The values are based on information from Bailey's Industrial Oil and Fat Products, edited by Daniel Swern, and Food Oils and Their Uses, by Theodore J. Weiss, USDA research chemist.
Never pass up the opportunity to use herbs in your aromatherapy formulations. When the essential oil of a plant is deemed too strong for a particular person or application, the herb itself in tea or tincture form is likely a safe and effective substitute. When used together, whole plants and essential oils often create a synergy with greater potential for healing than either used alone.
Herb quality is as important to herbalism as purity of essential oils is to aromatherapy. Growing your own herbs is ideal, but we realize that many of you will be buying herbs from an herb or natural-food store. The good news is that it is much easier to determine good herb quality by smelling, seeing and tasting than it is with essential oils. Dried herbs should not be brown and lifeless; they should be fragrant, colorful and, ideally, organically grown or responsibly picked in the wild. Buying direct from the grower, wildcrafter (one who picks wild herbs), or local sources such as farmers' markets, where you can inquire about growing methods, is probably the next best thing to growing your own herbs.
The following recipes provide a useful basis for making basic herbal preparations. They can be made either with individual herbs ("simples") or a combination of herbs ("compounds"). So get creative! If you need more detailed information on the specific uses of individual herbs, consult a good herb book such as Kathi's Herbs, an Illustrated Encyclopedia (Friedman/Fairfax).
Preparing Herb-Infused Oils
Oils made by macerating (steeping) herbs in vegetable oil are called infused oils. The oils can be used instead of plain carrier oils in all of your aromatherapy preparations.
Finely chop (or coarsely grind) one cup dried herbs in a blender. Place the herbs in a wide-mouth jar and add enough oil to cover. Check the mixture in a day or two; you may need to add a bit more oil. Keep the mixture in a warm place and shake daily. The ideal temperature is 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, but fluctuations in temperature will not harm the oil. Let the mixture steep for one week; by this time, the oil should have taken on the color, aroma and healing properties of the herb.
Strain the oil through a kitchen strainer, or through cheesecloth, muslin or a thin dishcloth. Most of the oil will drain out. To get every precious drop, press with the back of a spoon or wring out as much oil as possible. Compost the herbs and store the infused oil in a cool place.
There are many variations on this preparation. Choose a vegetable oil such as olive for medicinal preparations such as salves; choose hazelnut or another light oil for cosmetic applications or massage. It is difficult to give exact measurements for each herb, because they are different in texture, weight and volume. To double the strength, you can add a new batch of dried herb to the same oil. This is called a double infusion.
Another way to make infused oils is on the stove top. Place the dried herbs in a pot and cover them with oil. Gently warm the herb mixture over low heat (about 100 degrees F) without a lid, stirring occasionally. (Be careful not to deep-fry your herbs.) After about six hours, strain, cool and bottle.
Some people like to use fresh herbs, although the water in fresh plants may cause the oil to mold and spoil. However, some oils-St. John's wort for example-must be made fresh. Wilt the plant material overnight to eliminate some of the water, then finely chop or crush them. Process as instructed above for dry herbs. Be sure that all the plant material is submerged and that there are no air bubbles.
When straining the oil, simply let the mixture drip; wringing or pressing will give you more oil, but also more water. When the water from the fresh plant has settled in the bottom of the jar, pour the oil off the top and discard the water. (Be prepared to lose a little oil.)
Don't confine yourself to making only medicinal or cosmetic oils. Experiment with creating culinary oils, too. Try a combination of basil, oregano, rosemary and garlic infused in olive oil. It's great on pasta or french bread!
Always keep a meticulous record of how you make your herbal preparations. Your notes should include ingredients and proportions, the date you started and completed the preparation, processing procedures, comments, and possible improvements to be made next time. Label finished products with the date the product was made, ingredients, and instructions for use.
Further Examples of Herb-Infused Oils
Alkanet-This is an infusion of alkanet root in vegetable oil. Because of its brilliant color, it is used as a pink coloring for cosmetic preparations.
Calendula-Very healing to the skin in all cosmetic applications, calendula is specifically recommended for burns and is also antimicrobial, making it suitable for the treatment of many types of skin infections. There is also a carbon-dioxide extract of calendula which is very concentrated and tarlike. It can be diluted in vegetable oil and added to any essential oil preparation.
Neem-Derived from a tree native to India, neem is used to treat a number of skin diseases, as an astringent, antibacterial and antiviral. It is also a preservative. The oil has a long history of use in treatment of hair loss, dandruff, excess sebum production, brittle nails, nail fungus and gum infections. This herb is hard to find unless you have a neem tree, but pre-prepared oil can be purchased.
