The steps to make herbal infused oil are simple and rewarding. I outline some of my favorite traditional techniques below, so that you can feel confident in the process and achieve a positive outcome. I have used various methods over the years, and just like the thousands of herbalists before me, I tend to go for what’s practical; (what’s safe around children); and the slower- yet more attentive process, that builds appreciation and awareness about the herbal medicine as it decants. However, sometimes one method may be more appropriate than another. I have added two other methods you may want to try as well…
There are many plants to work with in nature and getting to know your local plants, and those you enjoy growing in your garden, is the first step in how to make herbal infused oil. That goes without saying, but honestly, as a reminder, I’d like to encourage you to familiarize yourself with the plants you are drawn to, do your research about the medicinal properties they offer, what cautions to consider, what grows locally, the best season to harvest them, what parts to use, and what type of energy the plant carries. Some people like to choose a special day to make their herbal medicines… (For example: Harvesting and preparing the oil on the full moon, and then letting it decant for an entire moon cycle- straining and jarring it on the following full moon, or in the waning phase there after.)
Ask yourself whether you will be using the flowers, leaves, bark, berries, seeds, roots or a combination. Be clear about your intention for harvesting a plant, and keep in mind that you never want to take more than 10-20% of a plant’s parts, as it could not only hurt the plant, but the pollinators and animals need the plants to survive as well. A wise herbalist would know this intuitively, and to have integrity means to integrate this awareness into your practice, no matter what your intention is. (Hopefully you will be providing medicine to yourself, your family, loved ones, or community- not simply trying to mass produce something for a big profit, which jeopardizes the plants in your area and only proves what you are after.) Plants are wise teachers. Listen to them, and ask permission before you start picking and cutting…
Why Make Herbal Infused Oil?
When you make herbal infused oil, you not only become more acquainted with the plant spirit and the herbal medicine making process, but you’ll also open up a big range of products you can create: like salves, lotions, body oil, lip balms, soap, massage oil, deodorant, and more! You can even infuse herbs into butter or oil to cook with. It all depends on the herbs, and your intentions. There are so many possibilities! Knowing how to make herbal infused oil is the stepping stone to having more of the things your body needs to feel its best. It’s also fun to provide for your family what could be bought at the store. Why not make your own!?
Always strive to use all organic herbs and oil *or* wild harvest in sustainable ways in places that are not sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers! Protect yourself, your children, your community, and the Earth.
When you are ready to gather items to make herbal infused oil, you may find it useful to refer to this general list of items you may need:
- a basket or tote bag for gathering and holding your harvested herbs
- clean glass jars with secure tight fitting lids (no plastic lids)
- scissors or hand pruners for harvesting
- a dish towel for cleanup
- a wooden or bamboo spoon; stick or knife (for prodding the herbs in the jar)
- cheese cloth and/or metal strainers (the smaller the holes the better in most cases)
- sticker labels and a pen
- a clean flat surface to work on (near a sink if possible or other source pure water)
- the oil of your choice (I recommend organic virgin (unrefined) olive oil (but you can use almond, coconut, jojoba, even butter, etc.)
To show examples of the process, I will share pictures from when I made two herbal infused oils on the same day. It was a full moon at the end of spring-beginning of summer. These two particular plants happen to be familiar to me, and over the years I’ve worked with them I’ve developed a trust and love for their much needed medicine in my life. Chamomile (Chamomile Roman) and Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) are both growing in abundance where I live. I am so grateful to have a home in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, where I can walk into my large back yard and find countless wild herbs, medicinal trees, and other edibles, etc. I also happen to live within walking distance to our friends’ organic farm. I harvested the Chamomile from the farm, and the Mugwort from my backyard, and at my other friend’s backyard who lives between us and the farm. (We are all so blessed to live so close and trade medicine ways together.) I will give more info. about each of these plants in a follow up post about my favorite herbs in the next couple of weeks.
How to Make Herbal Infused Oil
Harvesting the Plant
Begin your adventure in a positive state of mind. Be sure of what plant you want to harvest. It’s important to know what plant you will be working with and why. On a sunny day when you have everything you’ll need ready, go outside and find the plant. Hopefully you will be familiar with the plant and the area already. It’s always good to sit and ask for permission to harvest some before you start picking away or cutting. You may even wish to tell the plant your intentions for it’s use. Harvest what you need from the plant with care, and give thanks.
Will you be using the bark, leaves, flowers, berries, seeds, bark, or a combination of these? (This is one thing you need to know beforehand.)
