Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to Make Herbal-Infused Oils

Making herbal-infused oils is a great way to add properties of an herb to an oil, such as for their color, their medicinal properties, or for their scents. Herbal oils can be used on their own, or they can be used in various body products. There are numerous ways to prepare herbal-infused oils, and individuals each have their own ways and opinions on how to make herbal oils. Keep in mind that herbal-infused oils are not the same as essential oils, and cannot be used interchangeably. When making an herbal oil, it is best to use a stable oil that will not go rancid quickly, and the ideal choice is usually cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. If you are making an herbal oil with an oil that is less stable, such as almond oil, then the infused oil will need to be used more quickly. Here, I will introduce you to a few different methods on how to make herbal-infused oils. Enjoy!

Herbal-Infused Oils with Dried Herbs
Adapted from Dina Falconi's directions in Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, p. 222

Making herbal oils with dried herbs is a great way to begin learning how to make herbal-infused oils. Because dry herbs contain little or no water, they are much less susceptible to spoilage as compared to infused oils made with fresh herbs.
  1. Add 1 oz. of herb by weight to a clean and completely dry glass jar with a tight lid.
  2. Pour 4 fl. oz. of oil over the herbs in the jar. If infusing a fluffy and voluminous herb, such as chamomile or calendula, add 5-6 fl. oz. of oil instead of the 4 fl. oz.
  3. Stir the contents of the jar well until the herbs are completely saturated with the oil, then tightly cover the lid. Label the jar with the date and contents.
  4. Try to shake the jar daily, as the agitation helps to maximize the release of the herbal properties into the oil. Placing the jar in the oven with the pilot light on can be helpful, as the warmth helps to encourage the extraction process. Steep the oils for 6 weeks or longer.
  5. After steeping the oil, strain the oil by placing a strainer lined with a thin cloth, such as cheesecloth, over a bowl, and pour the contents of the jar into the cloth-lined strainer.
  6. Gather the ends of the cloth together and squeeze out any remaining oil from the herbs. The more you squeeze, the more oil you will get. However, even after thoroughly squeezing out the oil, expect a loss of ~20-30% of the oil, because some oil is absorbed by the plant material.
  7. Store the oil in a clean and dry glass jar with a tight lid. Store the jar in a cool, dark, and dry place. Depending on the oil used, herbal-infused oils may last for several months, and sometimes years.
Alkanet root-infused extra-virgin olive oil, made with dried alkanet root. I can't wait to make some lip balms with this red-tinted oil! Annatto seeds can also be used to infuse oils, giving them a yellow-orange shade.

Herbal-Infused Oils with Fresh Herbs
Information adapted from Dina Falconi, in Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, p. 222-223

More care needs to be taken when making herbal-infused oils with fresh herbs, because the water content of fresh herbs makes these infused oils more susceptible to spoilage. Rotten smells are a sign that the oil has gone bad, and if this happens, the entire contents need to be thrown out and you will need to start over. If the infused oil grows mold but the oil still smells good, you can attempt to save the oil by removing the moldy part, and adding more oil to keep the herbs submerged. Thus, it is sometimes easier to make herbal-infused oils with dried herbs rather than fresh herbs, because spoilage is much less likely. However, keep in mind that St. John's Wort oil needs to be prepared with the fresh plant, in order to obtain its healing properties. For plants that have a high moisture content or protein content, it may be easier to dry them for a few days before using them to make an infused oil, or to make these infused-oils using a heat method.

Directions for Making Herbal-Infused Oils with Fresh Herbs, Without Heat
Adapted from Dina Falconi's directions in Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, p. 223
  1. Fill a clean and completely dry glass jar with fresh herbs, loosely packing them in.
  2. Pour oil over the herbs until all of the herbs are submerged, so that none of the plant material is exposed to the air.
  3. Cap and label the jar with the date and contents.
  4. Place the jar in a bowl, just in case oil seeps over the edges of the jar.
  5. Try to shake the jar daily, as the agitation helps to maximize the release of the herbal properties into the oil. Placing the jar in the oven with the pilot light on can be helpful, as the warmth encourages the extraction process. Steep the oils for 6 weeks or longer.
  6. After steeping the oil, strain the oil by placing a strainer lined with a thin cloth, such as cheesecloth, over a bowl, and pour the contents of the jar into the cloth-lined strainer.
  7. Gather the ends of the cloth together and squeeze out any remaining oil from the herbs. The more you squeeze, the more oil you will get.
  8. Let the strained oil sit for a few days, which allows the water from the fresh herbs to collect at the bottom of the jar.
  9. Pour off the oil into a clean and dry jar with a tight-fitting lid, and discard the liquid that has collected at the bottom. If the water isn't separated out, the oil may spoil.
  10. Store the oil in a cool, dark, and dry place. Depending on the oil used, herbal-infused oils may last for several months, and sometimes years.
Making Herbal-Infused Oils with Heat

Making herbal-infused oils with heat is an excellent method for infusing herbs that contain a lot of moisture or protein. Heating the oil helps to evaporate water from the fresh herbs, which discourages spoilage of the oil. Making herbal oils with heat can also be used for dried herbs to speed up the infusion process, and sometimes yields a more potent oil.

