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Herbalism 101: Making Herbal Infused Oils (& Using Them In Aromatherapy)

One of my favorite herbs is St. John's Wort - Hypericum perforatum - a sunny, cheery little weed-like wildflower. It's a versatile plant, but can be difficult for me to source fresh. Because it grows so well here in our state, it's made its way onto the noxious weed list so I'm unable to grow it personally and our urban neighborhood is pretty far from areas where I could wildcraft some. I depend on small farms for my fresh plant material and tend to order in the fresh flowering tops once a year - harvested and shipped on ice the same day so they arrive the next morning ready to use. I've just finished processing this year's batch! In honor of this lovely little plant ally, today we're learning how to make herbal infused oils to use in our aromatherapy products.

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After you've sustainably harvested your plant material, you'll want to let it wilt a bit (not in direct sunlight - this can cause protein-rich plants like red clover to rot) so that the moisture in the plant can start evaporating. Too much moisture in your oil can cause it to mold and spoil the whole jar, so taking the time to let your herbs sit first is usually a good idea. It also gives little critters a chance to escape from the plant before you start packing your jars. If you're using dried herb, you can obviously skip this step. Since I'm working with St. John's Wort, which needs to be fresh in order to make a proper infused oil, I let mine sit for just a little while so the moisture from the ice packs it came in could evaporate.

With fresh plant material, you'll want to fill about 1/2 - 2/3 of your jar with the herb. Some herbalists like to give it a bit of a rough chop or snip it with scissors while others prefer to place it into the jar as is. If you're using dried herbs, fill the jar halfway with the herb to give it enough room to expand and still be covered by your menstruum.

Pour the menstruum you've chosen to work with over the herbs until they're completely covered. I like to add an extra inch or so of menstruum to my jars. Use a chopstick or a the handle of a wooden spoon to work any air bubbles in the jar to the surface and top off the jar with more menstruum if needed. I used organic, cold pressed extra virgin Olive oil as my menstruum for this batch. You can use other oils if you'd like - Jojoba and Grapeseed oils are other favorites for infused oils. [Jojoba is a liquid wax and does not spoil, so is sometimes chosen in lieu of other oils with shorter shelf lives.]

If you're working with St. John's Wort, you can choose to include the whole flowering top (usually 4-6" of material), just the top leaves and flowers/buds, or just the buds in your oil. Your choice will influence the final outcome of the product a bit, but no matter which option you choose, your finished oil will be valuable.

Screw your jar's lid on tight and give the mix a good shake to get everything started. With St. John's Wort, you'll want to place your jar in a sunny window, or even outdoors in a place where the jar won't fall and break. [Some herbs are well suited to solar infusions, but others prefer a darker, cooler location - check your favorite herbal books to see what is recommended for the plant you're working with.] Leave the jar to infuse for 4-6 weeks, shaking it each day as you walk by. If you're working with St. John's Wort, you'll find that your oil will gradually turn a rich shade of red! This is supposed to happen. In fact, it is said that the darker and richer the red your oil yields, the higher the quality of it. Label your jar with the herb and menstruum you've chosen, along with the date and the expiration date of your menstruum.

After 4-6 weeks have passed, separate the plant material from the oil. I've found that the best way to do this is to line a potato ricer with a fine muslin cloth and press the oil out of the plant material into a large bowl. You could also line a fine mesh stainless steel strainer with muslin or cheesecloth and use a wooden spoon to work the oil out. Once finished, pour the oil into a fresh, clean jar and re-label it. Include the plant, the menstruum, the date it was infused, the date you strained it, and the expiration date of the menstruum. Once herbal oils have been strained, they are best kept in dark glass bottles in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat.

You now have a beautiful batch of herb infused oil to include in your aromatherapy recipes! Infused oils are especially useful in salves, balms, butters and massage oils. I love to include Calendula infused oil in skin nourishing recipes and look forward to using this St. John's Wort infused oil in homemade Trauma Oil and blends for sore muscles. How have you used herb infused oils in your products? If you're just getting started, which oil will you make first?

Much love,
Erin

For educational purposes only. All photos and graphics are copyright Erin Stewart. May not be distributed, copied, or published without express prior written permission from me.

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