This has been updated from the original post of April 19, 2018. The post now includes information on making the salve with cannabis or hemp.
I would like you to imagine for a moment the feeling of intense physical pain somewhere in your body. Pain that has no relief, stabbing and throbbing constantly, leaving you exhausted from the sheer sustained force against your body. Some of you may not even have to imagine this as you may be feeling it at this very moment.
Now Imagine Relief
Every region has their own variety of healing plants available, provided for us abundantly by Mother Earth. Over time we have globalized with massive and long migrations, often bringing these plants with us. The hemp and cannabis plants are no exception, having been a part of any good apothecary for thousands of years.
Cannabis and hemp are plants whose active properties actually match up to receptors in our brains. They can provide relief where the artificial and even dangerous chemical concoctions created by pharmaceutical corporations cannot.
For many, cannabis and hemp have become a pain reliever like no other. These close cousins share many of the same healing properties in their chemical makeup (note: you can learn more about these properties in my post on Why More CBD Isn’t Always Better).
Why Cannabis and Hemp?
In my post, Why I Use Cannabis, I talk about my personal journey to finding relief through medicinal cannabis. One of the most valuable cannabis related tools I’ve used was my Healing Cannabis Salve. Now, I’m also a firm believer in the power of hemp CBD.
Pharmaceuticals have a daily place in many lives. What’s scary to me is seeing the reliance on them being nurtured. Turning on the TV means you’ll see dozens of medications being pushed for a variety of issues. Nowadays, you’ll most likely be prescribed medications to deal with the side-effects of your original medications.
The addiction rates of opiates have caused an epidemic in this country. Pharmaceutical corporations have been caught red-handed lying about the addictive properties and overall safety of their medications. Plus there are no long-term studies for usage of medications such as Oxycontin, Vicodin or others.
If we’re are only now realizing that our long-term exposure to chemicals are causing problems in generations of families, I wonder sometimes how many pharmaceuticals might be doing the same.
Moving Beyond Medication
Nowadays the most potent medication I’m on is the occasional aspirin. I can honestly say that keeping a jar of salve nearby even makes taking aspirin a rare event. A topical salve is ideal for localized pain and inflammation relief- you can rub it exactly where it hurts.
The active chemical compounds of cannabis and hemp are called cannabinoids. The cannabinoids are what give these plants their different medicinal capabilities. THC is probably the most famous active ingredient of cannabis, with CBD gaining popularity as it became federally legal in 2018.
THC and CBD move across the skin barrier but are thought to not be able to get into the blood stream. On a side note: Studies in the industry are supporting this idea, but unfortunately widespread testing and research is stymied due to ongoing federal restrictions. Receptors under the skin take in these cannabinoids and use them in those localized areas. Because they don’t go into your blood, the cannabinoids can NOT get you high.
Salves are a very ancient and time-honored part of apothecary’s all over the world. A salve is a medicinal ointment that is rubbed onto the skin. It usually offers healing and soothing relief to things such as topical wounds and irritations, as well as problems with internal pain and inflammation.
Cannabis or Hemp?
With the growing popularity of CBD, many might wonder why you would even bother with THC anymore. Why use cannabis when you can just use hemp? Unless you’re choosing a CBD isolate though, you will still have some THC in your hemp flower. This is a good thing!
First, while CBD is incredibly beneficial for inflammation THC is better on pain. You don’t need a lot of THC though to make it effective. This can be a plus when you don’t have much choice on your raw ingredients. You really can use whatever you have on hand. Second, cannabinoids create an entourage effect. This means they work differently when together, so isolating a single cannabinoid can make it less effective. For this salve, we want as many different cannabinoids as we can get.
I like to use the entire plant when making a homemade salve. Clean, dry roots, the stem AND flower, are storage places for all of these different cannabinoids. So it’s a good practice when you can to use the entire plant whether using hemp or cannabis to make your salve.
What won’t work is cannabis essential oil. That is a steam distillation of the cannabis leaves, which destroys most of the active ingredients. So while the terpenes and odor of the plant may be left behind in the oil, the medicinal properties of the plant have been destroyed for the most part.
How Healing Cannabis Salve Came to Be
My Healing Cannabis Salve came about after my worst stretch of back pain yet. My back had been out for almost a month with no relief since it began. It didn’t matter what position I was in, what I was doing (or not doing), or what I was taking, I was in constant and intense pain.
