DIY Medicine: Herbal oils done right
This month, Jerri wrote to Ask The Herbalists, asking for clarification on the proper technique and recipes for making infused herbal oils*. She is making herbal oils for her mother and her sisters’ health problems and wants to be sure that she is not making them too strong or overpowering. This is a great question, and questions like this are common, because it can be hard to know where to go for reliable information on herbal medicine making. In this post, I’ll share lots of reputable resources on herbal oil making, whether you are just beginning or seeking more advanced knowledge.
Getting started with Herbal Oil Making
Learning herbal oil making, and really learning all herbal medicine making, is similar to learning how to cook and it’s extremely helpful to have a teacher and some thorough reference materials to guide you.
Herbal oils are simple to make, but there are different approaches and considerations, like whether to use heat or not, working with fresh or dried plant material, which plants to use safely in oils, and how to use your finished product. Even though I’ve been trained in medicine making, I still rely on a combo of books and online tutorials, plus mentors that I can reach out to when I’m stumped. If you are crafting remedies to use yourself or give to your family, you really want to be sure you are getting it right.
To get started with a few easy recipes and pro tips, check out this helpful intro Guide to Making Herbal Infused Oils, from Mountain Rose Herbs. Here, they explain heat-infused and solar infused oils and offer tips on proper preparation, including temperature and steep time.
If you are ready to deepen your skills in herbal oil making, go ahead and invest in a reference book or two. These excellent publications will give you the step by step instructions and basic recipes so that you can be successful and avoid pitfalls.
Favorite Medicine Making Books
The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook by James Green
The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Pursell
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar
Amazing Online Medicine Making Programs
When you are ready to go even deeper, and/or if you just love a good demo video, check out the offerings at these excellent online programs, many of which also have tons of free resources in their blogs.
Healing Herbal Oils, a free workshop (and a longer program if you're inspired!) from the wonderful herbalist Kami McBride
Learning Herbs, making medicine making fun, easy and accessible
The Herbal Academy, solid intro and longer programs and often with new interesting offerings - they just added a botanical skin care course!
Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, their online medicine making class is gorgeous and inspirational, especially if you aspire to have an herbal business
Here’s a few closing thoughts to finish up the remaining questions in Jerri’s inquiry. We love to answer your questions AND, a good reference book or online program would also readily help any new medicine maker sort out super common questions like these:
1. Is my oil too strong/weak? Jerri told us she is using the double boiler method and wishes she could tell how strong the oils are/are not. It may sound too simplistic, but if you follow a recipe from a reputable source, this is the best way to assure your oils are appropriately strong.
2. Is this a safe herb to use in an oil? There are tons of safe choices and a good book or program will help you to learn those. Jerri mentioned she was going to use Gelsemium, but this this is actually a toxic herb. It shouldn't be used by the home medicine maker or without the oversight of a practitioner trained to use it.
3. Can I improvise? Jerri mentioned she planned to double infuse her oils. Typically, infusing oils separately and then blending those into remedies later is the preferred method. For some ideas of nice herbal oil combinations for salves, check out these suggestions from Mountain Rose.
I hope this post doesn’t discourage herbal oil making, but rather empowers readers to find and follow good guidance in their medicine making efforts. Herbal oils are wonderfully versatile and a terrific addition to a natural medicine cabinet and with just a little education and effort, you can make a beautiful and effective remedy affordably. If you have some great books or reliable websites at your fingertips, you can make herbal medicines with confidence.
Have a burning question about herbal medicine? We created Ask The Herbalists to answer your questions and to help connect you to reliable information. All of our writers are professional herbalists and hold advanced degrees in herbal medicine. We’d love to hear from you.
*Note: This post is about infused herbal oils, not essential oils.
Tara Thomas is a clinical herbalist and certified nutrition specialist, practicing in Seattle, WA.