Herbal Decongestant Salve: A Recipe for a Homemade Vapor Rub

herbal decongestant salve collage

Most of us are familiar with the chest rub that comes in the little blue bottle.

You know…the super popular over-the-counter treatment for symptoms of cough and congestion!?!

But did you also know that it’s made — just as many commercially-prepared cosmetics — in a base of petroleum with too many artificial additives and chemicals?

For those who desire to steer clear of these types of ingredients, learning to make this common cold and flu remedy may come in handy this fall and winter.

Herbs with Decongestant Properties

The start of a cold usually includes a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, lethargy (the feeling of tiredness), muscle aches, headache, and possible fever.

In my house, as soon as any of us start showing signs of these type of symptoms…I immediately start administering frequent doses of vitamin C, my homemade elderberry syrup, and my herbal cold care capsules.

I also reach for herbs — those that have for centuries been known to possess powerful decongestant properties.

Herbs such as:

  • peppermint
  • eucalyptus
  • thyme

When combined into a salve, these herbs produce an amazingly effective alternative to the other stuff you can buy on the store shelves.

Herbal Decongestant Salve


-4 ounces good quality organic olive oil infused with dried organic peppermint leaf and eucalyptus leaf
-1/2-1 ounce beeswax
-1 teaspoon of each essential oils: eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme, and clove bud

Note: See this salve making video tutorial for additional information.

1. Prepare your herb-infused olive oil. Note: Follow the instructions for making herb-infused oils found in this video tutorial.

2. Using a double boiler or small pot, heat — over low heat — the herb-infused olive oil and beeswax until the wax is completely melted.

3. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

4. Add the essential oils and stir until well combined.

5. Pour into a small glass mason jar — or these tins if you plan to share this salve with friends and neighbors — and allow to cool completely.

6. This rub is designed for massage application to the chest, back, soles of the feet, under the nose, or temples.

7. Store in a cool, dark place (your medicine cabinet is perfect). It should keep for at least a year. Add a bit of vitamin E and it may stay fresh for up to 5 years.

Relax and inhale deeply.

Please remember: That any time someone — especially a child — struggles to breathe, it should be considered a medical emergency and he/she should be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Where Can I Get This Stuff?

Mountain Rose Herbs…they have everything (dried herbs, essential oils, and the cute little tins) you’ll need for this remedy! It’s your one-stop-shop!

The Bulk Herb Store also carries many of these ingredients if you’d like to price check.

Purchase beeswax by clicking this link.


  1. The amount of essential oils in this recipe is huge. The oils I use are so pure and concentrated that a few drops would work. Two teaspoons, besides being very expensive, would make a salve that would burn the skin.

    • Hi Rinda:) The percentage of essential oils used in this recipe is approximately 20% which is safe to use. Generally anywhere between 10-25% is considered an average range for medicinal purposes. This is the recipe I’ve always used for my family and we’ve never had any problems, burning skin, or reactions. Using the higher quantity of EOs maybe more expensive but it allows the salve to function under the “a little goes a long way” category. Using less would then require a more frequent application in order to be therapeutic. But I do agree that if you have sensitive skin, using less could be option:)

      • This % is not safe for anyone! This is a 20% dilution! Children should never exceed 1%…and the most experienced aromatherapist usually doesn’t recommend anything over .25% for infants. Peppermint essential oil can literally take the breath away of a child under 2…. Maybe 20% for herbal infusions, but not essential oils…YIKES! Essential oils are extremely concentrated and peppermint and clove essential oils are dermal irritants, and should be used with caution on the skin. 5-10% MAX for medicinal use of essential oils (usually by a trained aromatherapist) …and that is with a questionaire of medications, health issues, etc…this could be very dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with health concerns…not to mention the extra work for the liver…..

    • It will depend on how good your oil is. If its the junk you buy at Whole Foods or other stores, you probably would need more. That stuff is not pure (I know it says it is) nor is it good quality, medicinal or therapeutic grade. If it says “do not take internally” you can be sure it is adulterated. It sits in the light on the store shelf for who knows how long, getting weaker each minute. The brown bottles, although better than clear, won’t protect it. I keep all my oils in a case, away from heat and light. I pay more for mine but I know they are organically grown and unadulterated and so pure they can be taken internally. This is one thing you get what you pay for. And comparing the scent of mine to that of, say the NOW or Aura Acacia, theirs smells like chemicals! A bottle of Aura Acacia says do not take internally. Please! If it is good quality, pure oil, most of them can be taken internally. Essential oils falls under cosmetics, not the FDA so they can put pretty much whatever they want on the label (or leave stuff out). In Europe they can’t legally do that; they have to put exactly what is in it, and be able to prove any usage claims. The company that makes the oils I use follows the European guidelines. You get what you pay for! Compare your teaspoon amount to a few drops and you can see which is the better buy….and safer! I would also check the amounts with a certified aromatherapist or a homeopath. Just because it is what you have always used doesn’t make it safe. Some things will build up in your system, or your kid’s system before you have a problem. And if you are using cheap oils (which I can only assume you are) you are not giving your family as healthy a product as you could be which I believe is the point of making homemade. Your percentages are way too high. Plus, if you use a high-grade oil, you don’t need the rub, just apply the oils to the skin which is safe to do with high-quality oils.

