Infused Oils and Ointments
Herbal oils can be used alone or as a base for creams or ointments. There are two ways to make infused oils: using the sun or using the stove. You can use many types of vegetable oil as your base — coconut (Cocos nucifera) and almond (Prunus dulcis) are popular choices — and add an equal amount of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter to thicken the mixture, if you like (this works best with the stovetop method).
Making Solar-Infused Oils
Place a handful of dried herbs into a clean, clear glass jar and fill the jar with oil (you'll use about 2 ounces, or 8 tablespoons, of herbs per pint of oil). Cover tightly and place in a warm sunny spot. Leave it there for two weeks. When the time is up, pour the mixture through a piece of cheesecloth or muslin, making sure to wring the cloth tightly and catch every last drop of oil.
When making infused oils, you'll get the best results with dried herbs. Plant material that contains too much moisture can cause the oil to get moldy. (Your oil can also grow mold if it's made or stored in a jar with an ill-fitting lid, which can allow moisture to get in.)
Discard the herbs and replace them with a new batch, then let the oil and herbs steep for another two weeks. Transfer to clean glass bottles. Stored correctly, infused oils will last several months.
The Stovetop Method
If you don't have a lot of sunshine (or a month to wait), you can make your oil on the stove using a double boiler. Put the herbs and oil into the top section, fill the bottom with water, and bring it to a low boil. Let the oil simmer gently for 30 to 60 minutes, checking frequently to make sure the oil isn't overheating (it will start to smoke if that's the case). The lower and longer you let it simmer, the better your oil will be.
Here's one recipe to try:
Calming Massage Oil
1 part coconut (Cocos nucifera) oil
1 part almond (Prunus dulcis) oil
1 part cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter
1 part chamomile (Matricaria recutita) flowers
1 part lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) leaves
1 part lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) leaves and flowers
Prepare according to the instructions, above.
Making Herbal Ointments
Ointments, also known as salves, are thick, oil-based preparations used to treat superficial wounds (like scrapes, burns, and insect bites) and soothe aching muscles and joints. Here's how to make them:
Start with an infused oil (see above) that's been strained. Put the oil into a small pan and add grated beeswax — ¼ cup per cup of infused oil. Heat on low, until the beeswax is completely melted, then remove from the heat.
Test a small amount for consistency by putting it into the freezer for a minute or two to cool it. If it seems too hard (you can't spread it easily), heat it again and add more oil. If it's too oily, reheat and add more beeswax.
When you've got the consistency you want, transfer the ointment to clean glass jars. Stored properly, ointments will last several months.
Try this recipe:
Burn (and Baby Bottom) Ointment
1 part calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers
1 part comfrey (Symphytum officinale) leaves
1 part comfrey (Symphytum officinale) root
1 part Saint John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers
1 part olive (Olea europaea) oil Beeswax, grated
Follow the instructions for making an herbal ointment, above.