Making Herbal Oil
Because you grow herbs, you cook with them. Realizing that they are good medicine as well, you drink them in teas. Soon, you discover an herbal massage oil, or soap, or salve and then you're done for. Herbs have taken hold of your soul and there's nothing for it but to become a modern herbalist.
One interesting tidbit about herbal techniques is that they have changed relatively little in thousands of years. We still employ herbs and herb mixtures, in teas, decoctions, tinctures, syrups, cordials, oils, salves, wines, vinegars, poultices, and incense. As a gardener and a romantic, I find the prospect of making fragrant, tasty, and medicinal potions more than irresistable.
So I decided to make herbal oil. I had been using a massage oil infused with St. Johns Wort and Lemon Balm for a few months, and had loved the fragrance and texture. So when it came time to prune back the scented leaf geranium, I decided to use the leaves to make a scented massage oil. Luckily, I had just purchased a copy of Herbal Home Remedies by Joyce A. Wardwell from Storey Books. She led me through the process of making my first herbal oil.
You will need:
8 oz. vegetable oil (olive, almond, or grapeseed)
3/4 cup fresh herbs, chopped
2 tbsp. high octane vodka (100 proof or better)
A widemouth pint mason jar
You can use many different herbs for your oil: mint will be anti-bacterial and cooling, lemon balm will be relaxing, thyme will be anti-bacterial and healing, and geranium, the herb I chose, will be uplifting and balancing. Get a good medicinal herb guide for specific properties of herb plants.
How to Make the Oil:
- Clean, thoroughly dry, and roughly chop the herbs of your choice (you can blend, but the fewer the better). Allow chopped herbs to sit in a bowl overnight to allow some moisture to evaporate. Failure to follow this short drying process could result in moldy oil from excess water.
- Place herbs in the mason jar, and add oil to cover. Add two tablespoons of vodka and close the jar. Shake vigorously.
- Reopen the jar and poke the resulting mixture with a chopstick to release air bubbles trapped below, and to insure that herbs are covered with oil.
- Place four levels of cheesecloth over the jar, and fix with a rubber band. Don't put the mason jar lid down as you want air to reach the oil as it infuses with the herb.
- Put the jar in a warm place such as a heat register or warm sunny window. Let sit for two weeks.
- After two weeks, strain the oil into a glass measuring cup through a strainer, and after all the oil has dripped through, pour the strained oil slowly into a glass storage jar (or the original mason jar) until just before the last ounce is poured. Look at the remaining oil. If there are streaks or bubbles, that's trapped water, and you don't want to decant that into your final oil. Pour off all the oil you can, and throw away remaining sediment and water.
The oil you produce from this method should be semi-clear to lightly cloudy, and strongly fragrant. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. It makes a great massage oil, allowing the gentle essence of the herbs to enter your system through your skin as therapeutic massage. You can rub it on sore muscles, dry skin, hands, scalp, and anywhere else that needs it. Obviously, it's a good idea to avoid sensitive areas like eyes, mouth, and groin...
And that's all there is to it. You can make any number of herbal oils, depending on what herbs you happen to have going and what you need them for. You'll enjoy getting in touch with the power of plants.