Happy 2015, everyone! How did you celebrate? Any goals for this new year?
I stopped and thought about many nature-related things a soon as the new year kicked in for some reason. Living in a farm, especially in the Italian countryside, where there is something to harvest even in the coldest of winters, makes me think about ‘green’ or natural living every day.
As 2014 came to an end and the first real, freezing cold shrouded Italy like a blanket, I looked at the skin on my hands get all dry and flaky, and felt my lips rough and chipped. As I considered the purchase of a new lip balm and a hand cream, several thoughts dawned on me. Why, for example, do I care so much about natural food and homemade things, but never thought about the chemicals that the soaps I use are loaded with?
After all, the nature around me offers so many wonderful plants and herbs with medicinal properties, and the nature in general offers plenty of ways to help without the need of man-made junk. I remembered the tons of pretty chamomile flowers growing in my backyard, and all the times my mom gave me some olive oil to put on my lips when they started to get dry. And I was amazed when my teacher gave me an aloe leaf to cure a rather bad burn: not only it felt amazing, but after 3-4 days of rubbing aloe gel on my hand, my skin was completely renewed. So I thought about using oils infused with medicinal herbs and spices that are not only good for cooking, but are also great as ointments for curing several skin problems – from rashes to irritations, from small wounds to burns, et-cetera. For example, I used the chamomile-infused oil I prepared for this post to tread a pesky skin irritation caused by my gym clothes, and the redness and itchiness disappeared within minutes.
Today, I want to teach you three simple methods to prepare these oils at home, which you can use for several things depending on the properties of the herbs you infuse with. So here is a little guide to making infused oils and ointments.
WHAT ARE HERB-INFUSED OILS, AND WHY ARE THEY USEFUL?
As said, herb-infused oils and ointments are obtained by letting herbs or spices infuse a vector oil, so that all their healthful and medicinal properties that are fat-soluble are released into the oil. They can be prepared with various oils, as long as they are good quality and possibly organic, and with most herbs and spices with fat soluble substances. They can be made with one kind of oil and one herb or spice alone, or with a mix of things, depending on how you are planning to use them. The most common oils are made with chamomile, calendola, St. John’s wort, and lavender, as these herbs all possess strong anti-inflammatory properties and are great for the skin.
PRESERVING & STORING
How long they last depends on how fresh the oil you used is, but an infusion made with fresh oil can last about a year. You can tell wether your oil is still good or not by smelling it: when it starts to lose its usual aroma, or it starts to smell rancid, you will know it is no longer good.
It is important to store any oil in a cool, dark place, as exposure to day light tends to diminish any oil’s properties and causes faster spoilage.
1st METHOD: COLD INFUSION
You will need:
A glass jar
1/3 herb and/or spice of choice, fresh or dry
2/3 oil or mix of oils of choice
This method is the most effective but requires a little patience. Make sure the jars and herbs you use are clean, add the ingredients to the jar, close it well and leave it in a cool, dark place for at least 40 days and up to 2 months. Shake the jar every week or so. After this time, the oil must be filtered. Prepare a sieve with a paper napkin, or a very fine cheesecloth, and let the oil drip into a clean container. Let it take its time – it might take hours. When it has finished, squeeze out the oil left in the herbs.
Let the jar stand for a whole 24 hours, so that every residue falls to the bottom. At this point you can filter it again, or transfer it to a clean, dark bottle. If you do not have one or want to keep it in the same jar, you can wrap it in aluminum paper.
2nd METHOD: WARM INFUSION
If you are in a bit of a rush and want your oil ready within a day, you can infuse the oil in hot water. Mix the herbs with oil just as in the cold method, but close the jar if using dried herbs, and leave it open if using fresh herbs, so the water can evaporate. Add the jar(s) to a pot and add enough hot water to cover the jars by half, put the pot on the lowest flame setting possible and let it infuse for 4 hours. Take the jars out of the water and let them cool completely before filtering the oils like in the cold infusion, and storing them in a dark bottle and in a dark place.
For this infusion it is best to use extra virgin olive oil or a good organic sunflower oil, which stand high temperatures better.
3rd METHOD: SUN INFUSION
Not all herbs will release their benefits into the oils just by leaving them in the shade or in hot water. Some herbs can release some very powerful healing properties when exposed to the sun – as is the case of St. John’s wort. This particular herb, which is great to cure sunburns, small wounds, redness and has anti-aging properties, turns the oil red when all its properties are fully extracted. You just add the herbs and oil to a jar, then cover it with a paper towel secured with an elastic band, and leave it out in the sun for 20 days, taking it back indoors for the night. This herb only blooms during summer.
Just like for hot infusions, it is best to use sunflower or olive oil for this infusion.
As you can see, making oil infusions is super easy! Of course, having fresh herbs available would be great, but if you don’t, dried herbs are perfect as well. And they really do their job. Here, I am sharing two recipes that will come in handy for two other recipes I will make soon!
- 2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers
- Half a vanilla bean
- The peel of a small organic lemon
- ½ cup of Linseed oil
- 2 tbsp Almond oil
- Prepare a clean jar and add the flowers. Take the peel from the lemon, making sure there is no white part attached to it, and split the vanilla bean in half. Add both to the jar, and pour in the oil. Proceed as described in the cold infusion, or use the warm infusion if you are in a rush, but make sure the oil never goes beyond 60 C˚.
- Once ready, this oil is great for treating skin redness, for dry lips in place of lip balm, for improving fragile nails, and for nourishing dry skin. You can also add this oil to nourishing hair and skin treatments.
- It also tastes and smells absolutely delicious, so you could consider making it with organic sunflower oil and use it for baking sweets in recipes that call for oil, or in a lemon coffee cake.
SAGE & ROSEMARY INFUSED OLIVE OIL
7-8 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs
1/2 cup + 2 tbsps olive oil
Proceed in the same way as the chamomile oil. This oil can easily be made with a warm infusion, as it is made with olive oil. Sage and rosemary both have balancing properties for the skin and especially for the hair, but if you are not planning to use it for a hair mask it makes a delicious condiment for roasted vegetables or can be used to spice up your dressings!
Do not forget to seal the jars and label them!