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"Preparing Medicinal Oils & Salves" by Micki Visten, published August 2004

Medicinal oils are a wonderfully simple and versatile herbal product to make. The medicinal oils we will be discussing and making in this workshop are the infused herbal oils, sometimes referred to as fixed oils. The other oils that are sometimes confused with fixed oils are Essential Oils. They should not be used interchangeably as the essential oils are extremely concentrated. It should also be mentioned that essential oils should be researched before, and used with caution due to their high concentrations of volatile oils. While infused herbal oils are not as concentrated they are very safe to use, and still very effective. Once made they can be used as simple oils, made into salves, balms, massage oils, insect repellants and whatever else your imagination leads you to.

Ingredients:

Oils: Using high quality, preferably organic, oils is very important. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the first choice of most herbalists for making a medicinal oil or salve. It has healing properties of its own that blend so beautifully with the energies of the plants we choose to infuse in it.
When choosing oils for non-medicinal projects, such as body balms, lotions, or even massage blends it is best to use lighter, less aromatic oils. Some good examples are apricot seed oil, grapeseed oil, or sweet almond oil. These will absorb quickly into the skin and do not carry as strong of a scent as olive oil.

Herbs: There are endless possibilities of herbal blends. Many herbs are suitable for making medicinal and cosmetic oils. Both fresh or dried herbs may be used, though I personally prefer using fresh plants that I have picked myself. The benefits of using dried herbs, especially for your first attempt at making an herbal oil, is that there is little chance of spoilage occurring. When gathering fresh plants for use there is a good deal of water in the leaves and flowers. This moisture is the main cause of spoilage. If the materials are not completely free of excess moisture bacteria will flourish, resulting in moldy, unusable products. The best way to avoid mold developing in your jars is to pick the herbs and let them sit in a dry shaded place for several hours before infusing them in the chosen oil. This is called "fresh wilting", and is very effective at eliminating the chances of spoilage.

Making The Medicinal Oil:

Proportions of herb to oil: The method I use to determine the amount of herb to oil is called the Simplers method. This process is as easy as putting your collected herbs in a clean, dry container and then pouring enough oil to completely cover them. It is important to add enough oil that the herbs are completely submerged, exposure to air may encourage bacterial growth. This process of soaking herbs in oil is called maceration.

Solar infused oils: This is the method of processing medicinal oils that is most commonly used by traditional herbalists. When traveling through the countryside and villages of Europe it is common to see homes with jars of mysterious herbs and oils adorning windowsills or in boxes of sand to gather more heat. This is a beautifully simple process that involves placing your container of herbs, submerged in oil, in a warm and sunny location where they can infuse for at least two weeks. You can make your oil stronger by adding a fresh batch of herbs in the container and then infusing for another couple of weeks.

Oven extracted oils: If the season or weather does not allow for solar infusion then your oven may be the answer. The herbal infusion is placed in glass canning jars and then put into a water bath that covers half the jar. The oven is turned on to the lowest setting and the oil is left to infuse for several hours. They should be checked periodically to prevent over-heating.

Double boiler method: This method is quick and easy and can be very useful when you need a medicinal oil or salve sooner rather than later. The herbs and oil are placed in a double boiler, covered and brought to a low simmer. The lower the heat and the longer the infusion the better your oil will turn out. While this method appears to be simple and timely it can also be very easy to ruin. The oil can become too hot and ruin your product, so be very mindful and keep an eye on your temperatures!

Straining and Storage: Once the process of maceration has been completed you are ready to strain and store your beautiful herbal product. The easiest way is to pour the oil through a tight woven cheese-cloth. Then in a separate container squeeze the remaining oil from the herbs. This makes a first pressing and a second pressing. The first pressing should be your high quality blend without sediment. The second pressing will have a higher moisture and sediment content. It is still very effective and should not be thrown out, however the two should not be combined. The oil is rebottled and stored in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration is not necessary but heat and light exposure will cause your oil to deteriorate.

Preparing Your Healing Salves:

Basic Recipe: After you have prepared and strained your medicinal oil it is time to blend it with some beeswax. Your wax should be a nice dark, sweet smelling beeswax. Avoid bleached out looking and odorless beeswax, much of the healing properties of the wax have been removed if it looks pale.
Once you have these two ingredients ready you should take stock of how much oil you have and then begin grating or cutting your beeswax so it is thin and easy to melt. You will be using roughly ¼ cup beeswax for each cup of herbal oil. The next step is to set up your double boiler and slowly melt the wax into the herbal oil. The wax needs to be completely melted. If you are uncertain as to whether or not it is going to be the proper consistency there is a simple test you can use: put a tablespoon of the mixture in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Test its firmness with your finger. If you want a harder salve add more wax, if you want it softer add more oil. When you are happy with the consistency place the, still liquid, salve mixture into small jars or tins to cool. If you are adding essential oils to your salve now is the time. DO NOT add essential oils while the mixture is still over heat, this will cause the volatile oils to evaporate. Add a very small amount of the essential oil just before covering your containers.
Something else I would like to remind you of when determining the proper consistency is this: if you want to keep a salve in your car, backpack or purse you should add a little more wax than you may otherwise. This will make a harder salve that is less likely to melt under the heat of these closed conditions, thus making it less likely to spill out and make a big mess. It is wise to have these healing salves on hand, as part of your first-aid kits, for both home and travel. So perhaps it is best to make some softer ones and some harder ones to fill all of your herbal first-aid needs.
Salves, balms and ointments will keep for months and even years if they are kept cool and out of direct sunlight. If your salve begins to look faded and takes on a sour, or rancid, smell then it is time to compost it. Or if you can't bring yourself to do that, you can always use them to oil up the handles of your wooden tools or freshen up some dry, cracked furniture. But it is important that you do not use salves that have become rancid, as they are carcinogenic. Just take it as an excuse to get back out into the garden, meadows and woodlands to gather up more herbal treasures and to blend up some more earthly medicines.

I wish you all happy gathering and blending. Enjoy the teachings of the plants and let them inspire you and guide you to new possibilities…
Herbal Blessings to All!


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