How to Make a Medicinal, Herb-Infused Oil
- Published on: 04 November, 2017
- Last update: 03 November, 2020
Today’s blog post is going to be all about oil – and better yet, how to craft an ordinary household item into a powerful healer! Oil is something we use constantly in our daily lives, whether it’s for cooking, polishing furniture, moisturizing, or massaging. However, my favorite (and lesser known) application is the delivery of medicine.
Oil is excellent way to absorb herbal medicine through the skin, especially for those who don’t want to or can’t take pills!
For example: Arnica is an anti-inflammatory herb that one can take in tincture form after surgery or injury. It speeds healing, reduces pain and controls inflammation. Arnica also improves nerve health, stimulates weak circulation and aids any emotional trauma associated with the injury. If for any reason you cannot (or do not want) to take arnica in tincture form, you can infuse the dried aerial parts of this herb into an oil which you’ll rub onto the wounded area. As an external application, it once again acts as an anti-inflammatory, reduces swelling, and improves bruising.
While you can certainly buy arnica oil on the internet, I believe it’s even more powerful when you make it yourself with intention.
Now, since this is my first post on the topic, I’m going to get a bit technical and list my exact recipe/methods below. You can follow exactly what I do and weigh your herbs to the gram, but note that traditional herbalists pretty much just poured oil over herbs until it covered everything and called it a day. No matter what, you’re going to get an awesome end product (and more importantly, you’ll have fun).
A few things to keep in mind:
- The same way vegetable oils are an excellent medium to extract, hold, and deliver the soluble plant chemicals in herbs… they are also an extractive medium for agricultural chemicals like pesticides. For this reason, always start with an organic oil (cold pressed if available).
- Sterilize all of your equipment before beginning this process, including your measuring bowl (if you decide to use a scale), mason jar, lids, and mixing utensils. Do this by dunking everything in boiling water in a pot on the stove, or run it through the dishwasher on the highest setting.
- I prefer using dried herbs because fresh herbs contain a certain level of water/moisture which can easily cause your batch to spoil. Thus, the recipe below will be for your average dried herb infusion.
Choosing Your Oil
Here are a few of my favorite oils (and why they’re unique) so you can pick the one that resonates with you! All are linked on Amazon if you’d like to see the brands I use.
- Olive Oil – This is the most commonly recommended oil by far. It’s easy to find organic, has a very low pesticide residue, and is naturally antimicrobial to prevent spoilage. Cons: expensive, and not my favorite in terms of absorption.
- Safflower Oil – Now this one is my personal fave! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, safflower oil is used to move Qi (stagnant energy) and well… that’s pretty much my life motto. Plus, the oils I’ve been making are specifically meant for moving blood and releasing stagnation from the body. The mugwort oil you’ll see in this post will be part of a menstrual cramp salve I’m working on. The safflower is important in terms of assisting the body move blood smoothly (and painlessly) from the body when it’s struggling (cramping) to release. This one absorbs like a dream and makes my skin feel great.
- Sweet Almond Oil – Also absorbs very well, and is almost odorless.
- Evening Primrose Oil – This is something I added to the list for anyone who wants to go a little more advanced. Rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), this oil is the fountain of youth in my eyes! It’s my all-time favorite beauty oil, so if you’re making an infusion that will be moisturizing your face, add ~10-20% evening primrose to one of the base oils above.
- Herbal Therapy & Supplements by Merrily A. Kuhn
- Making Plant Medicine by Rico Cech, and
- Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman
These are wonderful and extensive pieces of literature for anyone who wants to delve into herbal medicine. Hoffman’s Medical Herbalism is more of a textbook that gives you concrete knowledge regarding the scientific basis of herbalism and how it applies to the anatomy of the human body. The last book, The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett (which isn’t part of my curriculum) is where you’re going to get all the juicy folk remedies + recipes for a wide array of ailments.
You Will Need:
- 1 large mason jar (I use 32 oz. jars)
- dried herb of your choice (an easy one to start with is dried calendula flowers)
- 16 oz. organic safflower oil (or oil of your choice)
- optional: Vitamin E oil to act as a natural preservative if you want to keep your oil for 12+ months
- optional: kitchen scale + measuring bowl
Basic Formula (For Dried Herbs):
Every herbalist has their own preference, however my schoolbook Making Plant Medicine recommends a ratio of 1:5 dry herb (in grams) to oil (in mL).
- 1 gram = 1 mL…
- so with a 1:5 ratio, you need 1g of dried herb for every 5mL oil.
- If you had 100g dried herb, you’d need 500mL oil.
You can use this ratio to figure out your personal needs for the batch you’re making. For example, I only wanted to use 60g of my dried mugwort for this recipe so I did the math with this calculation:
- Chop or grind your dry herb with a knife, food processor, or grinder. If you use a food processor or grinder, your herb will fit better in the jar because it will take up less space (and more surface area will be exposed to the oil).
- Weigh out the dried herb to your needs and transfer it to your large mason jar. (If you’re not weighing your herbs, simply fill the jar with plant material, gently pressing it down without compacting it).
3. Measure out the oil you need. I use a sterile mason jar, but you can use a measuring cup of course!
(If you don’t have enough oil to leave that extra inch, just add a bit more by eye. In the case of these example photos, I chopped my herbs but did not grind them down to where they would take up less space. For that reason, I had to add a bit more oil than my calculated 300mL. This is why I keep saying not to stress the recipe – things change depending on your individual materials and methods.)
7. After 2-4 weeks, the oils should have taken on the properties of the herb thanks to the heat from the sun. Strain your oil through a cheesecloth (making sure all plant material is removed) and bottle in a freshly sanitized jar. Let it sit overnight, because the next day you will find small herbal particles and ‘sludge’ settled at the bottom. Decant off the clear oil into another sterilized jar (which I promise will be your last! haha) and toss or compost the herbal particles from the bottom. Store in a cool, dry place and use within 12 months (or a bit more if you added the Vitamin E).
Because the ‘solar method’ (leaving your jar in the sun as a source of heat) takes a long time, some people prefer to gently cook their herbs and oil in a crock pot. This doesn’t work well for me because even the “LOW” setting on my crock pot is too hot, but if you have one that tells you the actual temperature you can give it a try. For the crock pot method, gently heat the herbs over very low heat (between 100 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) for 48-72 hours until the oil takes on the color and scent of the herb. Turn off heat and allow to cool, then finish with the cheesecloth straining and re-bottling in step #7.
Aaaaand, that’s all folks! In 4 weeks you’ll have a medicinal oil that you can use on eczema/skin rashes (calendula is great for this), menstrual cramps (mugwort and ginger are excellent), wounds (arnica), and so much more. Stay tuned because I will eventually be posting another how-to about how I make my herbal oils into powerful medicinal salves that you can carry around in a little tin for emergencies.
I hope you found this helpful, and I would love to hear from you if you try it out or have questions 🙂
XOXO, Organic Olivia