Directions 1
Adapted from Dina Falconi's directions in Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, p. 223
  1. Place the herb and oil filled jar (following the proportions in the other directions above), uncovered, on a heat source that doesn't exceed 125 degrees F. Keeping the jar uncovered encourages the water from the herbs to evaporate. The heat source may be, for example, a radiator, warming tray, or whatever will offer consistent, gentle heat. You can also place the jar in a water bath of an electric cooking pot or slow cooker set on low. However, if their lowest heat settings are above 125 degrees F, you may need to turn it on and off throughout the day to adjust the temperature. If you don't have a thermometer to check the temperature, feel the oil to make sure it isn't too hot. Oil at 125 degrees should be cool enough to touch without burning yourself, although if you continue to touch the oil for a few seconds, it should feel a little too hot for comfort.
  2. Infuse the herb and oil mixture for 10 days.
  3. Strain the oil by placing a strainer lined with a thin cloth, such as cheesecloth, over a bowl, and pour the contents of the jar into the cloth-lined strainer.
  4. Gather the ends of the cloth together and squeeze out any remaining oil from the herbs. The more you squeeze, the more oil you will get.
  5. If infusing fresh herbs: let the strained oil sit for a few days, which allows the water from the fresh herbs to collect at the bottom of the jar. Pour off the oil into a clean and dry jar with a tight-fitting lid, and discard the liquid that has collected at the bottom. If the water isn't separated out, the oil may spoil.
  6. Store the oil in a clean and dry glass jar with a tight lid. Store the jar in a cool, dark, and dry place. Depending on the oil used, herbal-infused oils may last for several months, and sometimes years.
Directions 2
Adapted from Rosemary Gladstar's directions in Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, p. 383-384
  1. Place the herbs and oil (following the proportions in the other directions above) in a double boiler and bring to a low simmer.
  2. Slowly heat for 30-60 min., checking frequently to ensure the oil is not overheating. The lower the heat, the longer the infusion, the better the oil.
  3. Strain the oil by placing a strainer lined with a thin cloth, such as cheesecloth, over a bowl, and pour the contents of the jar into the cloth-lined strainer.
  4. Gather the ends of the cloth together and squeeze out any remaining oil from the herbs. The more you squeeze, the more oil you will get.
  5. If infusing fresh herbs: let the strained oil sit for a few days, which allows the water from the fresh herbs to collect at the bottom of the jar. Pour off the oil into a clean and dry jar with a tight-fitting lid, and discard the liquid that has collected at the bottom. If the water isn't separated out, the oil may spoil.
  6. Store the oil in a clean and dry glass jar with a tight lid. Store the jar in a cool, dark, and dry place. Depending on the oil used, herbal-infused oils may last for several months, and sometimes years.
Solar-Infused Oil for Dry or Fresh Herbs
Adapted from Rosemary Gladstar's directions in Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, p. 383
    1. Place the herb and oil filled jar (following the proportions in the other directions above), tightly covered, in a warm and sunny spot.
    2. Shaking the jar daily helps to maximize the release of the herbal properties into the oil. Let the oil steep for 2 weeks.
    3. Strain the oil by placing a strainer lined with a thin cloth, such as cheesecloth, over a bowl, and pour the contents of the jar into the cloth-lined strainer. Gather the ends of the cloth together and squeeze out any remaining oil from the herbs. The more you squeeze, the more oil you will get.
    4. Add a fresh batch of herbs to the oil and infuse for 2 more weeks, following the same directions as described in steps 1-2.
    5. Strain the oil again as described in step 3. This will give you a very potent medicinal oil.
    6. If infusing fresh herbs: let the strained oil sit for a few days, which allows the water from the fresh herbs to collect at the bottom of the jar. Pour off the oil into a clean and dry jar with a tight-fitting lid, and discard the liquid that has collected at the bottom. If the water isn't separated out, the oil may spoil.
    7. Store the oil in a clean and dry glass jar with a tight lid. Store the jar in a cool, dark, and dry place. Depending on the oil used, herbal-infused oils may last for several months, and sometimes years.
    Sources:
    1. Falconi, Dina. Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair. Woodstock, NY: Ceres Press, 1998, p. 221-223.
    2. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2008, p. 383-384.

    2 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    thanks for the info...wondering if oil can be added to solar method after it is already made? I made a nettle nasal oil but feel it may have turned out too strong and I'd like to dilute it.
    Thank you

    Annabelle Ho said...

    @Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment! It is perfectly fine to dilute the oil if it comes out too strong. If you have a lot of the concentrated oil, you may want to keep it as is since that will be easier for storage purposes. Then dilute as much oil as you need accordingly.