Most of us are familiar with using herbs for cooking or in a nice steaming mug of tea; however the uses for medicinal plants go far beyond tea bags and dried out bottles of oregano. One of the easiest and more versatile uses for herbs is in the making of infused oils.
An infused oil is created when you use a carrier oil to extract an herb’s fat soluble properties. The oil, which had its own unique benefits, becomes infused with the benefits of the herb. The infused oils that you make can be used for a variety of purposes, which I will talk about a little later on. First let’s start with the basics.
Also called vegetable oils or base oils, carrier oils are the backbone of your infused oil. They are derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually the seed, kernel, or nut. Each type of oil has its own unique benefits and properties. The list of possible oils you can use is extensive and depending on what you want to use your infused oil for, some work better than others. Below you find a short list of some of the more common and popular oils to use. Once you become familiar with these, you can explore the wide range of carrier oils that are out there.
Botanical name: Olea europaea
Colour: Light/medium green
Aroma: Smells lightly of olives
Absorption/Feel: Absorption rate is average, leaves a slightly oily feeling on the skin
Probably the most versatile and easiest to find of all the carrier oils. Can be used for almost any application (including culinary), but due to its thick and oily texture, it is often not the preferred choice for skin care and cosmetic uses. An excellent oil to experiment with for those who are new to infused oils. When purchasing, ensure that it is virgin and cold-pressed.
Sweet Almond Oil
Botanical name: Prunus amygdalus
Colour: Pale/golden yellow
Aroma: Light, sweet and nutty
Absorption/Feel: Absorption rate is semi-quickly, leaves only a slight hint of oil on the skin
Yet another popular choice, especially for cosmetic uses (such as lip glosses, hand creams etc.) It is a great emollient, absorbing well into the skin leaving it feeling soft and conditioned. Because it is high in proteins, omega fatty acids, and vitamin D, it is extremely nourishing for dry and irritated skin.
Botanical name: Vitus vinifera
Colour: Clear to light green
Aroma: Virtually odourless (only slightly nutty and sweet)
Absorption/Feel: Absorption rate is quick, leaving a satin-like, glossy feel
Commonly used in cosmetics, massage therapy, and aromatherapy. It is the preferred oil of massage therapists due to its light and almost glossy like finish. Because grapeseed oil has some astringent properties, it’s good for oily and acne prone skin. Just as a note of caution – grapeseed oil is sometimes solvent extracted as opposed to cold-pressed – watch out for that.
Botanical name: Simmondsia chinensis
Colour: Golden yellow to light brown
Aroma: Light and soft, but pleasant odour
Absorption/Feel: Absorbs extremely well
Technically jojoba oil is a liquid wax. It is rich in vitamin E and very closely resembles the oil that our skin produces (sebum). Due to its extremely stable shelf-life, it is a preferred choice of cosmetic and skin care products. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, jojoba is an excellent choice for inflamed, oil and acne prone skin.
Botanical name: Persea americana
Colour: Ranges from yellow to deep olive green
Aroma: Sweet, fatty, and nutty
Absorption/Feel: Leaves a fatty and waxy feel on the skin
Extremely nourishing to the skin and hair, it is often added to other carrier oils to increase the protein and vitamin amounts. Due to its thick texture, it is an excellent choice for hair care, soaps, and lotions.
The list of herbs that you can use to make infused oils is massive. Once you decide what you’re going to use your infused oils for, you can easily narrow down the list of possibilities.
Culinary Infused Oils
Making your own infused olive oils for cooking purposes is easy to do and lots of fun. Herbs like rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), oregano (Origanum vulgare), marjoram (Origanum majorana), basil (Ocimum basilicum) and dill (Anethum graveolens) make delicious infused oils. They can used for salad dressings, cooking, condiments or a dip for bread.
Healing Herbal Infused Oil
There are many local herbs that have amazing healing properties. Your completed infused oil can be used as an ointment, or it can become the base of salves, aromatherapy massage oils and creams.
The following herbs are excellent for cuts, bites, scrapes, stings and other injuries.
- Blue violet (Viola sororia)
- Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
- Heal-all/Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
- Mallow herb (Malva neglecta)
- Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
- Mullein (Verbasacum thapsus)
- Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
- Plantain (Plantago spp.)
- Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Yellow bedstraw (Galium verum)
Essential oils are excellent additions to infused oils. They are often added to massage oils to impart aromatherapy benefits, but they are also useful in cases of infections or injuries. Oils like eucalyptus and tea tree are great for chest rubs, colds, flu and other respiratory conditions. Lavender, chamomile and rosemary are excellent for bruises, sprains, strains and general muscle aches. For infected cuts, bites and wounds you can use lavender, peppermint and tea tree essential oils. For stress, anxiety, depression or exhaustion try adding bergamot, clary sage, rosemary or lavender to your massage oil.