It was difficult to smoke enough cannabis to get pain relief, and even then it was usually fleeting. Smoking is one of the most inefficient methods of using cannabis, but it is probably the most common introduction to it as it is cheap and easy.
The inefficiency can be a positive at times as the dosage is so small and easily controlled. The shorter length of effect can even be beneficial for some. Smoking cannabis for my depression works just fine. Smoking cannabis for my pain does not.
After learning about using cannabis to treat pain, I had started making an alcohol based tincture to take internally. I had heard about topical products being available at the time in dispensaries, but my county was so restrictive of medicinal cannabis and dispensaries that I was unable to try any. Pain has a funny way of encouraging you to try something different though.
One evening, I had enough. Not even the tincture could get rid of my pain completely. I decided to try mixing my tincture with some olive oil and applying it topically. I rubbed it in and waited. Within minutes, I began to have actual relief. No joke.
From there I began to do research on making topical medicinal cannabis preparations. Through experimentation and trial and error, this is now my go-to recipe. It is infinitely adaptable in terms of additions. I have made a variety of versions, some focused on cuts and scrapes by including plantain, lavender and thyme oils. Other versions focus more on pain and soreness by including wintergreen, cinnamon and hot pepper oils.
Let’s Make a Cannabis or Hemp Salve!
This recipe is for a basic Healing Cannabis (or Hemp) Salve that works for nearly everything. From cuts and scrapes to pain and swelling, and from your cramped feet to your chapped lips, you can make it as is or customize it for your needs.
If you don’t have access to the raw ingredients to make this salve yourself, no problem. You can find information on choosing an effective salve to buy here.
Here is a summary of the basic raw ingredients you’ll need to gather, and why.
Cannabis or Hemp
I’ve made this salve with high quality flowers and hash, and I’ve made it with bottom of the barrel trim. There is an element of overall quality tied into using better quality cannabis, but not as much as you might think. I am not picky about what strain I use either. You can use cannabis or hemp in this recipe, depending on what you prefer or have on hand.
The other ingredients are so reasonably priced that I don’t want to discourage you from making a batch of salve with that 3-year old bag of stash. It won’t be as strong, but you could add additional healing herbs and essential oils to supplement whatever medicinal qualities of the cannabis are left.
Coconut oil has antibacterial, healing, and soothing qualities of its own. Virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil is best for your Healing Cannabis Salve. Occasionally a slight grittiness appears in coconut oil, looking like little hard balls. This naturally happens when the oil has melted and cooled. It is a texture thing though, and won’t effect how your salve works. Adding lecithin should prevent this from happening.
I am obsessed with avocado oil, I can’t lie. I use it on my food, I use it in my salad dressings, I use it in my topical products. If I’m pouring it into something and it drips, I rub it into my hands. Avocado oil is a wonderful moisturizer that is very beneficial for healthy skin, as it increases collagen production and provides healing qualities.
Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E is a wonderful moisturizer with healing and anti-aging properties. It also acts as a natural preservative for the oils in the salve.
Beeswax is an all natural stiffener for the salve, allowing it to be solid at room temperature. It also helps to keep moisture in place. Plus it smells lovely!
Soy or Sunflower Lecithin
Lecithin is a naturally occurring fatty substance that is necessary for our cells because it attracts fat and water molecules together. Adding it to the salve helps eliminate the little hard balls I was talking about in the coconut oil. It also makes the cannabinoids more bio-available to your body. I strongly suggest finding a non-GMO source of either soy or sunflower lecithin to use.
Consider adding some of these optional ingredients to your cannabis salve for additional benefits. You can make several batches for different purposes, or divide the salve base up to make variations out of one batch (much like you would a single cake batter to make different layers).
Antiseptic: plantain, tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus.
Pain and inflammation: hot pepper, ginger, arnica, black pepper, peppermint, wintergreen, frankincense, and rosemary.
Skin conditions: dandelion, calendula, plantain, chamomile, and lavender.
Process for Making Cannabis Salve
The basic process is relatively simple, but it is time consuming. You can expect the entire process to take around 5-6 hours. Much of that time is spent allowing things to simmer though, freeing you up to do other things. When I’m making salve a timer is my best friend. When I have the oil simmering I use a timer to check on it every hour.
