Infusing Olive Oil for Herbal Remedies

Infusing herbs in olive oil helps transfer some of the healing properties of the herbs into the oil itself.  Infused oils are ideal for making salves and other topical remedies.  I also infuse herbs in oils intended to be dosed orally.  If you’d like to delve more deeply into herbalism, I’d recommend getting The Herb Book by John Lust as an excellent reference, where you can learn more about different methods of extracting herbs for various purposes.

For our goals though, I’ll walk you through my own process for infusing, which you can use to create your own recipes or for inclusion in one of mine.

Nettle leaves infusing in olive oil via the solar method.

Types of Infusions

The two main types of oil infusion methods I work with are solar infusion and stovetop infusion.  In solar infusion, the heat of the sun helps to extract the properties in a slow, six-week cycle.  This is my preferred method and the one I use almost exclusively, saving stovetop infusions for when I run out of something and need it quickly.  Stovetop infusions utilize a double boiler and the heat of your stovetop to quickly infuse the herbal properties into the oil.  I believe a gentle, slow approach yields the best results, which is why I prefer solar infusions.

Timing of Infusions

I work by the moon cycles.  We know that there is a difference in the pull of the moon in its different phases, so I always try to begin my solar infusions on the new moon.  I consider my oils complete after six weeks, so I wait until the second full moon to consider my oils finished and move them into storage.  When I’m doing stovetop infusions and I can choose the time, I will try to infuse on the full moon.

Example for solar infusions: As I write this, April 19 is the next new moon.  I would begin my infusions on April 19.  There will be a full moon on May 5, but I will continue infusing until the next full moon on June 3.  On June 3, my infusion will be complete and can be removed to storage or used in recipes.

Arnica flowers infused in olive oil.

Ingredients for Herbal Infusions

I place the following amounts in a one-quart mason jar:

  • cut/sifted herbs: 1/2 the jar full
  • powdered herbs: 1/4 cup

Cut/sifted herbs are what they sound like: herbs that are dried, finely chopped and then sifted for debris/unwanted parts.  Powdered herbs are finely powdered so you’ll need a lot less volume to achieve the same results.  These two names are industry standard when shopping for herbs.  You’ll often see cut/sifted shortened to c/s in the name.

Note: while you can infuse some herbs fresh in olive oil, the moisture increases the risk of mold so I always work with dried herbs for oil infusions.

Once I have added the herbs in powdered or c/s form, I will fill the rest of the jar to the neck with a high quality organic extra virgin olive oil.  There are endless combinations but I prefer olive oil for the majority of my recipes.

Solar Infusions

On a new moon, combine the herbs of your choice or in your recipe using the the instructions above into a mason jar, then cap tightly, shake well and place in a sunny window where it can get at least 3-4 hours of sun every day.  For the first few days, shake once or twice per day to help make sure the herbs are distributed in oil, then shake daily if you think about it.  I don’t often think about it. 😆

On the second full moon after you’ve begun your infusion, remove the jar from the window location and store away in a cool, dark place.  You can strain the herbs out but I wait until I am using the oil and strain as I’m pouring the amount needed for my recipe, leaving the rest of the herbs in the oil until I’ve used up the oil.

Stovetop Infusions

Self Heal infused in olive oil.

To make a stovetop infusion, use the same proportions of herbs and oils (I pour them into the jar first, then scrape it into the pot so I have exactly the right amount to store in the jar), but place them in a double boiler.  If you don’t have a double boiler, a heat safe bowl that floats and won’t tip can be placed in a pan of water.  Turn the water on and bring it to a medium low simmer, stirring the herbs in the bowl/double boiler above every so often.

I do stovetop infusions when I have other kitchen or house things so I can peek in to stir over the course of 3-4 hours.  This can be a great time to pop on a batch of caramel or goat cheese too, since you’re already there stirring.

There is no special indicator that the oil is done.  I go by sense and time, usually a good simmer of 3-4 hours.  Because I need to pour it anyway and because stovetop infusions usually imply an immediate need, I will strain these when they are finished.

Straining Infusions

To strain, I use organic cotton flour sack towels purchased on Amazon and lay one over a colander that is fitted with hooks to set on a pot.  Folding the towel back over the top keeps any debris or bugs from getting in, then I walk away and let it slowly drain over the course of a few hours.  When I come back, I will squeeze out any remaining oil, put the herbs in the compost and hand wash the towel with dish soap to clean away the oil.

The strained oil is poured into a mason jar, labeled with ingredients and date, then stored away in a cupboard where it will keep for about a year.  Spoiled or rancid oil will smell bad, so you can use the sniff test to determine if oils older than a year are still usable.

That’s it!  You’ve now created herbal infused oil to use in recipes.

Continue the discussion in the Herbal Remedies forum.

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