Making an herbal salve is not complicated, but it is a multi-step process. To begin, we must first create an oil infusion. This requires a bit of kitchen lab work.
What is Infused Oil?
An infused oil is simply an oil permeated with macerated herbs, spices, or flowers. Creating an oil infusing involves transferring scent, medicinal properties or flavor into the carrier oil. Infused oils have both medicinal and culinary uses, which date back to ancient civilizations using solar infusions. Garlic, rosemary, peppers, and ginger are common choices for culinary infusions. Just imagine dipping bread into a garlic infused oil or using a freshly infused oil on your salad. Here, we are going to focus on a medicinal topical application using a low-heat extraction, to eventually create our herbal salve.
If you can’t eat it, should you put it on your skin?
The skin is the body’s largest organ. What we place on our skin is ultimately absorbed into the bloodstream.1 Chemicals contained within many of our personal care products act as endocrine disruptors, which mimic our natural hormones causing hormonal imbalance and impaired detoxification. Chemicals such as phthalates are often hidden under names such as “fragrance.”2 Making your own oil infusions and salves is not only fun but alleviates this concern!
Although there are many choices, some of the top dried plants to infuse for topical application are calendula flower (Calendula officinalis), plantain leaf (Plantago major), and yarrow leaf & flower (Achillea millefolium). For instance, calendula (aka marigold flowers) possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties.3 For topical application, dried herbs are recommended for the best results, as fresh herbs with any residual moisture may cause your oil to go rancid. Additionally, if do you choose to infuse oil with fresh herbs, for culinary purposes, it is best to refrigerate and discard after 1-month.
Choose your favorite carrier oil. Some great choices are coconut oil, avocado oil, or olive oil. For your first batch, it may be easiest to use what you already have on hand in the kitchen.
Other items needed:
Crockpot (other methods may use a double boiler, electric yogurt maker, instant pot on the yogurt setting, or solar infusion)
Dry 1-quart jar
Coffee grinder or blender
Vitamin E (optional)
Where can I get these items?
Herbs. Dried herbs may be purchased at your local herbal store. Several online sources of bulk herbs include:
Cheesecloth: Your local grocery store, Amazon.com or an herbal supply store.
Instructions using the crockpot method:
Using a coffee grinder or blender, grind enough dry herb to result in approximately ½ cup of ground herb
After the ground herb has been placed in the jar, fill with the oil of your choice, to about 3 times the height of the ground herb
Place the sealed jar in a crockpot. Fill the crockpot with enough water to leave the top of the jar uncovered. Ideally, the crockpot should be at a controlled temperature of 100 degrees. If you do not have temperature control, use the low setting. The water should feel like very hot bath water. If it’s too hot to place your hand in, turn the crockpot to warm for 1 hour and then turn back on to low. Please note, lukewarm water is not hot enough. If there are many bubbles in oil, it may be too hot. If herbs turn brown, or smell burning, it’s too hot, you will need to start over. Using this method, the jar should be heated in the water for 48-72 hours.
After removing and cooling the oil, strain using cheesecloth, thoroughly squeezing out every drop of oil. Pour the oil into a glass jar or bottle to use for inflamed or dry skin, or to save for making your salve. Optional: add a few drops of vitamin E oil to prolong the shelf-life. Discard the used herbs.
If you do not plan on using the oil to make your salve, label your oil with the date and ingredients used.
Store in a cool dark place. Properly stored, herbal oils will last for several months to 1-year.
Coming Next Week: Part 2 – using your infused oil to make a salve
About the Author: Cari Verde earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in August 2018. She is passionate about optimizing nutrition and wellness, as well as helping to identify and correct nutritionally related root causes of dysfunction within the body. She is an Army veteran as well as a military wife. She is currently earning clinical hours towards the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross’s supervision and has already passed the rigorous CNS exam.
1. World Health Organization. Environmental Health Criteria 235. Dermal Absorption. https://www.who.int/ipcs/features/2006/ehc235/en/. Accessed March 24, 2019
2. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Phthalates. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/phthalates/. Accessed March 24, 2018
3. Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT.: Healing Arts Press.