The best herbal salves are made with herbal oils infused with fresh plant material. The resulting oil is vital, fragrant and potent and the eventual salve shares those vital characteristics of the oil. Anybody can make their own high-quality herbal salve using an infused herbal oil. The steps are quite simple. It does require a bit of patience because the infusing process takes a month or so.
I will divide the process into three parts: Infusion, Decanting and Salve Making. This post demonstrates Infusion
Let’s get started!
Supplies for infusing oils:
- fresh plant material
- glass jar: very clean and dry
- label and pen
- wooden skewer (the sort you can buy in a large package at the supermarket)
- oil of your choice (Sweet Almond and Sunflower are my favorites but any liquid oil is fine)
Step one: Gather your plant material. Gather plant material on a dry day. In fact, it is best if it has been dry for 2 or 3 days before harvesting. This is not so important when you are making tinctures, which are infused in alcohol, but it is very important when making oils. Too much moisture in your plant material may result in the formation of mold.
I chose Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon Balm makes a wonderful infused oil and ointment. As the name suggests, it has a lemony flavor and scent. Lemon Balm is cooling and soothing and anti-viral making this a suitable ointment for sunburn, burns, rashes of all sorts, cold sores and herpes lesions, shingles, chicken pox and any other conditions that are characterized by heat, itching or burning. Lemon Balm is also a relaxing nervine used for depression and insomnia. I can imagine that Lemon Balm would be a nice ingredient in a sleeping or dream balm.
Discard the damaged plant material. See this sprig of Lemon Balm. It looks as those the four-lined plant bugs have been munching on it. I chose to discard it and work as much as possible with healthy looking plant material.
Step Two: Spread out the plant material and allow it to wild and dry for about 24 hours. As you can see in the picture the plant material is wilted and drying but not completely dry.
Step Three: Stuff the jar with plant material. Your jar should be made of glass and should be very clean and dry. I like to put it through the heavy duty/sanitize cycle in my dishwasher and let it dry completely before using. Stuff the plant material. I like to pack my jars quite full of plant material.
Step Four: Pour your oil into the jar. Use the skewer or chopstick to poke down into the jar releasing air bubbles, then pour more oil. Repeat this process several times. Be diligent in this step because the more air in your jar, the greater the likelihood that you will have spoilage, however, you will never get all of the air out of the jar. When you have completed pouring the oil and removing the air put a lid on your jar.
Step Five: Label your jar. Do not skip this step! Do not make the mistake of assuming that you will remember what is in the jar or you will be able to tell what is in the jar by looking at it or tasting it. Learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of other herbalists and just label the jar! I like to label the jar with the common name of the plant, the type of oil used, the date on which I put the herbs in the jar, the location where I found or harvested the plant. If I am giving the whole jar to someone else I will often add the scientific name of the plant as well.
Step Six: 4-6 weeks of infusion. Now you need to let your oil stew or infuse. I just keep mine on a shelf in my kitchen. I avoid putting them on top of the refrigerator or other places that are plugged in and may give off some type of electromagnetic energy.
You may want to place a saucer under your jar of infusing oil. Oils tend to seep up and out of the jar over time.
It is generally recommend that you let your traditional tincture infuse for 4-6 weeks. Four weeks will make a good, strong oil. Many people like six weeks, which is a full lunar cycle. With oils, timely decanting is a good idea. Herbs soaking in alcohol to make a tincture can sit on the shelf pretty much indefinitely but with the potential for spoilage with oils it is preferable to remove the plant material from the oil as soon as your plant material has adequately infused.
Stay tuned for Part Two: Decanting Your Infused Herbal Oil.
I will gladly answer questions in the comments section.