INFUSED OILS

Having a good stock of infused (or ‘macerated’) herbal oils is more or less essential. Often they can be used on their own, perhaps with an essential oil or two added. Infused oils can be made from dried herbs, but always try to take the opportunity to use fresh herbs – cheaper and so much better. Never underestimate the value of a good herbal oil on the skin – there’s often no need to do anything more complicated. However, they’re also commonly combined in more complex external preparations such as ointments and creams.

It’s a common question to ask what vegetable oil to use for making infused oils. In essence we require three major things from a fixed oil: that it’s stable enough to be heated without degrading too much; that it’s light enough to spread well; and it’s not too smelly or otherwise unpleasant to use. Olive oil is particularly stable and can stand moderate heating, is nourishing, cooling in temperament and has good spreading qualities (but can cause the user to smell like salad dressing!) Where your chosen herb is particularly delicate, such as lemon balm, or where you want to show off the colour, such as Marigold, Sunflower oil is light, stable & cheap. Always use organic oils, as pesticides tend to be fat-soluble. If you want to use cold-pressed oils, take into account they can be expensive, some of their benefits can be lost on heating, and they are more likely to invite infection. On the other hand, they will be absorbed better and if used later to incorporate into creams will emulsify better. The choice is yours!

To infuse herbs, they will need to be comminuted in the same fashion as for making tinctures – this is largely a matter of common sense. Petals, flowers, seeds and small leaves may be infused whole. Larger leaves, stems, etc. should be chopped fairly coarsely – a fine mulch will not mix well enough with the oil to infuse properly, and will increase the chances of the whole thing going rancid. For the same reason, never pack in the herbal material tightly – let it find its own space.

Whatever method you use, you will need to filter the oil before bottling. First pass through a kitchen sieve, then either through a paper coffee filter, or place a ball of cotton wool not too tightly at the base of the cone of a suitably large funnel for the oil to seep through (start by pouring gently, otherwise the cotton wool will simply float to the top). Either method can easily block with debris after a while, so you may need to use a fresh filter paper or wodge of cotton wool from time to time.

There is always a potential for herbal oils to go rancid or ‘off’, particularly if you’re using fresh herbs – the oil has become infected, either whilst it’s being infused, or later during storage. Here are some tips:-

  • When using bulky fresh herbs, allow them to wilt in a warm place for 2-12 hours to reduce the water content before proceeding. (But be careful with aromatic herbs that you don’t loose too many volatiles this way).
  • When using the sun infusion method, it will help to place a teaspoon or two of salt at the bottom of the jar, which will absorb any settling water.
  • The final product should be clear – if it’s cloudy, there’s water in it, so heat gently to evaporate it off.
  • If you’re worried, heating the final product (made by whatever method) to 70°C for 20 minutes will effectively sterilise it.
  • Check your oils in stock often. If any water globules or debris settle at the bottom, decant the oil off from it before it’s too late. If the oil develops an ‘off’ smell, discard it and learn from experience.

Sun Infusion Method

Steeping herbal oils in the sunshine is a wonderful and magical process – the classic product, and also the most unproblematical, is the famous St John’s Wort Red Oil. Partially fill a large glass jar (an old confectioner’s sweet jar is ideal) with organic olive oil, or sunflower oil if you prefer. Pick fresh St John’s Wort tops in full flower, complete with a few distal leaves, and drop them in – don’t pack too tight, let them find their own space, and do make sure the herb is fully covered by the oil. Shake or tap the jar to remove any trapped air bubbles. If you don’t have much of a supply of the herb, there’s no reason why it can’t be topped up until full over a period of a few days. Screw on the lid and leave the jar on a sunny windowsill (or just out in the garden – why not!) for at least two weeks until your green olive oil and yellow flowers have produced an amazing blood-red oil. Strain, filter and bottle. For a more concentrate result, you can simply strain the oil and return it to the jar, adding a second batch of fresh flowering tops to steep in the sun again, before proceeding to the filtration stage.

The sun infusion method is only used for fresh herbs, and is then only suitable for very light material with a low water content – it’s commonly also used for Mullein flowers, Lemon Balm leaves, and Pot Marigold petals (whole Marigold flower heads must be wilted first to avoid problems).

