The first step in making a salve, balm, or soap is infusing the oil with the plant material. As simple as it sounds, there is a right way, and wrong way. The first oil I tried to infuse was plantain in olive oil, and I ended up with about ten dollars worth of sour olive oil. I’ve seen many instructional posts and videos that tell you to let fresh plants soak in the oil for 4-6 weeks, but what they don’t tell you, is that the water in the plants will likely cause the oil to sour. But enough about my dismal failure. Let’s talk about what works.
There is a fast way, and a slow way to infuse oils.
METHOD 1: Slow Infusion
The slow way, is to let the dried plant material soak in the oil for several weeks. It’s also the simple way, so let’s start with that.
As I mentioned earlier, some people use fresh plant material for this, but from my own experience I would not recommend it.
Start with a clean, dry jar or bottle. Add enough of the dried plant to fill the container 1/2 to 3/4 full. (depending on the density of the plant.) The yarrow I used was very loose and fluffy, so I filled the jar 3/4. If your plant material is densely packed, use less.
Next, add your oil. When choosing your oil, be sure to choose an oil that is liquid at room temperature and has a long shelf life. I plan on using this yarrow infusion for a lip balm, so I’m using almond oil. Almond oil is lighter, less greasy, and doesn’t have a strong smell like olive oil, so it’s perfect for a lip balm or moisturizer. Slowly fill the jar with oil, allowing time for the oil to settle, and cap the jar tightly.
Label the jar with the contents and date. Shake the jar daily for at least the first week, to ensure that the plant material is staying submerged in the oil.The plant material will turn dark and limp as it’s being penetrated by the oils. You will want to let the oil infuse for 4-6 weeks. Leave the jar sitting somewhere you will see it, so you will remember to check it regularly for mold or souring. When the oil is ready it should smell like the plant, and will most likely have an altered color.
After the oil is infused you will pour it through a strainer or cheese cloth to remove all plant material.
Store your oil in an airtight container until ready to use.
METHOD 2: Quick Infusion
The fast way to infuse oil, is to heat the plant material in the oil, forcing it to breakdown. This method is much quicker, but it’s also a bit trickier. You have to be careful not to burn your oil, and also not deep fry your plants.
The best way to infuse oils using this method is to use a double boiler to avoid direct heat. Oil can burn very quickly, so you have to keep a close eye on it. I don’t have a double boiler, so I just used a stainless steel saucepan, kept the heat low, and watched it very closely.
For this method I infused jewelweed in olive oil. I will be making a salve for poison ivy rash and bug bites.
First, roughly chop the plant. The ratio of fresh plant material to oil is roughly 3:1.
I used approximately 6 cups jewelweed and 2 cups olive oil.
Place the chopped plant into the pan and pour olive oil over it. Let it simmer for an hour over low heat. Keep a close watch on it. You want the plant to soften and wilt, not fry.
After the oil has simmered and the plant material has broken down, remove from heat and cover and let sit overnight, or for several hours until completely cooled.
Once cool, strain out the plant material (you may need to mash it through the strainer or squeeze it through a cheese cloth to collect all the oil.)
After you strain the oil, let it sit for a minute. You’ll notice water settling to the bottom. When you pour the oil into it’s container, leave the water in the bottom and discard it. If there is still water in the bottom, continue pouring it back and forth, discarding the water, until no more remains. You will lose a little oil in this process, but it’s better to lose a little now, than for all of it to go rancid later. I can not stress this enough, DO NOT skip this step. Any water or plant material left in the oil will make is susceptible to spoiling.
Now your oils are infused and ready for use!
Jewelweed infused in olive oil (left), and yarrow infused in almond oil (right)
Part 2, a walkthrough on salve making is coming soon! In the mean time infuse your oils and gather your ingredients. Aside from your infused oil, you will need bee’s wax, vitamin E oil, and the essential oil of your choice (optional) for scent.