Why I DON’T Decarboxylate the Hemp or Cannabis for Salve
As a cannabis plant grows and matures, the plant produces THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) which is the non-active form of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC doesn’t appear until THC-A has been activated enough for the extra molecule of acid to fall off. The technical name for this is decarboxylation. For this salve we want as many different cannabinoids as possible, including THC-A.
The beneficial properties of raw or live cannabis have gone almost unnoticed, which is quite unfortunate! THC-A is known for its ability to treat infection, inflammation, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer for a start. As cooking cannabis in oils tends to leave some of the THC-A unconverted to THC, it is, in my opinion, an ideal method for getting the benefits of both compounds. As cannabinoids are fat soluble, we’re further able to extract as many cannabinoids as possible using coconut and avocado oils, along with gentle heat.
Cannabis or Hemp Extraction
To start off we need to extract the cannabinoids from the plant material. I break up the dried flower, stems and roots into small chunks. Some suggest using a grinder, but I don’t bother unless the material has a lot of moisture. Leaving the bag open overnight the day prior to making the salve can dry it out easily and efficiently. Moisture is your enemy is any oil-based natural product. The flower is added to the melted coconut oil and avocado oil in a double-boiler, and allowed to simmer with occasional stirring.
I use color and smell to determine “doneness” during extraction. Fresher cannabis usually takes less time in the 2-3 hour range, and older cannabis takes more time in the 4-5 hours range. Once the oils are a lovely dark green color and the fragrance begins to get strong, it’s finished. To continue cooking means you are risking converting all of the THC-A to THC (or even into CBN which comes later). Again, this is not the goal in a salve.
Strain the Plant Material
The solid material now gets strained out of the oils. I use a folded piece of cheesecloth set inside a colander, over a glass bowl. Use a wooden spoon to push the oil out of the plant matter as much as possible, before twisting the whole bundle up and squeezing out the last remaining drops. If you have a ricer, this is a great time to bust it out to get every last drop! I like to use the leftover plant material to make Bhang or add it to some Golden Milk in the evening as a wind-me-down for the day.
Thickening the Hemp or Cannabis Salve
Once the oil is strained, it is added back to the double-boiler and reheated to make the actual cannabis salve. Grated beeswax or pellets are added to thicken the final product. The amount can vary depending on the season and your average household temperature. I live in an area that is consistently over 100 in the summer, but freezes in the winter. I tend to use more beeswax in summer, less in winter.
As I mentioned before, there are a variety of optional ingredients you can add to enhance your salve. If it’s your first time making it or if you’re on a budget, don’t worry about it! The basic salve is still wonderful on its own.
For dry plant material, add it with the cannabis during the extraction phase. Use a few tablespoons total of plant material (up to 1/4 ounce if you’re weighing the material).
Adding essential oils should ONLY be done during the salve making phase. Essential oils are powerful concentrates of plant compounds, so it’s important to stay at a 2% dilution rate. For this 16 ounce recipe, the safe dilution of essential oils is 2 teaspoons. Use any combination of oils you want, but they should total NO MORE than 2 teaspoons. Here’s a link to a great blog on how (and why) to dilute essential oils.
When you are planning to add infused oils, add an extra tablespoon of beeswax to the salve while melting everything. Then add 2-3 tablespoons of the infused oil after removing the salve from heat. For information on how to infuse oils, check out this link. Infused oils that could be beneficial include hot pepper, ginger, and peppermint.
If you’re wondering which brand of essential oils I use, I use Plant Therapy more than anyone. For $10 off your first purchase, use this link. Disclosure: I get a small kickback when you purchase from Plant Therapy using my referral.
Glass is ideal as many plastics can leach harmful chemicals into your salve, which defeats the purpose of all natural and organic. I’ve used everything from baby food to pimento jars, but usually the all-purpose mason jar works perfectly.
Don’t have the time or ingredients to make your own?
I get it! I have my relEASE 250 Hemp CBD Salve with Essential Oils available for purchase instead. No joke, it just works. The effect is phenomenal because of the unique combination of 12 essential and infused oils I developed over several years. Combined with full-spectrum hemp CBD, they create a synergistic effect. Use the code BLOG15 for 15% off your first purchase.
