These dog days of summer when the weather is hot, the children are restless and we all start to think about the fall are a great time to make herbal oils for winter remedies.
As the name suggests, herbal oils are a great way to preserve the medicinal properties of herbs and plants by infusing them into oils. This extends the shelf life of the herbs for long-term storage and makes a concentrated natural remedy that is excellent on its own or as a base for salves, lotions, lip balms and more.
There are several ways to make herbal oils, but my favorite, solar-infusion, is best done in these last hot days of summer.
Solar-Infused Herbal Oils
Making solar-infused oils is similar to the process of making a tincture, but with oil in place of alcohol as the base. The warmth of the sun helps speed up this process and there is some evidence that the energy from the sun also helps extract beneficial parts of the plant that are not obtained by heat alone.
Herbal oils are not as strong as essential oils but they have many of the same beneficial properties and are safer for use on children for this reason. In fact, I prefer herb-infused oils to essential oils in many cases and save essential oils (topically) for cases when they are truly needed (though I do diffuse essential oils somewhat regularly). Bonus: Herbal infused oils are typically much, much less expensive than essential oils.
The main ingredient for all solar-infused herbal oils is patience, as they require at least two weeks to create a potent herbal oil, but the end result is well worth it. During this time, the oils extract many of the beneficial compounds of the herbs so that once strained, the oils have additional beneficial properties.
I make batches of all of our favorite oils in July or August to give them time to infuse while it is still warm, and so they are ready when cold and flu season begins.
Herbal Oils I Keep On Hand
Each year, I make pint or quart size batches of these herbal oils:
- Arnica Infused Oil: Made with arnica flowers. I use this externally (never internally!) for bruises, muscle soreness and to speed healing of any trauma or injury that doesn’t have an open wound.
- Calendula Infused Oil: Excellent for all skin preparations. I use it in homemade baby lotions and salves, in facial lotions and oil cleansing, as well as in soothing remedies like natural healing salve.
- Plantain Infused Oil: For cuts, scrapes and bites. I often mix plantain with other herbs, but on its own, this herb infused oil is great for all of the cuts, scrapes and bites of childhood. Once infused, I mix this oil with shea butter for a silky salve for kids.
- Rosemary Infused Oil: Naturally antibacterial and great for hair growth. I use this in homemade hair products, for soothing skin irritation and for fighting illness.
- St. John’s Wort Oil: I typically combine with lavender flowers and use as the base for topical remedies for rashes, minor burns and sunburns, diaper rash, cuts and bruises.
- Everything Oil: My favorite infused oil to make and the base for my healing salve and several other recipes. I typically make a double batch of this (see below) and it includes echinacea, comfrey, plantain, calendula, rosemary and yarrow.
Solar-Infused All Purpose Herbal Oil
Our most used herbal oil, by far, is this all-purpose oil. It is made with a combination of herbs that soothes, helps fight bacteria and helps the body speed healing.
I use this herbal oil in remedies for cuts, bruises, scars, bites and many other minor problems. If you were only going to make one solar oil, this is the one I’d suggest as it combines many of the beneficial properties of all the oils listed above.
NOTE: In the past, I’ve used comfrey leaf in this oil, though this herb is somewhat controversial. In this version, I’ve removed it and used lavender instead so it is safer for children and pregnant women who are concerned about using comfrey. Lavender is wonderful for skin healing and adds a great scent to this oil
- 1/4 cup dried lavender flowers
- 1/4 cup dried calendula flowers
- 1/4 cup dried plantain leaf
- 1 tablespoon echinacea root
- 1 tablespoon yarrow flowers
- 1 tablespoon rosemary leaf
- 2 cups (or more) of a carrier oil like olive oil
- Place all herbs in a clean, dry quart size mason jar.
- Fill with a carrier oil to cover herbs completely and about an inch above the level of the herbs (make sure to leave at least an inch at the top of the jar so that herbs can expand). I use olive oil in most cases, but jajoba and almond oil also work well.
- Tightly cap the jar. Leave for at least two weeks, though 4 weeks minimum is preferable. I store inside at night and place in the sun during the day to speed up the process and get the benefits of solar infusion.
- When you are ready to use the oil, strain through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer to remove the herbs. I only strain as much as I need and leave the rest of the oil with the herbs until ready to use.
Other Ways to Infuse Oils with Herbs
If you don’t have time to wait 2-4 weeks (or just don’t want to), there are other ways you can infuse the oils more quickly. You won’t get any added benefit from the sun, but these methods will extract many of the beneficial properties from the herbs.
Slow Cooker Method
Place the herbs and oils in the jar according to the instructions above. Then, place a towel on the bottom of a slow cooker and add a few inches of water (not enough to reach the top of the jars you are using). Pint jars work best for this so that you can close the lid of the slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker on warm and allow to infuse for up to 24 hours. I check the temperature every few hours to make sure it doesn’t exceed 130 degrees. The longer and slower you allow this to infuse, the stronger the oil will be.
Double Boiler Method
The fastest method for infusing herbal oils. Place 2 inches of water in a stainless steel double boiler, making sure that the water does not reach the bottom of the top pan. Place the herbs and oils in the top pan and cover. Turn on medium heat until the water simmers and then reduce to low. Allow to simmer on low heat for 3-4 hours, checking the water level and temperature regularly. When oil becomes darker and takes on the scent of the herbs, remove from heat and strain out the herbs.
How to Use Herbal Oils
These infused herbal oils can be used by themselves or in many recipes for natural remedies. Some of my favorite recipes to use this herbal oil are:
- Homemade healing salve
- Healing Lip Salve Recipe
- As the base oil for this black salve recipe
- In gardeners hand salve
- As the liquid oil for basic lotions
Ever used herbal oils? What herbs do you like to use?