Updated: Sep 11, 2019
Herbal infusions are a great way to capture the healing power of nature.
....but why go to the trouble of extracting your own plant material when you could just use an essential oil? There are many reasons!
- First, you may be creating a product that is meant to be used by babies or young children. Herbal infusions are MUCH less potent and concentrated than essential oils, and gentle chamomile, lavender, marshamallow root, and many other herbal infusions are a much safer way of inferring healing goodness to your concoctions for young and tender skin.
-Second, an essential oil may not be available for the herb you would like to use. Comfrey Root, St. John's Wort, Arnica, Mullein, Plantain, and many others are only widely available as dried herbs.
-Third, as awesome as essential oils are, they only capture the volatile components of a plant. Infusions are a way to integrate different properties of a plant into your creations.
Infusions involve at minimum two things:
1. An herb of course!
2. An 'carrier' (something you can infuse your herb into)
Three popular 'carriers' for herbs are:
An herbal infusion into alcohol is called a tincture. Tinctures are a popular way to extract herbs meant for internal use. Tinctures are awesome as they do not require the use of a preservative, and alcohol is a VERY effective extractor of herbal goodness. Weaknesses come into play when we want to use a tincture in skincare products. Alcohol can be drying, it does not mix with oil or wax if you want to make a salve, and in lotions it can destabilize most emulsions.
Infusions using glycerin are called glycerites. Though alcohol is both a better extractor, and better at preserving herbal extractions, glycerin certainly has its advantages! In skincare, glycerin is often used as a humectant as it helps the skin retain moisture. It can easily be incorporated into a lotion or cream, but higher percentages of glycerin can leave your skin feeling sticky. Glycerin is also water soluble, so you cannot add glycerites to your salves or balms.
3. Oil infusions!
This is the one we will be demonstrating today. Oil infusions are an awesome way to get herbal properties into your creations....all you need is a carrier oil and some patience.
Lets talk oils! There are tons of different carrier oils to choose from, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
-Make sure the shelf life of your oil is long! Grapeseed oil is a wonderful lightweight carrier oil...but it has a shelf life of less than a year! You are going to have to use your creations very quickly if you choose an oil that oxidizes quickly. You will know your oil has oxidized and is no longer usable when it begins to smell like crayons or old nuts.
Oils with longer shelf lives include: Olive Oil, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Jojoba Oil, Fractionated Coconut Oil or Camellia Oil to name a few. Your supplier should list the 'best before' date on any oil you purchase.
-Make sure your oil is not expensive. You are going to loose some of your oil to the herb you are infusing....no matter how hard you squeeze! Argan oil has a great shelf life of 2 years, but it is VERY expensive, and it would be a waste of such a precious oil.
Now that you have chosen your carrier oil, it's time to choose an herb! There are an almost infinite number of herbs you may choose to infuse, and many that are wonderful for skin healing, muscle aches, bruising...you name it! The main thing is to make sure your herb is completely dried. Water is the perfect growing medium for yeasts and bacteria, and you may find your infusion a swampy gross mess if you use juicy fresh herbs for your infusion. Dried and moisture-free is your friend.
On to the how! There are different methods, some involving heat, but today we are going to go with the cold infusion method, it's super easy!
Today we're going with Arnica. An awesome herb, long used for aches and pains, and wonderful in massage blends! Put your herb in a jar (mason jars are perfect!) It is a great idea to first run your jar through the sanitize cycle on your dishwasher. Make sure the inside is perfectly dry
Fill your jar with as much herb as you are wanting to infuse.
And pour in your oil of choice to cover. Today I'm using a high-oleic Sunflower oil. It has a great shelf-life, is economical, and it has a nice light feeling on the skin. I find Olive oil to be a little heavy feeling on the skin, something else you may want to keep in mind when selecting your oil.
That's it! Now comes the patience part:
Screw your lid on tightly and allow to infuse for 4-6 weeks in a warm location. It is a good idea to label your jar with the date if you are as forgetful as I am. When your infusion is complete, strain through a cheese cloth and your final concoction is ready for use in whatever salves, balms, or DIY awesomeness you have in store for it!
Products that contain Herbal Infusions: