by Alison Sheehan, 2014
Herbal oils are for a variety of uses. Once an oil has been infused with herbs, the properties of the herbs are in the oil and can be delivered directly to the skin.
Chamomile flowers infused into oil are a wonderful ingredient in creams and lotions. They are soothing to the skin and help calm itching and dryness.
Calendula flowers are another wonderful, calming ingredient. Basic salve made with Calendula is a wonderful product to prevent diaper rash!
To make an herbal oil there are two methods:
Method One: Sun Infusion
Gather enough plant material to fill a jar loosely. The plant material can be gathered fresh from the garden and allowed to wilt a bit, then ground up, or you can use dried plant material. Either way, grind the material in small bits.
Put all the plant material into a large glass jar with a tight lid. Now, fill the jar with oil to the absolute top. It is critical that no space be left for moisture to accumulate as this can grow mold and destroy your oil!
Once the jar is sealed, place it in the garden on a flat stone where it will get as much sun light each day as possible. The sun light will, over the course of time, infuse the oil with the properties of the herbs.
Leave the the jar in the sun for 4-6 weeks, shaking periodically to make sure no air pockets are in the jar preventing equal saturation of the plant material by the oil.
The heat is what is actually infusing the oil. As you can imagine, leaving the jar out in the summer sun for 4-6 weeks would mean many days worth of heating up and cooling down at night.
After the time has elapsed, remove the plant material and strain the oil into a clean glass jar for use as needed. I add a little pure Vitamin E as a preservative to keep my herbal oils from growing 'fuzzies'. If mold or fuzzy bits grow, discard the oil as it should not be used at that point.
Method Two: Double Boiler
The above method is fun and makes extremely good oil. Most of us these days don't have the leisure time however to wait 4-6 weeks for our skin care products!
To make an herbal oil faster - follow the instructions above up to the part about the glass jar with the tight lid. Instead of placing the herbs and oils into a jar, put them into a double boiler. Set it on low and keep the water replenished underneath the oil for at least and hour or two.
The oil in the double boiler will never actually boil, so the precious volatile oils in the plant will be retained in your oil.
After removing the oil from the double boiler, allow it to cool thoroughly, then decant the plant material from the oil, straining the oil into a large, clean glass jar. It can now be used as needed for salves, creams or lotions. I still add Vitamin E oil to my oils to increase shelf life.
Another thing that will increase shelf life is refrigeration if possible, however the oils will last well on a cool, dark shelf.
Note: Herbal oils will keep for approximately one year. After one year, the properties of the plant will begin to diminish sharply, making the oil far less effective. This is also true of dried herbs. All your fresh products should be made with the idea of discarding unused portions shortly after one year.