Essential oils are much more potent and concentrated than infused oils. To avoid skin irritations and possible burns, it is important to use them sparingly. The general rule for adding essential oils is 1 drop for every 2mL of carrier oil. That means if you have 10mL of infused almond oil, you will add no more than 5 drops total of essential oils. The word “total” is key here. If you are using more than one essential oil (e.g. tea tree and lavender), it is 5 drops of all of those oils combined. Please remember that this is just a general rule. Not all essential oils are created equal. For example, you may add 5 drops of lavender to an infused oil, but 5 drops of cinnamon is a whole other story. To keep things simple stick to the essential oils listed above and only use them on adults. If you wish to branch out from those, purchase some good books on aromatherapy and essential oils.
HOW TO MAKE AN INFUSED OIL
Regardless of what type of carrier oil and herbs you are using, the basic procedure for making an infused oil remains mostly the same. The major differences are between the use of dried or fresh herbs. Although fresh herbs are often more potent and preferred, they can be tricky. If this is your first infused oil, try experimenting on a dried herb first before progressing to the fresh ones.
What You Need
- Two clean and sanitary jars (dark glass is preferable, but anything with a lid will do)
- Carrier oil
- Herb (dried or fresh)
- Chopstick (optional)
- Motor and pestle (optional)
- Cheese cloth
- Large bowl
- Label and pen
Procedure – Dried Herbs
When using dried herbs it is preferable (but not necessary) to pound the herbs in a motor and pestle before placing them in the jar. Fill your jar with the dried herb, just slightly below the rim. Pour the carrier oil into the jar, covering all of the herb material. Then using your chopstick or knife, poke around the jar to release any air bubbles. After ensuring all the herbs are covered with oil, tightly screw on the lid. Label your jar with the type of carrier oil used, the name of the herb and the date. Your infused oil should be kept in a cool, dark place, away from heat and magnetic sources (i.e. microwave, fridge and stove). You should leave your herbs macerating (sitting in the oil) for at least six weeks before decanting. Dried herbs can sit macerating for longer periods of time than fresh herb infused oils.
Once you are ready to filter the herbs place a piece of cheese cloth over a strainer. With the strainer sitting on a large bowl, pour the herbs and oil. Once most of the oil is filtered through the strainer, wrap the herbal material with the cheese cloth and wring out as much excess oil as you can. It’s a messy job, but someone has to do it! I like to strain my oil a second time before placing it into a new, clean jar. Once again label the filtered oil and store in a cool, dark place (or the refrigerator).
Procedure – Fresh Herbs
Ensure your herbs are thorough washed and dried. Coarsely chop your herbs with your knife. Fill your jar with the herb, just slightly below the rim. Pour the carrier oil into the jar, covering all the herb material. Then using your chopstick (or knife), poke around the jar, releasing any air bubbles. After ensuring all the herbs are covered with oil, tightly screw on the lid. Label the jar with the type of carrier oil used, the name of the herb and the date. Store your macerating infused oil in a cool, dark place, away from heat and magnetic sources (i.e. microwave, fridge and stove).
Making fresh herb infused oils can be tricky, due to the water content that fresh herbs have. You will want to decant and filter your infused oil after about six weeks. Although you can wait longer, the risk of mold and mildew increases. If your oil has gone rotten or mouldy (the smell will give it away), discard everything. If your oil smells fine you can continue with the filtering.
Place a piece of cheese cloth over a strainer. Place the strainer in a bowl and pour out the herbs and oil. When the majority of the oil is filtered through the strainer, wrap the herb material in the cheese cloth and wring out any remaining oil. Strain your oil a second time before placing it in a clean and dry jar. Ensure that you label this jar as well, with the carrier oil, herb and date.
Allow the decanted oil to sit in cool and dark place for several days. This will allow any remaining water to settle to the bottom of the jar. Then carefully pour off the oil into another jar, leaving the water behind to discard. This step is often forgotten, but the water remaining in the filtered infused oil could cause the growth of mold or cause the oil to go rancid. After removing the remaining water, store your infused oil in a cool, dark place (or the refrigerator).
Most natural health food stores will carry pretty much everything you need to make your first infused oils. Once you get the hang of the procedure you may want to make infused oils in larger quantities. Here is a list of some great companies that can help you with supplies.
For carrier oils, essential oils and bottles:
For dried herbs, look for a retailer that sells:
- If you can’t find these suppliers, go with anything that is wild harvested (preferably) and organic.
Another option for both dried and fresh herbs:
- Their dried herbs are expensive, but you can buy them in small quantities.
- Fantastic herbal seeds, potted plants and plug trays/packs if you want to grow your own herbs.
For bottles in very large quantities:
Consolidated Bottle Company – Toronto