Healing Cannabis or Hemp Salve
This is a recipe for a basic Cannabis or Hemp Salve you can make at home. Easy to customize to your own needs.
- Double-boiler or a sauce pan plus glass bowl that can sit firmly on top
- Metal colander or ricer
- Glass bowl
- Rubber or silicone spatula
- Kitchen towel
- Glass jars with lids for storing the finished salve.
- 1/2 oz Dried cannabis or hemp flowers, leaves, stems, and clean roots
- 1 1/2 cups Organic virgin coconut oil (Or the oil of your choice)
- 1/2 cup Avocado oil (Or the oil of your choice)
- 3-5 Tbsp. Beeswax pastilles (or 1.5-2.5 oz grated)
- 2 Tbsp. Liquid lecithin, non-GMO (sunflower or soy)
- 1/4 oz Dried companion herbs of your choice (by weight)
- Up to 2 teaspoons TOTAL of the essential oils of your choice
- 1 Tbsp TOTAL infused oils of your choice
STEP 1: Cannabis or Hemp Infusion
- Bring several inches of water to a boil in the pot portion of the double-boiler. Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to low. ALTERNATIVE 1: Use a glass bowl that fits snugly over a sauce pan of boiling water instead. Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to low and put bowl on top. ALTERNATIVE 2: Use a crock pot on the "Keep Warm" setting without water.
- Add the coconut oil and avocado oil to the top portion of the double-boiler, or in the glass bowl, or in the crock pot.
- Add crumbled dried cannabis or hemp material. Dryer the better. OPTIONAL: Add any dried companion herbs at this time.
- Continue to cook on low-heat, stirring every once in awhile until the oil is dark-green. Your house should be fragrant! **IMPORTANT** Double-boilers WILL lose water overtime. Be sure to check it every hour and add BOILING water if necessary to keep the water level up.
- Remove from heat. Let cool for 15-20 minutes.
- Fold the cheesecloth into thirds, allowing enough material to drape over the sides of your colander. Place the colander over a glass bowl.
- Slowly pour the infused oils into the cheesecloth covered colander. Use a spoon to gently push on the plant material to extract more oil.
- Carefully gather the corners of the cheesecloth up before squeezing as much oil out as possible. The remaining oil should have very little solid matter left in in. ALTERNATIVE: Use the cheesecloth in the ricer instead to expel oil from the plant matter.
- Ensure the bowl of the double-boiler is free of any solid matter. Wipe it out with a paper towel if needed, then wipe that on any achy parts of your body! I don't like to waste any of it 🙂
STEP 2: Salve Making
- Bring water in the double-boiler (or pot with glass bowl firmly set on top) back up to a boil before reducing the heat to low.
- Pour your infused oil back in to the top part of the double-boiler or place the glass bowl back on top of the sauce pan.
- Add beeswax and lecithin, stirring to incorporate them as they melt. **IMPORTANT** If you plan to add infused or essential oils later, add an extra tablespoon of beeswax now.
- Continue stirring vigorously for 5 minutes after everything has melted. This is important to mix everything well.
- Use a spoon to gather up a sample of the salve. Place the spoon on a plate in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. Bring it out and check the consistency- it should require a little pressure to get through it. If it's still runny, add more beeswax 1/2 ounce at a time until you reach a desired consistency.
- Turn off the stove and place a folded up kitchen towel on the counter. Remove the bowl of the double-boiler carefully and place it on the towel to keep the steam from burning you or getting in the salve.
- Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- Add Vitamin-E oil. OPTIONAL: Add essential and infused oils now if you are using them.
- Continue to thoroughly stir the mixture for 5 minutes. Use a timer as this step is important. As you stir, close your eyes and focus your energy and intentions on the salve. I like to focus on imagery that conveys healing. You may laugh, but I find this step important!
- Pour the finished salve into clean, dry containers and place the lid on. This will make approximately 16-18 ounces.
- Call everyone in your house over. Use the spatula to scrape up every last bit of salve and rub it all over your bodies!
Store your salve in a cool, dark location. This salve does NOT have any artificial preservatives in it, so it’s best used within a year of making it. For long-term storage (especially in the summer) the refrigerator may be better.
Let me know in the comments how it works out for you! If you have decided making it is more trouble than it's worth you can always find my salve here. relEASE 250 was born from this very recipe I've given you!
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