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.