Infusing oils is a super handy and effective way of making the most of a plant’s medicinal benefits and flavor both in cooking and skincare. I love infusing oils as it is simple, inexpensive and a great way to use the wonderful plants on this planet to our benefit. It is also a great way of putting any herbs or medicinal plants you may have growing in your garden or on your window sill to good use.
How to use infused oils?
As I’ve already mentioned you can use infused oils both as food and for skincare. And probably a couple of other things that I haven’t thought of yet.
When it comes to food, you may have seen them in the store before. Some supermarkets sell infused olive oils at often ridiculous prices. You can achieve the same at home for a lot less. Cooking with infused oils is a great way to introduce more depth of flavor to any dish. You can also use your oils cold on salads or just put your flavored oil on bread. Basically anywhere you would put an oil normally, you could replace it with an infused one.
In skincare, or rather topical application, infusing oils is a great way of utilizing the beneficial properties of a plant for your skin without having to purchase expensive essential oils. Plus, due to their lower potency they are a great alternative for children or others who cannot use essential oils. You can make a salve or ointment (I will write a tutorial on that soon) in order to be able to use the highest possible potency of the specific plant you infused the oil with.
Alternatively, you can simply use an infused oil instead of a regular oil in any skincare recipe that calls for liquid oils. An example for this is my Shimmering Rose Body Butter where I used rose infused almond oil for the liquid oils portion.
What plants to use?
You can use any plant, herb or spice when infusing oils. Of course some will taste and work better than others. I usually distinguish between those I use for cooking and those for topical application. In general, you should opt for dried plants whenever possible. Fresh herbs can spoil and mold and thus cause your oil to go bad as well. If you want to use fresh plants, consider heat infusing the oils or leaving the plant or herb spread out in a sunny spot for a day or two to allow it to wilt and dry as much as possible before starting the infusion.
For cooking, the most important aspect is flavor. Herbs that you would use for cooking anyway such as basil, thyme, rosemary etc. are popular choices. You can also use certain fruits and vegetables in oil infusions such as chili peppers, ginger or garlic. However, these should be infused using heat infusions as they can cause an oil to go bad quickly due to their high water content.
For skincare or topical application the medicinal properties of the plants and herbs take the stage. Many herbs have powerful medicinal properties. Infusing oils with them is a great way of utilizing these properties for the benefit of your family. An infused oil made into a salve can replace many more synthetic first aid and over the counter medicinal products such as wound creams, muscle pain relieving creams, vapor rubs etc.
Below I have compiled a list of the most common/popular plants for topical application and some of their benefits, but there are many more!
What oils to use?
When selecting an oil to infuse try to opt for oils with a good shelf life that are relatively stable. This is especially important when doing a sun infusion (since the oil will stand for several weeks). I would recommend staying away from any oils that need to be refrigerated such as flax seed, hemp seed or borage seed.
For infusions meant for the kitchen, olive oil is a great choice because of its long shelf life, many applications and it infuses well. Jojoba oil is a popular choice for skincare for similar reasons, plus it is suitable for most skin types. Almond oil, grape seed or apricot are other popular choices. But feel free to experiment.
Is infusing oils safe?
I am a big supporter of independent thinking. Therefore, everyone needs to decide what they consider safe for themselves. Nonetheless, there appears to be a general consensus that infusing oils at home is safe if you stick with dried plants as well as use finished oils withing a reasonable time (the specific time depends on what you are infusing).
The one aspect that can be somewhat risky is that certain low-acid vegetables like garlic can pose a risk of botulism when you leave them in the oil for a longer period and especially at room temperature. Such vegetables should be heat infused and strained out immediately after. Other than that, you may experience mold if the plants you used weren’t completely dry. In that case, I would recommend discarding the oil.
If you are concerned about the safety of infused oils, I would recommend sticking to dried herbs or heat infusing them for a short time and then straining the plant matter out, as well as storing the finished oils in the fridge. You can read more about the danger of botulism when infusing oils here.
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Sun infusing oils (or cold infusing)
There are two basic methods of infusing oils, sun infusion or heat infusion. Sun infusion, also known as cold infusion, is the more gentle, but also takes a longer time. Whenever possible I recommend using this method. It allows you to preserve the most beneficial properties of the plant in the oil.
To sun infuse an oil you will need:
- Dried herb or plant of your choice
- Oil of your choice
- A jar
- A sunny spot
- A strainer or muslin
To infuse the oil simply place the herb in a clean (preferably sterilized) jar and pour in enough oil to cover the herbs (don’t worry if they float). Seal the jar and set it in a warm, sunny spot. Leave it to infuse for at least 3-4 weeks. The longer you leave it the stronger the infusion, however, if the plant matter was not completely dry it can still spoil, so keep an eye on that.
Every once in a while, give the jar a swirl, that loosens up the plant matter and helps along the infusion process. After 3-4 weeks, strain the oil through a mesh strainer or muslin. Push as much of the oil out of the plant matter as you can using your hands or the back of a spoon. Now your infused oil is ready to be used.
Heat infusing oils
The second way of infusing oils is heat infusion. This method is much faster than the sun infusion and better suited for infusing fresh herbs or spices (garlic, ginger, etc.). However, due to the heating of the oil and herb, some of the beneficial properties can burn off. Therefore, it is important to be as gentle as possible with the heat.
To heat infuse oil you will need:
- Fresh or dried herb/plant/spice of your choice
- Oil of your choice
- Double boiler/crock-pot/dehydrator
- Strainer or muslin
- Jar or bottle for oil
There are several different ways of heat infusing an oil, but the basic principle remains the same: Apply low heat (if possible indirectly) to the oil and herb mixture for as long a time as possible.
The most common way of doing so is using a double boiler or crock-pot. Simply place the herbs in the bowl and cover them with oil. Set on very low heat (ideally below 150°F/65°C) and let it infuse for as long as you can but at least 2 hours.
Alternatively, you can put the herbs and oil in a jar and place it inside a dehydrator. If you own none of these gadget, you can heat the oil directly on the stove-top as a last resort, but be very careful with the temperature!
After you are finished infusing, strain the oil, pressing as much of it as you can out of the plant matter. Store it in a jar or bottle until you are ready to use it.
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