Infused oils are one of the most easy and versatile projects one can make when working with herbs. When I was first starting to work with the herbs I grow, I felt intimidated by the process and the first thing I tried was a solar, or “cold” infusion. It was so simple and rewarding, definitely the “gateway” to my herb/oil addiction. Herbal oils can be used in many ways, from culinary applications, straight to the skin applications and as an ingredient in a number of “kitchen cosmetics,” such as salves, creams and lip balms.
When making a solar-infusion, I use Rosemary Gladstar’s method. Rosemary is the ‘godmother of (American) modern herbalism’ and is my favorite source for herbal remedies and crafts. She is widely renowned, respected, and brilliant with plants. She is the author of many books, and her book, Rosemary Gladstar’s, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, is a great resource for beginning herbalists. It’s accessibility and concise “how-to’s” make a useful tool for any household. I encourage, if you have an interest in working with herbs, to get familiar with Rosemary’s work. Susun Weed is also a trusted source with great You Tube videos and step-by-step procedures.
What I have infusing right now is both calendula and lavender oils. I grow both of these in my garden and use them often and in numerous different ways. One of my most time consuming garden chores is bringing in the herbs and drying them. I remember last summer when Sweet Baby was first born, when the Grandpas and Grandmas would come to visit I would scramble out the door to collect all of my herbs. This summer I am for sure making a DIY herb drying rack because last year the herbs commanded my kitchen table and with a baby bustling about we’re going to have to come up with something better! With the lavender I cut the stalks and then hang to dry, and with the calendula, I cut the head of the flower (so more will grow in it’s place), and I would dry the petals on the heads and then pluck them.
Once I have my dried herb I fill a clean, dry, wide-mouth mason jar about 2/3- 3/4 of the way full with the herbs. I then add a high quality oil, (almost always olive, but there are other worthy choices), to cover the herbs by at least one inch or two. It is important to note that the oil you select must be liquid at room temperature for this solar (or cold) infusion, and you should save the harder butters like shea or coconut oil for a hot infusion.
Once you have the herbs covered with oil, seal tightly and shake to incorporate. Place in a sunny window ( or just in a window if you live in the PNW,) or other semi-warm location where you will remember to visit your infusion often to shake and inspect.
Take care to label your infusion with the date you began, the type of herb/oil used, and your source for the herbal material. (Was it your yard, wild-crafted or purchased?) It’s a best-practice to provide as much info as you can on your label, because, well; life happens, and it’s easy to forget once you accumulate a cupboard full of goodies.
Shake your infusion daily. (Don’t worry if daily doesn’t work out for you. I’m not even going to try and pretend like I get a chance to shake my jars daily, and my infusions turn out great. Just do it as often as you can). Open the jar at least once a week to look for condensation or an “off” smell. If there is a bit of condensation in the lid (where it most often accumulates), wipe it clean with a rag. If your infusion grows mold there has been too much moisture in the jar and you’ll need to discard and begin again 🙁
Let the infusion steep for 6 weeks. I have seen varying recommendations from 2 weeks to 6 weeks, and I usually go for the latter, with the idea that my infusion will be more potent. In fact, once the herbs are strained out of the oil, I will add more fresh, dried herb to that same oil and go for 6 more weeks for a double-strength, medicinal oil. I like to infuse a double-strength for things like calendula and lavender, but I wouldn’t do it for peppermint. It’s up to you and what your purposes are.
To strain the herbs, line another clean, dry jar with cheesecloth or muslin and pour the herbs over the cloth to strain.
I stole these straining bags from my DH. He uses them for brewing and wine making, but they fit great in my jars! I put the ring to the mason jar on top of this bag and it makes the bag stay put while straining.
DH purchased them at our local homebrew store for a few cents a piece!
Once your oil is strained, I don’t recommend squeezing the bag to get the last of the oil out. I learned the hard way… It will release tiny flecks of herb back into the oil. Instead, a frugal tip would be to squeeze the herbs over a separate vessel and save that oil for culinary purposes. Yummmmmmm!
Bottle and store your infused oil in a cool dark place. Like any oil, it is subject to rancidity, but it will keep for several of months to a year. If it smells off or has lost it’s color–you guessed it, discard and begin again…
Fresh herbs can be used in a cold infusion, but I find them to be more temperamental. With such a high water content, you may find you have more problems with condensation, rancidity, mold, etc. Oil and water do not make good bedfellows. If you’d like to use fresh herbs, Rosemary recommends to fresh-wilt the herbs first by, “…plac[ing] them in a basket or screen in a single layer, in a warm area out of direct sunlight and let them wilt for several hours. They are ready when they look limp.” This method allows for some of the water to evaporate out and helps to avoid spoilage.
If you don’t have access to garden herbs right now, don’t feel left out. Herbs can be purchased locally quite often, but if you can’t find what you need, check out Mountain Rose Herbs. They are by far my favorite place to purchase herbs, (especially if you buy in bulk). They are very reputable, sustainable, helpful and have high quality herbs and supplies. I am lucky enough to live close enough to make a day trip down to their shop, (if I scurry), but their online store is great too. Check ’em out, you’ll love them!
How do you make your solar infusions, or if you are new to herbalism, what projects and herbs interest you?
**This post was shared with: Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Sunny Simple Sundays, Frugal Crafty Home, Fat Tuesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, LHITS DIY Linky, Creative Home Acre Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource