Infused oils are my favorite. I love all of the other herbal preparations, but infused oils are what I work with most, being a main ingredient in all of my balms and salves. You can find me on Etsy if you are interested in any of my handmade goodies. Infused oils can be a little tricky when working with fresh plant matter, but I will explain how to do it right, so no worries.
You can easily buy infused oils to make salves, balms, ointments, etc., but there is just something to making it yourself that I can’t quite explain. Not to mention it is cheaper. You can easily pay 3 times as much for infused oil than you would for a plain oil and some herbs bought separately. You save even more money if you harvest the plants yourself.
You can used dried herbs to make infused oil, and it may be an easier way to go for the beginner who is afraid of messing something up. The only plant I will say that needs to be used fresh is St. John’s Wort, as the fresh plant contains hypericin, it’s main medical component, which is diminished in the drying process. Good quality St. John’s Wort oil will be red, colored by the hypericin content. If you are harvesting St. John’s Wort, crush a flower bud between your fingers. If you see red, they are ready for harvest. This is very noticeable as the flowers are bright yellow. If I do a post over this plant I will link it here.
Making an herbal infused oil is much like making a tincture, with one difference. The difference is that oil can go rancid, where alcohol does not. Moisture is the number one thing that can make your oil go rancid, which is always present when using fresh plant matter. BUT there are ways to succeed even if you don’t really know what you are doing.
When using fresh plant matter to make an infused oil, DO NOT use an air tight container. Moisture needs a way to escape, so use something like a rag, muslin cloth, or cheese cloth to keep debris and bugs out, while allowing moisture to escape.
MAKING AN INFUSED OIL:
*There are more than two ways to make an infused oil, but I will explain to two most popular ways to infuse oil: the slow way and the quick way. My preferred method is the slow way, but I know that there is a time and place for all methods, so you can find the quick method after the slow method below.
Infused oils can be used in food if made with edible herbs, in bath and body oils, and salves, balms, ointments, etc. They are very versatile, but it all depends on how you make them. Olive oil is great, especially when making oil to add to food, but the strong scent might not be the best choice for bath or body oil. Avocado oil is also a great choice, as it absorbs readily into the skin and doesn’t leave an oily residue behind. Of course there are many other oils you can choose from.
DO NOT use mineral oil. It is a petroleum-based product and not something you want in your preparations. It has its place, but not here. Your skin is the largest organ of assimilation and elimination, so you need to watch what you put on it. If you wouldn’t eat it, you probably don’t want to put it on your skin either. Think of that next time you go shopping for beauty supplies or other topical things that contain a bunch of chemicals. There is a reason I make a lot of my own products, including deodorant which can contain heavy metals when bought from the store. Of course there are always natural choices, but for the most part, beauty and hygiene products contain chemicals you shouldn’t put on your body when bought commercially.
When using fresh plant matter, if you are worried about moisture, you can fresh wilt them by spreading the plants out in a single layer, out of direct sunlight, for several hours. They are ready when they look limp. If using dried herbs, make sure they are high-quality. Herbs can be affected by different drying methods, some of which can be damaging to the very things you want to infuse your oil with. Slow and heat-less drying is preferred. Using heat is what damages the plant. NEVER try that ridiculous “herbs in brown paper bag in the microwave” method some of you may have heard of.
SLOW METHOD (Solar Method):
-Chop herbs into a wide-mouthed jar and cover with an inch or two of oil. Use a chopstick to poke down into jar and gets air bubbles out. Add more oil if needed to keep at least an inch over the top of the herbs.
-If using fresh plants, cover with a breathable lid, something like a rag with a rubber band to hold it in place. This allows moisture to escape and prevents your oil from molding. You can use a regular lid if using dried plant matter.
-Place jar in a windowsill or other sunny spot for 2-6 weeks. I prefer at least 4 weeks, but it is up to you. Just keep an eye on it and make sure it isn’t going bad on you. During the winter months, you may want to go 6 or 8 weeks, but any longer than that and your aren’t doing anything but wasting time. You can only draw out so many constituents in a single batch of herbs.
-Shake or stir every few days. Some people like to infuse oils with prayers and good intentions as well during this process. You do you.
-Strain out the herbs, bottle and label. (You can repeat this method with a fresh batch of herbs in the same oil to make it stronger it you want.)
**According to Rosemary Gladstar’s book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, while the herbs are infusing, the oil won’t go rancid (unless there is moisture to cause mold), but once the herbs are strained out, the oil is susceptible to go rancid over time. She isn’t sure why this is other than maybe something to do with the antioxidants in the herbs that are present with the actual plant matter, but who knows.
QUICK METHOD (Double Boiler Method):
*For the quick method, you will need a double boiler and a thermometer if you really want to get the best quality from this method. If your oil gets too hot, it can destroy properties in the plant that you really want. A double boiler helps keep your oil from overheating and scorching or deep frying your herbs.
-Chop your herbs and put in the top of the double boiler.
-Cover herbs with an inch or two of your oil of choice.
-Slowly bring to a light simmer. You should only have a few bubbles rising. Do not bring to a rapid boil or overheat. 95-110 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Simmer for 30-60 minutes, checking the temperature frequently and adjusting when needed. The lower the heat and the longer the infusion, the better the oil. It is done when the oil looks and smells like the herb and takes on a green or golden color, depending on herb choice. St. John’s Wort should be red. You can mix herbs as well, so experiment!
-Strain herbs using a stainless-steel strainer lined with cheese cloth. Discard spent herbs and let oil cool.
-Bottle up and label. Don’t label jar until you have poured oil in so you can clean the jar. Oil stained labels aren’t that big of a deal, but neat labels look better on the shelf.
Many herbs, when infused in oil, can be used in food, whether it be in salad dressings or as cooking oils along with topical use. Know your plants, as some should not be ingested.
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Emma Lee Joy