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Friday, May 23, 2014

making herbal oils without heat

I've already shown you how to infuse oils with herbs using gentle heat in the crock pot. Heat is generally best applied to hard herbs -- ones which are woody, like rosemary, pine, and green tea; seeds, like fennel and coffee; bark and roots, like cinnamon, ginger root, echinacea root; orange and lemon rinds; dried rose hips. Especially once dried, hard herbs seem to do better with a little heat applied to force out their goodness. That said, you can make cold infused oil with hard herbs, too, using this same method.

Softer herbs are one that literally are soft, fragile. Catnip and mints, arnica flowers, plantain, rose petals, for example. Too great a heat applied to these will fry the herbs, losing the properties and yielding a funky smelling oil that isn't so powerfully healing. With care, a very controlled heat can be applied to soft herbs for making infused oils, just as you can make a hot catnip tea infusion without destroying the catnip's healing properties. But it's easier to take a different route. A cold route.

The process for making herbal oils without heat is much the same as that for making an alcoholic or vinegar tincture. I hope you are starting to see the patterns here. Heat infused oils, cold infused oils, tinctures, and glycerites (post coming!) all follow the same basic formula of herb to menstruum.

Find your herb of choice. When new to this process, choose a dried herb. (Post coming soon for using fresh plant material.) Measure 1 ounce by weight for each pint. As you can see in the pics, one ounce of fluffy calendula flowers almost fills the jar, whereas one ounce of green tea takes up only about 1/3rd space at the bottom of the jar. This will mean that generally you will yield less oil per pint jar of fluffier herbs, but trust the measurements. It works best like this.

Pour a liquid oil over the herbs. Olive, apricot kernel, almond, jojoba, whatever. It can be lighter or heavier. Olive oil tends to lend its own scent to the final product so for delicate scents, such as dried rose petals, it may be best to choose a lighter oil. Olive is my standard go-to for most herbs, however.

I don't recommend using coconut oil for cold infusions as it's higher melting point makes it solid or semi-solid at room temperature. Think about it. Butter is not going to take on as much flavor as melted butter or a liquid oil. Similarly with coconut.

Once you have your jars filled with herbs and oil, pop on lids securely, clearly label the jars with contents and date, and stick them somewhere room temperature (65-75 F) and dark. A kitchen cupboard is usually a good place.

Store the herbal oil for 4 weeks. You can go with less time, but my general rule is a full lunar month for full saturation. Give the jars a good hard shake every day or so, to stir things up. You will start to see the base oil change color, especially with darker herbs like green tea, rose hips, or St. John's wort which turns a beautiful red. Fragrant herbs should by this time have released a lovely bouquet into the oil. Lavender flowers hide the natural scent of olive oil quite well, and paired with lavender's many uses makes a great herb to add to oil blends for this reason.

At the end of the infusing time, line a sieve over a bowl with layers of cheesecloth, and strain the herbs from the oil as you would for the heat infused method. Be sure to use quite dry tools every time, as water in the oil will lend to molding and a ruined oil during storage. Kept properly, cool, dark and dry, your infused oils should last a good three years. You can use oils as they are, or for cooking, or proceed to making a salve, and then use the salves for blender lotions or other products. Again, be sure to label the final product properly, with ingredients and the final date you strained the oil.

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