Herb infused oils are a great way to extract the potent medicine from herbs for use in soaps, salves, lotions and massage oils. While teas extract herbs in water for us to take internally, oil do the same work extracting medicinal compounds for use externally. A bit of dried herb and a carrier oil such as olive oil, grape seed oil or jojoba is all you need to get started.
What to infuse depends on how you intend to use the oil. Some infused oils are perfect for direct application, and in my house we keep a bit of calendula infused jojoba oil around for chapped skin and irritation. Fragrant herbs like lavender are great for creating bath oils and exfoliating sugar scrubs. Arnica flower infused oil makes the perfect massage oil for treating sore muscles.
How to Make Herb Infused Oils
Start with a clean, very dry jar. Fill the jar with herbs of your choice, leaving at least 2 inches of headspace at the top of the jar. Be sure to use dried herbs, as moisture in fresh herbs will cause the oil to go rancid.
It can help to chop the herbs, or grind them with a mortar and pestle to increase the surface area exposed to the oil. This will allow more of the herbal constituents to infuse.
Fill the jar with oil, covering the herbs by at least 1 inch and leaving an inch of headspace. As the herbs absorb some of the oil, you may need to add more oil later to keep the herbs covered, so this extra space is essential.
Stir the oil and herb mixture and cap the jar tightly.
How you infuse the oil depends on how long you’re willing to wait.
Traditional Method: Place the jar with your oil and herb mixture on a warm, sunny windowsill. Allow the oil to infuse for 3 to 6 weeks.
Quicker Method: Adding a bit of heat can speed the process along, but be careful not to allow the temperature to rise too high or you’ll cook your herbs and destroy their medicinal components. Place the jar in water in a crock pot, double boiler or yogurt maker. Or, do what I did and use your instant pot filled with water on the yogurt setting. Regardless of what you choose, keep the herbs at around 100 degrees for about 48 hours.
Fastest Method: When you really need to create a herbal remedy in a pinch, perhaps to treat a recent injury, sting or skin condition that’s gotten out of control, herbs can be infused in as little as 4-6 hours. Use a slow cooker or double boiler to keep the herbs at around 120 degrees for 4-6 hours.
Regardless of your infusion method, once the infusion is complete, strain the herb mixture through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. Use your hands to squeeze out as much oil as possible. Tightly cap the oil as air exposure causes it to go rancid faster. It should last at least a year tightly capped in a cool dark place.
Adding a bit of vitamin E oil helps to naturally prolong the shelf life, and will make any lotions, creams or salves you make with the oil all the more nourishing.
Choosing Herbs to Infuse in Oil
The herbs you choose will depend on how you’d like to use your oil. The herbs in the picture above come from a recipe from the Herbal Academy Introductory Herbal Course. It will be used in a herbal cuts and scrapes salve that I’m whipping up in my kitchen.
Their recipe has you add 2 Tablespoons of each lemon balm, lavender, calendula and echinacea to 1 1/4 cups of olive oil. This yields about 1 cup of infused oil after the herbs have absorbed some of it. That infused oil, once strained, will be mixed with 1 ounce of beeswax in a double boiler to make a semi-solid salve.
Here are some herbs to try on your own:
Arnica Flowers – This makes a great massage oil and sore muscle salve. I use an arnica infused oil in my massage practice for clients that have seriously overdone it and need some targeted muscular relief.
Calendula Flowers – Calendula is great for skin irritations. We keep calendula infused oil in a tincture dropper bottle in our medicine cabinet for spot treatment of skin irritation. It’s suitable for sensitive skin, and it’s even used in holistic diaper rash creams for infants.
Comfrey – Used externally to help wounds heal. It’s so effective that herbalists warn not to use it for puncture wounds or the surface will heal too fast, not allowing the deeper puncture to heal properly.
Lavender – Cooling and calming, lavender is great for use as a bath oil. It’s also naturally antimicrobial. I infuse olive oil with lavender and then mix it with coarse sugar to use as an exfoliating bath scrub.
Lemon Balm – Has a cooling and calming effect on the skin. It’s topical effects on the skin are similar to its effects taking internally as a tea for calming the whole body.
Mullein – Generally used as an oil, and a great thing to keep around in a tincture dropper bottle for ear infections. We use mullein and garlic oil and it clears things right up.
Plantain – This herb is well known for it’s ability to work as a natural bandage for wound healing. Adding it to salves and healing oils is a great way to make use of it’s medicine.
Rosemary – This is one of those herbs that is both tasty and medicinal. If you infuse rosemary into olive oil it makes great rosemary roasted potatoes. The rosemary oil also works to treat nausea and stomach upset internally. Topically, rosemary infused oil is great for dandruff and dry scalp. Wonderful for use in the kitchen and in the medicine cabinet!
Up next on my list of herbs to infuse is the mixture for this polysporin salve with comfrey, saint johns wort, plantain, calendula, yarrow and self heal.
What herbs are you excited to try?