Collect the pieces of the plant that you harvested and remove the parts that look wet, dirty, diseased, or moldy. Do not wash the plant. You might want to dust it off a little if necessary, but don’t rub it or get it wet.
Place your herbs into your basket or bag and go to the place you have set up to prepare the herbal infused oil.
Inspect your harvest for bugs, and instead of killing them just let the herbs to sit out for a a few minutes to allow the insects to leave on their own, or shew them away nicely. (It’s impossible to find a plant without at least one insect on it. It’s ok, you’re not going to eat the bug.) However, if a plant in completely covered with insects, you may want to consider why, and look for a better specimen.
Filling the Jars
Separate the parts of the plant that look the best that you want to use. Chop them up, but not too finely. Just a little bit. If this does not appeal to you, you can pull them apart slightly with your fingers, separating the leaves from the stems, etc. in what ever way feels most comfortable.
Fill a clean and dry glass jar with the herb all the way to the top. (you can use whatever size jar you want, just make sure you have enough oil to fill the jar as well.) Don’t pack in the herbs. Just let them be loosely compacted almost as if it’s really 3/4 of the way full.
Carefully pour oil into the jar, and then use a wooden or bamboo stick or even a knife to push the herbs gently around inside the jar to release the air bubbles that collect between the pieces of the chopped up herb. Make sure the oil completely covers the herb and goes right to the top rim of the jar.
Put the lid on the jar, and then wipe off any excess oil that may have ran over the top down the side.
Label the jar with the name of the plant, what parts you used, the date, and what type of oil the herb is infusing.
Place the jar of your herbal infused oil at room temperature on a flat surface in a designated spot where it is out of direct sunlight, but visible so you won’t forget about it!
Let the herbal infused oil sit for 4-6 weeks, making sure to look for any signs of mold regularly. If you see a tiny bit of mold forming at the top, it might be possible to save your oil. Open the lid and if it is just a small amount that can be removed, do so, and then top off the jar with more oil. Put the lid back on when the oil is right to the top, so there are no air bubbles. (A tiny drop of water that was in the jar, or moisture on the plant… and air bubbles, can inhibit mold growth, so preparing the oil correctly in the beginning is crucial.) If the mold is growing throughout the jar, you will have to discard the oil and start over.
Always inspect your herbal infused oil by picking up the jar, tilting it around, looking at the herbs, and jar, and shaking it very gently. If you ever see a lot of bubbles or air space, you can remove the lid and top off the jar with more fresh oil. Some herbs will generate gas, and that will appear as bubbles too. It is completely normal, but you need to monitor it and make sure not to let mold grow.
When you feel that enough time has passed and the day feels right, prepare a workspace again, on a flat clean surface.
Remove the lid and strain the herb matter from the oil into a fresh, clean and dry jar. You may need to strain it a second, third, or even fourth time, to make sure you get all pieces of the herb out of the oil, as it could cause it to spoil. (Tip: one way to naturally preserve the shelf life of your herbal infused oil is to add a 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Vitamin E oil to it. – Vitamin E is a natural preservative.)
To remove the excess oil from the cheesecloth, simply squeeze the herbs into the cloth and let it drip into the jar. Depending on the herbs you are using, a metal strainer may be sufficient. It all depends on your needs, preferences, type of plant, and available resources.
Compost your strained herbs.
Once your oil is in the jar and everything is cleaned up, check out the color of your newly infused oil outside in natural light!
The Solar Infused Method
You can follow all of the steps listed above to make a solar infused oil. Many people like to keep their herbal infused oil on a window sill to have the sun work its magic and steep the herbs while sun baking, however be careful with this method, as too much heat and sunlight can cause condensation to form on the inside of the jar, which then causes mold to grow, ruining your oil. I prefer to keep mine on my apothecary herb shelves. Not in the dark of a closed cabinet, but not in direct sunlight on a hot window sill.
The Stove Top or Double Burner Method
Follow the same guidelines as above except instead of placing the oil and herb into a jar, put them into a double broiler. If you don’t have one you can put the herbs and oil into one pan and then water into another. Keep the pan with the herbs and oil inside the pan with the water, so it warms the oil from below, but doesn’t get to hot.
Warm the oil on low-medium, never letting it get too hot, but keeping it warm for as long as you can between 2-3 hours. You don’t want to cook the herbs, just keep it warm so it can infuse into the oil. Simmer, not boil.
Before straining, let the oil cool down. Be careful.