Infusing herbs in oil is one of the easiest ways to extract the medicinal or culinary properties of herbs that make them so desirable. Using these infused herbal oils, different body care products like salves, lip balms, lotions and massage oils can be made. You can also use them as flavored oils for cooking in the kitchen. Today we are going to infuse calendula flowers we grew in our garden with a couple different oils to see how they work. Once our oil is ready we are going to make our own salve.
Choosing a Carrier Oil
Perhaps the most important step in making herbal oils is to choose a “carrier oil.” The carrier oil, is going to be the vessel in which the properties of your herbs are going to be carried. So, it is important to know the intended use of an herbal oil.
For cooking, olive oils are typically the best choice for infusion. The flavor of the oil is relatively neutral and allows for the flavor of the herbs to come to the surface. Because of this, it can be used in any dish from salad to pasta. Some good herbs for infused kitchen oils are: garlic, rosemary, basil and chili.
If you plan on making skin care products, you should choose an oil that moisturizes and heals the skin. Also keep in mind the properties of the oils themselves because some oils may be solid at room temperature, which will change their workability for certain projects. Some good options for skincare are grapeseed, almond, jojoba, coconut and olive. Finally, all body and skin types are different, so it is important to experiment and see what works best for you.
Methods of Infusion: Solar-Infusion
The easiest way to infuse oils is the solar infusion method. It also is the best method for infusing oils for body care products. This is done by simply placing dried herbs in a jar and covering with the oil of choice. Make sure that your herbs are completely submerged in oil and give the jar a shake to release any bubbles. Then simply leave your infusion in a sunny windowsill for 4-6 weeks and let the gentle heat of the sun extract the goodness in the herbs. Every few days, check your oil and give it a shake to make sure everything is submerged.
When you think your oil is finished, strain the solids through a cheesecloth and pour the oil into a glass jar, date and label. Your oil should keep for about a year when stored in a dark, cool place like a cupboard.
Fresh herbs can also be used for cold infusion, but there are some things you need to know. First, do not wash your herbs before submerging in oil. Any amount of moisture in the container can cause your infusion to go rancid. Many people recommend wilting fresh herbs for 24 hours before infusion to ensure dryness. For best results though, use dry herbs with the cold infusion method.
For our infused oil, we used grapeseed oil infused with calendula flowers grown in our garden. Later, we will use this for body care products.
Methods of Infusion: Double Boiler
To infuse herbs this way, combine your herbs and carrier oil in a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of boiling water. Then gently heat the mixture anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours. Some people even say to do this for 48 hours or more, but we think this is unnecessary. We infused our calendula oil for 45 minutes and enjoyed the results.
Because this method relies on heat to extract the properties of herbs, you need to take some precautions. It is good to keep the temperature of you oil above 100ºF and below 140º. Remember, you don’t want the herbs to deep-fry. Also check the water in your double boiler periodically and add more as needed.
When finished, allow the oil to cool before separating the solids with a cheesecloth and pouring the oil into a jar.
We made an calendula infused coconut oil this way for body products, but this is the best method for infusing kitchen oils quickly with herbs. Let us know what concoctions you try!