Plants provide us with a rich array of therapeutic ingredients known as active constituents. Many aromatic plants are packed with specialized cells containing essential oils, as well as other constituents that provide healing qualities. Usually these aromatic materials are distilled, which releases the essential oil from the specialized cells.
Distilling essential oils requires specialized equipment. For this reason, most people are not able to distill their own essential oils at home. However, infused oils are a good alternative. Though less concentrated than essential oils, infused oils require much less botanical material than distillation and are well suited for making massage oils, as well as culinary and bath oils.
To make infused oils for personal use at home, you need very little equipment. To prepare an infused oil, you heat a base oil with your botanical material (or herb) over hot water. It is important to pick the best base oil for your infusion, because many base oils have active constituents that can enhance the therapeutic benefits of the infusion you are making.
Base oils, also called fixed oils, are made primarily from the seeds or fruits of plants. Unlike essential oils, however, base oils are non-volatile. (Essential oils are called “volatile” because they readily vaporize when heated at a low temperature; base oils — like almond or avocado oil — do not.)
When making infused oils for personal use, cold-pressed, organic base oils are preferable, because they retain more of their natural elements than heat-extracted oils. Heat destroys antioxidants, which are naturally occurring in oils, and which help prevent the oils from spoiling when they come in contact with air. By contrast, cold-pressed oils already contain vitamin E, a naturally occurring antioxidant that prevents spoiling.
Base oils include:
- For massage infusions, almond Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis, aloe vera Aloe barbadensis, and camellia Camellia japonica oils work well.
- For bath infusions, apricot Prunus persica, grapeseed Vitis vinifera, and wheat germ Triticum aestivum oils work well.
- When making culinary infusions, however, olive Olea europaea, peanut Arachis hypogaea, and sesame Sesamum indicum oils are good base oils. (People with food allergies to nuts should avoid contact with peanut oil.)
PREPARING INFUSED OILS
If possible, gather fresh botanicals. You will need about 1 oz of fresh herb per 1 cup of base oil used. Flowers are best fresh, though there are a few flowers, like gardenia, whose fragrance intensifies with drying. When using fresh herbs, allow them to wilt for about six hours, which will reduce the water content and produce a better infusion.
If, however, if you do not have a garden or live near an area where there are wild botanicals, you can also use dried herbs (in this case, you will need about ½ oz dried herb per 1 cup of base oil used). Always endeavor to use organic or sustainably wildcrafted herbs. Research has shown that organically grown herbs are more therapeutically viable and less likely to contain pesticides and other toxins that are found in commercially grown produce.
The basic recipe for infusions is:
- Base oil: 1 cup
- Dried herb: ½ oz or fresh herb: 1 oz
Combine the herbs and the base oil in a stainless steel bowl. Heat the bowl over a simmering water bath; the bowl should be floating in the water, not sitting flat. Stir occasionally and simmer for 30 minutes. Watch carefully. Do not allow the oil to bubble or burn. Strain the mixture through four layers of unbleached muslin until all of the herb has been separated from the oil. Additional essential oils can bee added at this point to either increase the aromatic value or the therapeutic benefits of the infusion.
To keep large quantities of infused oil from spoiling, add ¼ tsp of Benzoin tincture to 1 cup of infused oil. Benzoin tincture is prepared from the gum of the Indonesian tree Styrax benzoin, which will also help your infusion to blend. Or, if you prefer, you can add 500 I.U. of natural Vitamin E to 1 cup of infused oil.
The shelf life of infused oils is increased if the equipment and the bottles are clean and sterile. Prepare your infused oils using the same hygienic precautions as if you were canning food.
Here are some suggested combinations of aromatherapeutic infusion blends.
To make, find a jar that has a tight-fitting lid. Fill the jar with the herb or herbal blend of your choice. Then slowly pour your base oil over the top of the herb, covering the herb thoroughly. Mix to remove all air bubbles and cover tightly. For two weeks, place the jar in direct sunlight during the day and in a warm cupboard at night. Before use, strain the infusion through four layers of bleached muslin.
All-Purpose Massage Oil
- Sweet almond oil: 3 cups
- Comfrey Symphytum officinale leaves: 1 oz
- Calendula Calendula officinalis flowers: 1 oz
- Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis leaves: 1 oz
Soothing, Softening, and Relaxing Oil
- Apricot oil: 5 cups
- Rose petals (any variety, but ensure they are organic or spray free): 2 oz
- Lavender Lavandula angustifolia flowers: 1 oz
- Lemon balm Melissa officinalis leaves: 1 oz
- Chamomile Matricaria recutita (German) or Chamaemelum nobile (Roman) flowers: 1 oz