Learn how to make herbal oil infusions
Herbs are renowned for their ability to soothe rashes, bug bites, minor cuts and other common skin irritations. If you’ve got an herb garden at home or access to herbs at your local market, why not try making herbal oil infusions to add to your family’s medicine chest?
Infusing oil with herbs is a great way to add color, scent, and beneficial properties to natural skin care and soap recipes. As the basis of home skin care recipes starts with good quality oils, adding herbs allows you to enhance the oils and design customized and unique recipes for massage bars, bath melts, lotions, soaps and more. Using homegrown herbs harvested from your own organic garden is a fun way to personalize your products, but you can also purchase bulk herbs from reliable sources that will be just as effective. No matter how you do it, adding herbs to oils make your beauty products uniquely herbalicious!
Once you have chosen the herbs and oils that are beneficial for the project you have in mind, it is time to infuse the herbs into the oils. How to infuse herbs into oil: Hot and Cold Method
There are two primary methods of infusing herbs into a fixed oil. The hot oil infusion method is quick and relatively painless, and the cold infusion method which takes 6-8 weeks. Some believe that the cold infusion method is more medicinally beneficial, but after working with both cold and hot infused oils, each method has its own pro’s and con’s. Personally I use low heat for the first 12 hours, then cap and seal the oils (as long as I am infusing a dry herb and not a fresh herb) and let it sit for an additional 4-6 weeks. The color and fragrance are both so rich when you do it this way that it has become my favorite. You can feel free to decide a favorite method for your self.
The cold infusion method is wonderful for both fresh and dried herbs. Dry herbs tend to make more potent oil and there is less of a chance of rancidity. Fresh herbs have a higher water content, which can lead to rancid oil or mold issues, so special care should be taken when infusing fresh herbs in oil. I tend to usually work with dry herbs, but when herbs like St. John’s wort, arnica, Californian Poppy and chickweed are in season I will definitely make some nice fresh infused oils with them.
Cold Herbal Oil Infusions – Step-By-Step
. What you’ll need:
- Dried, coarsely chopped herbs. Calendula, comfrey, plantain, St. John’s Wort and lavender are popular ingredients for soothing oil infusions. It’s easiest to work with dried herbs, since fresh ones contain water which may lead to rotting or mold.
- Oil. Olive and sunflower oils are good choices. Be sure to use fresh oil so that the infusion will last longer.
- A glass jar. Canning jars work nicely, but any jar with a lid will do.
- A strainer and cheesecloth or fine-weave towel.
- Bottle or jar for storage. Amber glass blocks light and may help your infusion last longer.
How to make herb-infused oil:
- Prepare your jar. Make sure the jar is clean and very dry. Again, any water in the jar can lead to spoilage.
- Fill the jar to the top with herbs.
- Pour oil over the herbs slowly. Using a chopstick or knife, move the herbs around to make sure all air pockets are filled with oil. Add enough oil to completely cover all the herbs, filling right up to the brim of the jar.
- Cover the jar, give it a few shakes, and put it in a cool place inside your house. Every now and then, give your jar a shake. It will be ready to use in 3-6 weeks. The jar may ooze or leak a little, so place it on a plate or towel.
- Strain the oil into your storage bottles through a cloth-lined strainer. Give the herbs a final few squeezes to get the last of that herb-soaked goodness.
- Cork and label your bottles. The oil should last at room temperature for up to a year; two years if you add a capsule or two of vitamin E, a natural preservative.
Hot Herbal Oil Infusions – Step-By-Step
Infusing herbs into oils with heat takes less time, reduces the chances for fresh herbs to turn the oil rancid or moldy, and extracts more volatile oils and color. It is a good choice for a quick project if you just don’t have the time to wait for the cold infusion method. This method is easier for beginners who really enjoy the instant gratification of a job well done.
- Heatproof Mason jar, Pyrex bowl, or double boiler.
- Oil of choice
- Herb of choice (fresh or dry)
- Double boiler or old pot you won’t use for food any more
- Place the herbs in the sanitized jar, bowl, or double boiler as you would in the cold method.
- Pour oil in the jar as you would the cold method, being cautious not to add oils that denature easily in heat like rose hip seed oil – that can be added later after the infusion into the predominate fixed oil is complete.
- Add water to your double boiler or old pot, about 1/3 up the pan. You want to be sure that when the jar is placed in the water, it has water up the sides, but you don’t want any water to come into contact with your oil.
- Place the double boiler or old pot on the stove and turn the stove on low. The water should be steaming but not simmering or boiling. Ideally, you want the water under 80 degrees. Some people can do this in crock pots, but mine runs way too hot, even on low, and burns the herbs, so I don’t use this method.
- Place the jar into the water, being sure no water will get into the jar/bowl. Double boilers don’t have this problem.
- Allow the jars to sit in the warm bath for 12-24 hours, being sure the water never runs low, as that can crack the jar and destroy the herb, and never gets too hot, again avoiding burning the herb.
- Allow the oil to cool to room temperature and strain and storing as described above.
Here is a quick recipe for Fresh Herb Infused Rosemary Oil.
Always start with clean, dry herbs and sterilized jars or bottles. Do not use herbs that show any sign of mold. It is crucial when preserving any type of food that you always follow the processing instructions specified in the recipe and make sure to sterilize jars and other products for canning.
Homemade oils do not stay fresh as long as processed oils, and they will need to be used within a short time after opening. Flavored oils should be used within two months. Straining out the herbs and refrigerating the oil will help the oil last longer. Many gift recipients won’t want to use it up quickly, so be sure to put a “use by” date on the label and remind them the oil won’t stay fresh for long.