St. John's Wort-Excellent for bruises, inflammation and nerve damage, St. John's wort is made from fresh flowering tops of the plant to obtain the desired deep red oil, high in the healing constituent hypericin.
Yarrow-For treating the genito-urinary system (see Chapter 5: Therapeutics).
Herbal boluses are vaginal or rectal suppositories used to treat chronic infections, nonspecific vaginitis, cysts, and hemorrhoids. See "Reproductive System."
1/8 cup finely powdered herbs
1/4 cup cocoa butter
15-20 drops appropriate essential oil
Melt the cocoa butter over low heat and add the finely powdered herbs to form a thick, pliable paste. Add the essential oil. Drop the mixture by the teaspoonful onto a cold plate and form into a suppository shape about the size of your little finger (or you can mold it into a long, thin roll). Refrigerate until firm. Remove the hardened mixture and cut it with a warm knife into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Date and store boluses in glass or plastic in the refrigerator.
For treatment, insert one bolus each evening for seven days. Women may want to wear a panty liner and gently douche every couple of days.
1 cup herb-infused oil
3/4 ounce beeswax, shaved
Warm the herb-infused oil in a pan and add the beeswax. (More beeswax will create a salve with a firmer consistency, which won't melt in hot temperatures.) You can shave the beeswax with a wide-hole cheese grater. (For a quick cleanup, heat the grater over the kitchen stove and wipe with paper towels.) Add essential oils at the end, after the salves cool a bit so that the oils do not evaporate. (You can also add the essential oils to the individual jars before pouring.)
Lip balms are made the same way as salves, but use 1 ounce beeswax.
Herb Tea: Infusions and Decoctions
For infusions, pour boiling water over fresh or dried herbs, let them steep while covered for 5-10 minutes, strain and drink. Cover steeping herbs to keep in the precious volatile oils.
Infusions are good for delicate plant parts such as leaves, blossoms and fruits, or seeds and roots that are high in volatile oils. The amount of herb varies, but the general rule is one teaspoon dried herb, or one tablespoon fresh herb, per cup of water.
For hard plant parts, such as roots, barks, twigs and some seeds, decoctions are preferable. We prefer to soak the herbs in cold water overnight, bring the water and herbs to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Roots and seeds that are high in volatile oils, such as ginger and valerian roots, or fennel and anise seeds, should be infused.
To make tea with both leaves and roots, start by soaking the herbs overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to a boil, remove from the heat and steep for 15 minutes. You can also decoct the roots first, remove from heat, add the leaves to the decoction and steep.
Teas are a great addition to bath water, especially for those with highly sensitive skin. Almost any herb or essential oil, alone or in combination, will do. Refrigerator storage is acceptable for up to three days.
dry or fresh herbs
vodka to cover
Chop or grind herbs before tincturing to expose more surface area of the plant to the vodka which contains only water and alcohol and is used to break down the plant matter and extract its qualities. Put the herbs in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and cover with menstru-um. The proportion of herb to vodka is hard to specify, because the weight-to-volume of each herb varies so much. Make sure that the herb is completely covered. Check in a few days in case you need to add more vodka. Cover the jar tightly and let the herbs soak for two weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking daily, then strain. You'll be surprised to find how easy this is, and it costs much less than commercial tinctures.
Tinctures are best made with single herbs, and can then be mixed together to make compounds or formulas. This helps avoid undesirable constituent interactions that can occur when herbs are tinctured together. It also allows for more flexibility in blending tinctures into different combinations. Tinctures are taken orally, typically 15 to 30 drops three times a day, mixed in a little water or juice. One advantage herbal tinctures have over teas is that they need no refrigeration and remain potent for many years, take up little storage space, and are fast and easy to use, fitting into any busy lifestyle. They are also quickly and easily absorbed by the body.
fresh or dried herbs
vinegar to cover
Make sure the fresh or dried herbs are covered by the vinegar. Shake daily for two weeks, strain. Add essential oils to the vinegar after straining, but remember to shake well before use-essential oils do not mix with a watery carrier. These vinegars can be used to make "Queen of Hungary's water," other facial toners, hair rinses, baths, and douches. Vinegar also can be used as a substitute for alcohol in tincturing for those who are alcohol-intolerant, but it is not a good menstruum for extracting the resinous constituents contained in certain plants.