DIY: How to Make a Handmade Herbal Salve Part 2: Decanting Your Infused Herbal Oil

My last post described Part 1 of Handmade Salve Making, infusing your herbal oil. After six weeks of infusing your oil you are ready to decant.  Decanted oil can be used straight or with the addition of beeswax you can make an ointment or salve.  It’s really easy!

Decanting

Supplies for decanting:

  • cheesecloth or muslin
  • funnel
  • glass bottle or jar, very clean and dry
  • label and sharpie

Where to buy amber glass bottles:  You can store your infused oil in any glass container, like a mason jar, a reused maple syrup bottle or anything else you have around the house. Glass is nice because it is non-reactive.  Amber glass is the first choice of many. The dark glass further protects your oil from degradation from light.  Amber glass bottles also have a classic apothecary look that many people find appealing.  Two online vendors I recommend are SKS Bottle and Specialty Bottle. I have been pleased with the selection, pricing and customer service from both of these vendors over the years. You can also often find amber glass bottles at the co-op. Expect to pay higher prices in a brick and mortar retail store. If you plan to make many infused oils, tinctures and syrups in the future it is worth it to purchase them by the case online.

Step one:  Gather your supplies.  Cut a piece of muslin or cheesecloth larger than the mouth of your funnel. You want to make sure you have enough to drape it over the edges of the funnel.  Place the cheesecloth over the funnel. Place the funnel into the bottle in which  you intend to store your oil.

scissors cheesecloth glass bottle funnel infused herbal oil

Step Two: Remove the lid from your oil infusion and swiftly  tip the jar upside down and into the funnel. If your funnel is large enough you may be able to simply leave it there while all the oil slowly drip out.  If that is not stable you can hold it while most of the oil drips into the bottle.  At some point the flow of oil will nearly stop, but you aren’t finished yet.  Lots of oil is still in the plant material.  You can squeeze your herb-cheescloth bundle  to obtain lots of additional infused oil. Alternatively, some folks use an old fashioned potato rice to squeeze oil out of the plant material.  If you made a particularly large jar of oil you may need to divide the plant material into a few smaller size handfuls and squeeze them separately.

decanting step one

squeezing bundle of herbal material wrapped in cheescloth into funnel

Step Three:  Label your infused oil.   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.

Storage Considerations:  Many people find that their infused oils are shelf stable and store them at room temperature. I have found that decanted infused oils rarely, if ever, spoil. However, I like to keep my infused oils in the refrigerator.  At room temperature and exposed to light, in my opinion, the oils, while not spoiling, tend to develop a slightly stale odor over time. To me, they give the impression of being considerably less potent.  Therefore, I store all my infused oils in the fridge. When you just have a couple of oils you can usually accommodate a few small bottles in the back of the fridge.  If you dive deeply into herbal medicine you may begin to amass quite a collection. For many years I kept a small mini-fridge in the corner of my kitchen where I stored items like extra herbal syrups, salves, infused oils, chest rubs and so on. I feel like it was worth it.  Now I have a full sized fridge in my office/apothecary where I can store all my more perishable herbal goodies.

That’s it for decanting.  Next up:  ointment/salve making.

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