Making Medicinal Herbal Oils

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Medicinal oils are among the most wonderful and beneficial herbal products. They are used for a variety of purposes, from massage to insect repellents, and they are remarkably easy to make. There are two distinct types of herbal oils available and there is much confusion between the two. Essential oils are the distilled, highly concentrated volatile oils of the plant. They are extremely concentrated and should be used with caution. It is virtually impossible to make high-quality essential oils in sufficient quantities at home unless you invest in a sophisticated distiller. On the other hand, infused herbal oils (fixed oils) are wonderfully easy and inexpensive to make. Though not as pure or as concentrated, they are completely safe to use. Generally recommended for external purposes, they can also be used safely internally. Once made, you can use them as is or make them into salves and ointments.

The Ingredients for Herbal Oils

Oil

The oil one use must be high-quality seed, nut, or vegetable oil. For medicinal purposes, olive oil is the oil of choice and preferred by most herbalists. Use the finest quality olive oil one can get for medicinal herbal products. Olive oil is graded from “extra virgin,” the first pressing of the olives and the finest and purest grade, to just plain “olive oil,” the last pressing and, basically, an inferior quality. Olive oil makes a wonderful base for medicinal oils and seldom goes rancid. When making other than medicinal oils, lighter, less aromatic oils such as apricot, almond, canella or grape seed oil are recommended. These are considered cosmetic-grade oils and are excellent for massage, creams, and lotions.

People were disappointed because their finished herbal oils do not have the strong concentration of scent that essential oils have. The essential oils of the plant are extremely volatile and difficult to capture. A fixed oil, such as a vegetable oil, does not capture the scent well. If one want herbal oils to be aromatic, you will need to add a drop or two of essential oil to the finished product.

Herbs

There are many herbs suitable for making medicinal oils. Either fresh or dried herbs can be used. If one have never made an herbal oil before, it is recommended to begin with dried herbs because one will not have to be concerned with the growth of mold and bacteria. Should one decide to use fresh herbs, it is imperative to make sure they are completely free of any extra moisture. One method was used quite successfully to eliminate extra moisture in fresh herbs is to wilt the herbs before using. Pick the herbs in the morning and allow them to wilt in a dry, shaded, warm place for several hours or overnight. This ensures that the excess moisture that causes bacteria to grow has evaporated.

Proportion of Herb(s) to Oil

The method recommend for determining the proportion of herb to oil is the simplers’ method. Place the herbs in a container and pour enough oil over them to cover the herbs. Then add one to two inches more oil so that the herbs are completely submerged. Exposed herbs can introduce bacteria and spoil oil, so be certain the herbs are completely covered.

How to Make Medicinal Oils

There are four common methods used for making oils. Each of these methods is highly effective and is used professionally as well as for home use. The methods that employ a long, slow heating process, such as the solar, oven-extraction, or Crockpot or roaster-oven techniques, over the double-boiler method are preferred. But there are times when one is thankful to be able to make medicinal oil in the short time made possible by the stovetop method.

Using the simplers’ measure, place the desired amount of herbs and oil in a glass jar. Cover tightly. Place the jar in a warm, sunny spot. In Europe and the Mediterranean the jars are placed in sandboxes to attract greater amounts of heat.

Let the oil/herb mixture infuse for two weeks. People always ask why the oil doesn’t go rancid sitting out in the hot sun. According to natural laws, it should. But for some magical reason, it seldom does. It is believed that because of the alchemical fusion of the sun, the herbs, and the oil. But once strained, the oil will definitely go rancid very quickly if left in the hot sun.

At the end of two weeks, strain the herbs, rebottle beautiful herbal oil, and store it in a cool dark area. For stronger oil, add a fresh batch of herbs to the oil, and infuse for two more weeks. These will double the potency of your medicinal oil.

Using the solar method for making medicinal oils is my favorite method. Though a bit more time-consuming than the other methods, it has the added benefits of the sun, the wisdom of the elders, and a delightful array of bottles sitting in a sunny spot in the garden or windowsill of home.

Oven Extraction Method

Place the oil/herb mixture in a pan with a tight-fitting lid or in glass canning jars. Put the pan and/or jars in a larger pan with sufficient water to cover the bottom half of the container. Turn the oven on the lowest temperature possible and allow the herbs and oil to infuse for several hours. Check frequently to prevent the herbs and oil from overheating and burning.

Double Boiler Method

Place the herbs and oil in a double boiler, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and bring to a low simmer. Slowly heat for one-half to one hour, checking frequently to be sure the oil is not overheating. The lower the heat and the longer the infusion, the better the oil. This is a quick and simple method that appeals to many modern-day herbalists. One word of caution, however: oil heats up very quickly. Be mindful of the temperature. The preparation can quickly go from a nice herbal oil infusion to deep-fried comfrey leaves.

Crockpot and Electric Oven Roaster Method

Both Crockpots and electric oven roasters allow for a long, slow cooking process. The roaster is most often used by small professional companies making quality herbal products. The herbs can macerate in the oil for a long period of time (two to four weeks) and the resulting oil is of a superior quality. Electric roasters can often be found quite inexpensively at bargain shops and second-hand stores. They are in hot demand by herbalists!

