're not worth the bottle they come in. (I don't use cheap cooking oils in my cooking, either - it's cold-pressed all the way.)

I use a lid on the top bit of the waterbath when making rose and lavender salves; those are the only salves I make for the scent of the flowers. All my other salves can sit merrily on the top of their waterbath without lids; they have no fragile scent I want to protect. That top lid needs to be small enough: if it's bigger than the bowl it's protecting you'll get water in your salve, from condensation.

Don't let the water boil dry. Or, well, the world won't end if you do, but your chopsticks will get burnt a tad and it might smell bad. And the waterbath isn't as hot (and therefore less efficient) if there's no steam rising from the hot water.

This recipe works for dried herb. Fresh herb, well, you'll have to wait until I make a fresh herb salve for tips'n'tricks on that. Next summer.


I haven't used the oil'n'herb-in-a-glass-jar-on-the-windowsill -method for years. I don't think I'll use that one ever again, because it's messy and the herb goes bad (rots, gets moldy) way too often.