    • Stephanie P. says:

      I have to backup the author on this one. I buy high grade essential oils and to mix with olive oil and the bees wax I used a teaspoon of each. I started with a few dashes of each and then kept adding more and more until now to a teaspoon a piece because it just wasn’t strong enough… Also I like the texture of one ounce beeswax per cup olive oil. I made this while family was sick and we compared to Vicks… This is much more affective! Camphor oil, peppermint oil , eucalyptus oil , white thyme oil. Was considering tea tree oil but this concoction is awesome!

  2. I use straight eucalyptus oil in my salve.

  3. is it 1/2 oz or 1 1/2 oz of bees wax?

    • It’s 1/2 an ounce of wax anywhere up to 1 ounce. It really just depends on how hard you like your salve. I tend to use the lesser amount because it makes it more like an ointment and easier to apply:)

  4. Consider Wasabi as an ingredient it works on the nasal passages so it would be of benefit to add to a chest rub to include its warming properties

  5. Great recipe, thank you. I agree with what you said regarding the oil percentages. I would make it full strength an if I ran into someone with sensitive skin or a small child you could always rub their skin down with olive oil first and then the salve to tone it down. Just an idea…

    • And that’s a good idea Mari:) As I said above, I’ve used it on my whole family, children included, without a problem!

  6. I have been looking everywhere for a good one of this! Should of just stopped to ask you Andrea. Thank You for all your work. You will never know how much you have benn helping me out. Now my Dr has taken me off of medications and upping my exercise now. In 2 month we will see how it goes. So again thank you for all of your work.

  7. Liked the post

  8. Andrea (and all) I am new to using essential oils. The only ones I know much about are those that I use and they are very concentrated. Am I right in assuming that different brands will be different strengths? Thank you!

  9. This looks like an awesome recipe, and I hate that vap-o-rub stuff! I’d love it if you linked up this post at my new sustainable living link-up, Small Footprint Fridays!


  10. Thank you for this post Andrea!!! I made the herbal cough syrup that you posted from Rosemary Gladstar and I made a garlic cayenne oxymel this week. Your rub is next on my list!!! You always inspire me. 🙂

  11. Is there a specific reason for using olive oil or could I use coconut oil instead?

    • That’s a great question. I’d like to know, also, if using coconut oil would be a viable alternative.

      • So sorry. Read the comments before watching the well-done video that explained in the first few seconds that any type of oil we have can be used. 🙂 Thank you very much for the clear explanation and the effort you put into the video.

  12. Thank you for this recipe. I have learned so much about commercially made products and what goes into them. I am definitely getting the ingredients to make this up.

  13. I too was about to ask about using an alternative oil. I’m allergic to olives and olive oil. I also use a different wax as I’m allergic to all things bees.

  14. How much Peppermint Leaf and Eucalyptus Leaf do you need to infuse in the Olive Oil? I have never made anything like this and I really want to but would like to know how much to order. Thank you

  15. I love the idea of this salve but I’m very allergic to olive oil. Do you have an alternative?

  16. This is a great idea! I’ll be trying this. I also have an essential oil blend called Breathe which is good for all things respiratory and I’ll use that in the first batch. I think 5 – 10 drops should be enough, but I might have to experiment to see. These will make lovely little gifts. 🙂

  17. You make this sound easier than I thought.

  18. Cindy Goforth says:

    I’m definitely going to try this one when I can afford to order the ingredients. We use so much decongestant salve on the grand- babies. Thank you!

  19. Stephanie Shoaf says:

    I have tried several of these recipes and not been disappointed so will look forward to trying this one.

  20. Brenda Hafer says:

    Will definitely be trying this one!

  21. I’ll try this as soon as I get home! I’ve been experimenting with quite a few things, this decongestant is just in time for the cold season!

  22. I am so excited for this recipe! I cannot wait to try it. I’ve been looking for something safe to use on my munchkin if he gets sick.

  23. Christina says:

    I made an herbal salve to help with bruises, strains, and broken bones! 😀

  24. Hi hun.

    Just wanted to let you know that I featured this on my blog today. I would love it if you could check it out 🙂


    – Adele @ Mammy Made

  25. Hi Andrea,
    This is a good salve, but as a Clinical Aromatherapist I’m concerned about the amount of phenolic essential oils used; specifically the Thyme and Clove Bud. At 20% dilution, eventual skin irritation and sensitization is highly likely.
    I have an aromatherapy school where I teach a 235-hour Clinical Aromatherapy program. When we cover the Phenol chemical family, I make sure the students topical blends contain no more than 1% of phenol-rich essential oils. There are plenty of nice Ketone rich-essential oils that benefit the respiratory system and are less irritating, like Rosemary ct. camphor, Spike Lavender (L. latifolia), Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans), Ravintsara (Cinnamomun camphora), and Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea). A 3-5% blend should be very effective for little ones and adults. (1%= 5-6 drops to 1 oz carrier like Jojoba).
    You have a good salve that, if tweaked a little in the area of oils and dilution, would be effective and safe!
    Warm Regards,
    Liz Fulcher
    Aromatic Wisdom Institute

  26. Claudette says:

    I am allergic to eucalyptus, wondering what other herb I could use in place of it?

  27. Do you have to use eucalyptus? My mom is allergic to it so was wondering if I could leave it out.

  28. This is wrong for an ounce of wax or olive oil, sum it up , you have like a half of cup, maybe a bit more, 30 drops is enough. The amount you posted is just simply ridiculous. I am trained herbalist and it is awful what you giving to people. The idea is good
    Half cup of infused olive oil plus 1/6 part of wax 8 drops of each EO is enough….

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