Water Bath Method

This method is suitable to infuse both dried or fresh herbs – if using fresh herbs, consider wilting the herb first to reduce water content. Use a double boiler (bain marie) or a porringer. Place the herb in the upper pan with sunflower or olive oil, enough to cover by about 2cms. Heat at a gentle simmer for an hour. Strain out the herb and repeat the process with a fresh batch of the herb.

Another method, particularly if infusing aromatic herbs, is to seal the herb & oil in a tin (a stainless steel Indian ‘tiffin tin’ is ideal if you can find one) and heat in a water bath for several hours.

In either case, finish when cool by straining, filtering and bottling. If the result is cloudy it contains water, so reheat at about 70°C for long enough for it to clear.

Oven Method

This is an easy and reliable method when using fresh or dried herbs that have little in the way of aromatic constituents – Comfrey leaf and Marigold flower oils are often produced this way. Place the herb, chopped if necessary, in an unlidded pan with enough oil to cover. Bring to simmering point on the hob and then transfer (carefully!) to the oven at approx 150°C – just enough to simmer very gently. Check from time to time until the herb has been completely crisped – evidence that all the water in the herb has evaporated off. When cool enough to handle, strain, filter and bottle. The result often smells as if it’s been slightly burnt, but this clears after a few days.

COLD MIXED OILS

Herbal oils are often effective therapeutically, particularly if essential oils are incorporated, without going to the trouble of more complex preparations – they are easy to apply, versatile, are absorbed well and are popular with patients. Often you will mix something up on the spot for an individual’s needs, but it’s handy to have a few stock mixtures for commonly encountered conditions. Here’s some tried and tested examples, although you’ll probably want to devise your own variations. You may be tempted to include infused oils – but oils are often applied to large areas directly under clothing, and most infused oils will stain.

Vapour Rub

Used for application to the chest wall (including the back!) for coughs and pulmonary infections. For colds, upper respiratory infections & ‘swollen glands’ it can additionally be applied to the neck, extending up behind the ears.

VO Sunflower

900

ml
EO Thyme

25

ml
EO Camphor, Eucalyptus, Pine aa

20

ml
EO Peppermint

15

ml

For young children, dilute with an additional 50% Sunflower oil.

Vapour rub can be applied at intervals throughout the day (if you don’t smell of it, it’s time to apply some more), massaging or rubbing it in thoroughly. It’s particularly useful to apply thoroughly at bedtime, when it will help to promote a restful and healing night’s sleep.

O/A Oil

Short for ‘Osteoarthritis Oil’, (not Old Age!) this is also useful for muscle and joint injuries, rheumatism, overworked muscles, sprains & strains, etc. Liniments such as this are seldom appropriate for rheumatoid arthritis, and should also be avoided if the skin is broken or bruised.

VO Sunflower oil

875

ml
EO Camphor

50

ml
EO Juniper, Thyme aa

25

ml
EO Peppermint

15

ml
EO Wintergreen

10

ml

Apply as required, working it in vigorously.                            

Insect Repellant

This will repel most stinging/biting insects, and is particularly valuable when travelling abroad. It’s recommended to apply in the region all exposed surfaces at regular intervals, e.g. ankles, wrists & neck, assuming you would remain otherwise well covered by clothing in high-risk environments.

VO Sunflower

100

ml
EO Citronella, Basil aa

20

gutte
EO Lavender

40

gutte

Massage Blend

Everybody who uses massage has their own favourite single or blended base oils to work with. This one is inexpensive, being mostly sunflower oil. It’s designed to be nutritive, give good lubrication in economical volumes, and is waxy enough to remain ‘open’ for the duration. You can add your own essential oils to make a stock preparation, but it’s more common to keep a stock vegetable oil base like this to which essential oils are added for individual needs.

VO Sunflower oil

600

ml
VO Grapeseed oil

200

ml
VO Hemp Seed oil

175

ml
VO Jojoba

25

ml

Nourishing Oil

A good, high quality mixed vegetable oil containing multiple nutrients, and applied little-and-often, can often provide the solution to dry eczema without the need for any other external treatment at all. An example is: -

VO Hemp seed

40

ml
VO Rosehip seed, Jojoba aa

15

ml
VO Evening Primrose, Borage, Avocado aa

10

ml
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