Place the herbs and oil in the Crockpot or roaster and turn to the lowest heat. Place the lid on and let the mixture steep for the desired length of time. The heat is generally higher in the Crockpot and usually two to four hours is sufficient to prepare good-quality herbal oils. Check frequently to protect against overheating and burning. In the roaster, the herb/oil mixture can steep for two to four weeks. It gives a superior, dark-green herbal oil.

Straining and Storage

Strain the herbal mixture thoroughly. Line a large stainless-steel strainer or potato ricer with cheesecloth or muslin. Pour the mixture through. Reserve this oil. In a separate container, press the remaining oil from the herbs. Do not mix the oils from the two pressings. The oil from the second pressing will have a higher percentage of water and sediment in it and will not be of as good quality as the first. It is still usable, however.

Rebottle the oil and store in a cool, dark area. It does not have to be refrigerated, but heat will deteriorate the quality quickly, so keep it in a cool place.

What to Watch Out For

Though herbal oils are extremely easy to prepare and will last for several months or longer, there are some possible “trouble spots” to watch for when preparing and storing them:

 If herbal oil grows mold, there is either too much water content in the herb itself or there was moisture in the jar. Use dry herbs or wilt the herbs before using. Be absolutely certain the container is completely dry. Check the inner lid; if it has a circle of cardboard in it, discard it.

 If there is a large air space in the jar, this may encourage the growth of mold. Use jars that are the correct size for the amount of oil you wish to make and fill to the top with oil to discourage bacterial growth.

 Sometimes when the jar is left in the sun or other heat source, condensation from the heat forms inside the jar, providing the moisture needed for mold to grow. This rarely happens but if it does, try placing the container in a different heat source or temperature. It is told that if one take off the lid and wipe it and any “head room” inside the jar with a clean cloth every day or so, it decreases the risk of mold.

One could notice small bubbles forming in the oils as they infuse. This is from the gas that some herbs naturally release during preparation. This does not indicate spoilage.

 Do not overheat your oils. You do not want deep-fried herbs. Oil goes from warm to burning very quickly. When macerating, keep the oil warm, the heat low, and use a double boiler or other system that doesn’t apply direct heat.

Sample Recipes for Medicinal Herb Oils

MULLEIN FLOWER OIL

Mullein flower oil is the remedy par excellence for ear infections. Warmed to body temperature and dropped down both ears, it quickly relieves the pain of earaches. Because of its antiviral and antibiotic properties, it helps eliminate the infection as well. (Be sure to use wild mullein flowers, Verbascum thapsus, not one of the ornamental cultivated varieties which do not have the same medicinal properties.)

  • 1/4 cup dry (or fresh wilted) mullein flowers
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

To Make:

Though any of the methods listed above can be used to make mullein flower oil, the solar method is the one most often employed. Place the mullein flowers in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Place the jar in a hot, sunny window or outside in the direct sunlight and let sit for at least two weeks or longer—the longer the better. To make the mullein flower oil extra potent, do a double or triple preparation; remove the flowers, add fresh flowers (dried or wilted), and repeat the process.

Please note:

Mullein Flowers are often difficult to purchase, so gather some in the summer and fall. Mullein, a stately plant, grows wild throughout the United States and is found in many other parts of the world. The long, fragrant flowering stalk is a virtual insect condominium; insects love to live in it. So when picking mullein blossoms, put them in a basket or on a newspaper laid on the porch or lawn and allow time for the insects to depart.

INSECT REPELLENT OIL

Enough olive oil or other high-quality vegetable oil to completely submerse herbs. Top off with another inch or two of oil.

To Make:

Wilt the fresh leaves or used dried herbs. Cover with enough oil to completely submerse herbs, plus one to two inches more. Follow any of the methods listed above for making medicinal oils. Strain. Add a drop or two of essential oil of pennyroyal and/or eucalyptus essential oil to strengthen the scent. This is an excellent insect-repellent oil. It is quite safe for human and animal use and as effective as anything can be for keeping those pesky insects away.

SPORTS MASSAGE OIL

  • 2 parts St. Johns wort
  • 1 part hops
  • 1 part arnica
  • 1 part mullein leaves
  • 2 parts camphor oil or camphor crystals (available in some herb stores and some pharmacies)
  • Essential oil of wintergreen

Enough olive oil or other high-quality vegetable oil to completely submerse herbs. Top off with another inch or two of oil.

To Make:

Wilt the fresh leaves or use dried herbs. Cover with enough oil to completely submerse the herbs, plus one to two inches more. Follow any of the instructions listed above for making medicinal oils. Strain. Add the camphor oil and enough wintergreen oil to give it a strong pungent odor.

To Make:

Warm the oils together until thoroughly melted. Let herbs macerate in the oil over a very low heat for about one hour. Strain the herbs from the oil while still warm. Add enough essential oil of lavender to scent. 10,000 I.U. of vitamin E oil may also be added. Vitamin E may be purchased in capsules of 1,000 I.U. each. Prick with a pin and squeeze out the oil. You can also purchase liquid vitamin E with the percentage of the vitamin it contains.

 

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