A Resource Centre for Self-Responsible and Harmonious Living
Basic Principles in Making Ointments
document provides the principles in making ointments from plant
derived ingredients in a home setting, it being the instruction sheet
used in the segment on making ointments in the Medicinal Herb Seminars held at
Ointments may be used as skin conditioners and as a means of treating skin conditions, they are mostly simple to make with the base ingredients being readily available.
Ointments are fatty preparations of a softer consistency than waxes.
Compound ointments are a mix of different oils and waxes as the principle ingredients. They are generally much "greasier" than creams and may be used for skin softening, skin protection, as a water repellent and for the application of medications to the skin surface.
Waxes are generally solidified oils at room temperature.
Ingredients for ointment bases:
As heat is used in the preparation of most ointments it is better to choose more saturated oils that are stable to heat such as Coconut and Olive oil to make the ointment base.
White beeswax is chemically treated to clean and bleach it. Yellow beeswax is filtered and has had the honey removed by washing in water. Beeswax is added to the vegetable oils to "set" the oil giving the ointment its consistency.
Lard and other animal fats.
The use of lard (pig fat) and other animal fats has fallen out of fashion, being mostly replaced by the more cosmetically acceptable and readily available vegetable oils.
Medications that may be added.
Medicated oils - Herbs such as Calendula, Chamomile and St. Johns wort may be infused into oils such as Olive and then used as the base oil or as an additive. Detail of how to infuse oils with herbs is given in another document on this web page.
Jojoba oil - this is really a wax and may be added at around 5% to give the ointment a "slip" texture that is useful for massage.
Herbal tinctures - Approximately 5 -10% of the total weight can be successfully added when the ointment is close to setting.
Fragrant oils - Approximately 0.1 - 1% of the total weight can be added when the ointment is close to setting.
Antioxidants - These slow the oxidation of oils especially unsaturated oils such as Sunflower, Almond
and Safflower. They extend the shelf life of the ointment.
Examples of anti-oxidants are:
- Vitamin E oil (available as either oil capsules or in Wheat germ oil).
- Rosemary frond extract known commercially in Australia as "Amiox."
Preservatives - Bacteria and yeasts (moulds) grow mostly in aqueous mediums thus ointments generally do not require preservatives.
Quality and efficacy
The ingredients used in making an ointment directly influences its quality and efficacy.
For optimum quality use:
Cold pressed and virgin (un-processed) oils and waxes.
Extracts made from fresh herbs.
An added anti-oxidant.
Ointments containing unsaturated oils (omega 6 and especially omega 3) must be kept away from light, air and kept cool. In warm to hot climates they are best kept refrigerated. A batch number and the expiry date should be included on the label.
Caution: Applying heat to oils and waxes should ONLY be achieved using a water bath. Keep the oil mix away from direct heat especially naked flame. Always have a suitable fire extinguisher and a wet blanket nearby.
Medications should be added at the lowest possible temperature.
It is easier to measure ingredients by weight using scales sensitive down to 1gm rather than measuring by volume. This avoids ingredient loss to the measuring vessels and clean up time. 10mL of a vegetable oil approximates 9gm by weight.
Suitable mixing vessels are either stainless or enamel, having straight sides and an open pouring spout.
To make the ointment base, weigh out the oil and wax components into a suitable stainless vessel and heat them by placing in a heated water bath. Do this until they have just melted.
Remove from the bath and with stirring, allow the mix to cool until just starting to set. This is indicated by thickening and a milky appearance. You can encourage cooling by placing the mixing vessel in or over a cold-water bath but use constant stirring and remove the set ointment from the sides of the vessel, stirring it back into the liquid.
Have the other ingredients ready to be added directly by weighing into the vessel or from separate measuring containers.
Place the mix back in the un-heated hot water bath to maintain a little heat input and to the non-lumpy liquid ointment slowly and separately add the aqueous/alcohol ingredients with vigorous stirring . Excessive heat will evaporate alcohol leading to insoluble herb deposits in the ointment.
Then add the Rosemary antioxidant and infused essential oils slowly with vigorous stirring.
Then add the fragrant essential oils with vigorous stirring.
Last add the highly unsaturated oils such as Flax seed oil slowly and stir until the liquid mix is clear of solids.
If lumps are still present, with vigorous stirring apply a little heat by placing briefly in a gently heated water bath.
Remove the mixing vessel from any heat input and as the liquid ointment starts to set it will increase in viscosity, go milky and start setting on the sides.
When the liquid starts to go milky and thickens, wipe any moisture of the bottom of the vessel and with occasional stirring, pour into ready un-topped jars. Heat the vessel gently in a little hot water bath heat to melt the remaining ointment from the sides, wipe the water off and pour again.
When filling the jars, pour to "over fill" to allow for contraction of the ointment as it sets.
Clean up is best facilitated by using paper towels to wipe the vessel clean then wash well with very hot soapy water and if possible pour out onto the soil rather tham down the sink when it can set. Rinse the vessels well to remove any soap residues.
Keep notes on your process and prepare and apply a label............and have fun!
A cosmetically acceptable, efficacious compound ointment is made with olive oil and beeswax. Both these ingredients are reasonably stable to heat, are inexpensive and readily available. They are easily used at home to make lip salves and herbal ointments, formulas for which are given below. The proportion of the beeswax added gives the ointment its consistency, a "solid" ointment requiring around 20% beeswax and a softer ointment as little as 5%.
|Olive oil||30 gm|
|Infused Calendula flowers (in olive oil)||10 gm|
|Yellow Beeswax (mp 62C)||10 gm|
|Fragrance (essential oil)||3 drops|
Herbal LIP Balm
|Olive oil||35 gm|
|Yellow Beeswax (mp 62C)||10 gm|
|Jojoba oil||0.5 mL (25 drops)|
|Flax seed oil||2mL (100 drops)|
|Rosemary extract (anti-oxidant)||2 drops|
|St Johns wort infused oil||1mL (50 drops)|
|Lavender oil||2 drops|
|Calendula tincture||2mL (100 drops)|
|Friars balsam tincture||2mL (100 drops)|
Ken Atherton Phc
Pindari Herb Farm
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