Oils infused with fresh or dried herbs are a versatile addition to any kitchen shelf. Not only do bottles of herb-infused oils beautify a home, or make an impressive gift—they are easy to craft and have many valuable health benefits.
Herbs are selected according to whether they are intended for use in flavor, medicinal, or beauty applications. There are dozens of herbs that grow wonderfully in this area and offer beneficial properties. Arnica and eucalyptus oil can be used externally to heal the pain of bruises, sore muscles, sprains, burns, and aching joints (do not use arnica on broken skin). Witch hazel, goldenseal, and clover bud are great choices for healing herbal rubs. Lavender smells wonderful and also has relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties, so it makes a great massage or bath oil.
Rosemary has many healing properties, including alleviating depression and headaches. Oregano has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that help kill bacteria and other germs. Thyme also has antiseptic properties, which help relieve symptoms of cough. Herbs can be combined in oils to produce satisfying results—to make a soothing baby/body oil combine chamomile, calendula, rose petals, and sweet almond oil.
There are many options of oils for infusing, as well. Safflower, jojoba, macadamia, and high-oleic sunflower oils work well. Milder flavored oils will result in a more prominent herb flavor. Extra-virgin olive oil is also a good choice, but should be used within one month, as it goes rancid faster than other oils. Most oils should be consumed within two months.
There are three basic methods to making bottles of herb-infused oils. The most common and simplest method is to place the herbs/spices and olive oil in a sterilized bottle. Garden herbs should be harvested in the heat of the day, after the sun has dried the dew. If the plant material is wet it will result in moldy oils, so it is very important that it is properly dried. Herbs are lightly bruised to release flavor. Fill a clean glass bottle with coarsely chopped fresh herbs (dried herbs can be found at your local food market and used in a 1:4 ratio as fresh herbs). Oil is added, filling the bottle one inch from the top. Then the solution is stirred lightly to get rid of any air bubbles.
Seal the bottle and leave at room temperature for at least two weeks, so that the flavor of herbs gets infused in the oil. Sufficient steeping time is vital to extract the beneficial properties of the plant material. Once the desired level of infusion is achieved, the oil is filtered through cheesecloth. Straining the oil is not required, but the flavor will get stronger as the oil stands.
Store herb-infused oils in the refrigerator. Special decorative bottles and stoppers can be bought online or at specialty stores. Add full sprigs of herbs for an ornamental flair.
Other methods of preparing infused oil recipes include the hot oil infusion where the oil and herbs are combined in a pan and heated; the heating process helps in the release of flavors. Then the oil is cooled, strained, and refrigerated in glass containers. The cold method blends the oil and herbs in a food processor; then the oil is strained and refrigerated. This method is mostly used with dry herbs.
Enjoy exploring the many exciting combinations of herbs and oils, the variety of benefits, and selection of methods that you can use in these healthy concoctions. Investigate the diversity of applications of herb-infused oils—from massage oil to salad dressing!