Instructions on how to make herb-infused oil using healing plants beneficial for your skin. Includes six different methods that take anywhere from an hour to several weeks to produce—also, tips on using herb-infused oil for skincare and salves.
You can use countless ingredients to make natural skincare, but two of the most common are oil and skin-beneficial plants. By oil, I mean simple fats extracted from either plants or animals—olive oil, lanolin, and sweet almond oil, to name a few. When it comes to plants, think of the botanicals often listed on fancy skincare products. Though some of them are difficult to source, others grow as weeds in your lawn or plants in your garden. By learning to make herb-infused oil, you can harness both oil and skincare plants to make your own skincare products.
Oil is an easy one to find uses for in skin care. Plants are a little more challenging since there are few cases that you’d want to walk around with plant material on your skin! What we can do instead is extract their healing properties into another material such as oil. Infusing oils with herbs is ideal because it’s relatively easy to do and has a good shelf-life. You can use herb-infused oil directly on your skin or as an ingredient to make salves, lotions, creams, balms, ointments, and daily skincare.
DIY Herbal Skincare Series
- Plants, Flowers, and Herbs for Skin Care
- Grow a Beauty & Skin Care Garden
- How to use Skin Healing Plants to Make Herbal Skincare
- Six Ways to Make Herb-Infused Oil
Herbal Oil for Skin
Plants can have incredible benefits for the skin, both inside and out. We can eat plant-based food, and our bodies use its nutrients to nourish our whole being, skin included. You can also apply plants rich in skin-beneficial compounds directly to the skin. That includes comfrey leaf to stimulate healing, chickweed to soothe, and calendula flowers to cleanse and heal.
Some plants are also high in oils that we can extract by cold-pressing or other methods. In many cases, it’s very straightforward, and the plant can be crushed and pressed to release this rich oil. That’s the case in extra virgin olive oil. When applied to the skin, many plant-based oils can help condition and lock moisture in. They also often have skin-beneficial properties of their own.
To create herb-infused oils, we mix these oils, either plant-based or animal, with herbal material. With warmth and time, the oil-soluble component of the plants infuses into the oil, often changing the oil’s color. This infused oil nourishes skin in two ways — through the conditioning and soothing action of the carrier oil and through the herbal component that you add to it.
Herbs for Skincare and Salves
Certain herbs and flowers can help calm, disinfect, revitalize, repair, and tighten your skin. Using plant material directly on our skin can be highly effective, such as in face masks or using aloe vera on sunburns. One plant that I use fresh on the skin is plantain, a leafy plant that grows in lawns. If I’m in the garden and get an itchy bite, I’ll chew a leaf and put the pulp on my skin. It gives immediate relief!
You can use many herbs, including plantain, to make herb-infused oil to use in the future, though. It’s a way to preserve their healing properties for later. For times that you can’t, or don’t want, to have leaf goop on your skin.
Some of the skincare plants that you can use to make herb-infused oil include: arnica, calendula, cannabis, chamomile, chickweed, comfrey, common daisies, echinacea, lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, plantain, rosemary, self heal, St John’s wort, and yarrow. In most cases, it’s best to work with dried herbs when making herb-infused oil, and you can dry homegrown herbs on a rack or a food dehydrator set to a low temperature. Learn more about growing a salve garden.
Liquid and Solid Carrier Oils
Please be aware that the term oil is given to very different materials. For example, the oil used in cars is much different from cooking oil. It’s best to initially think of carrier oils for making infused-oils in the same category of cooking oil. They should be safe to put on your skin, have an oily consistency, and are often edible.
Carrier oils for herb-infused oil include sunflower oil and olive oil, and the best quality oil will be types that are mechanically pressed (squeezed) from sunflower seeds or olives. Much of the goodness of the plant is released with the oil. Organic, cold-pressed and/or extra virgin is often the best choice carrier oil for making herb-infused oil. It means the plant oil i the closest thing to natural that you can get.
It’s also possible to make infused oils with plant-based or animal-based fats that are solid at room temperature. Some are pressed in the same way as liquid oils and others need heat and alternative processing. Either way, to use solid oils to make infused oils, you will need to melt them so that the herbal material can interact with the oil.
To make handmade salves, you usually need to combine liquid oils with solid oils. Melted together and cooled, the combination of the oils creates a firmness that is somewhere in between the consistency of the singular oils. One or all of the oils used to make salves should be infused with skincare herbs.
Carrier Oils for Herb-infused Oil for Skincare
When making herb-infused oil, it’s best to choose just one of these oils to use per batch. It’s during making salves and other skincare that you mix different oils together. When sourcing carrier oils, look to cosmetic suppliers when possible. Oil from the supermarket is often lower quality and has a shorter shelf-life.
- Liquid oils for face skincare: almond, apricot kernel, grapeseed, jojoba, rice bran, safflower, wheat germ
- Liquid oils for salves, lip, and body care: almond oil, avocado, fractionated coconut oil, olive oil, rapeseed oil, rice bran, safflower oil, sunflower oil. Of these, a light-colored (opposed to extra virgin) olive oil is the best choice for an all-rounder oil for infusing. It’s a resilient oil and lasts a lot longer than others do, even when heated a little warmer than is best.
- Solid oils and butters: babassu, cocoa butter, coconut oil, lanolin, lard, mango butter, shea butter, tallow. Many of these are too heavy and pore-clogging to use directly on the face. They are all good for using to make salves for lips and body, though.
Herbal Oils vs. Essential Oils
The oils you need to create herb-infused oils are organic compounds made up of glycerine and fatty acids. They include many of the oils mentioned in the next section but what you don’t use to make herb-infused oil is essential oil.
Though they’re also called oil, they’re a different type and are not an ingredient that you’d use to infuse herbs. They are also not the same as the infused oils that you can create by macerating herbs in a carrier oil.
Essential oils are the concentrated volatile oils of a plant and are already potent with plant-based skin therapy. They’re not the same consistency as carrier oils, won’t work to infuse herbs, and the vast majority are also unsafe to use undiluted on the skin. In leave-on skincare and ointments, you add them at 2% or less of a recipe (by weight) and you add them as an optional ingredient in the last step.
Slow Infused Herbal Oil
The simplest and most common way to make herb-infused oil is through macerating herbs in oil at room temperature. This method is suitable for all dried skincare herbs that have oil-soluble components.
Begin with excellent quality fully dried herbs, ideally less than a year old. Growing your own gives you the benefit of your knowledge of when they were harvested and how they were dried. Purchased herbs also tend to be sold when they are less fresh, and their herbal quality has the potential to be degraded. The typical shelf-life for purchased herbs is three years — in most cases, that’s two years too many!
Loosely fill a jar with whole dried plant material from halfway to all the way to the top. If the plant material is light and fluffy, then I advise all the way to the top. More solid, like lavender buds, and halfway is good. The size of the jar is up to you and your needs. I tend to make herb-infused oil in jars that range from a jam jar to a quart.
When making herb-infused oil for skin care, you can infuse a carrier oil with one or several herbs. Make sure that you keep a record of how much of what herb you used though, for future reference.
Next, pour a single liquid carrier oil of your choice over the herbs. Fill to within a half-inch of the top of the jar, then seal it with a lid and then place it in a room temperature place out of direct sunlight. Leave the jar there for four weeks giving it a gentle shake every few days or when you remember. When using dried herbs, it does not matter if the herbal material floats to the top of the oil. It will not rot or mold since there is no water in the jar.
Solar Infused Herbal Oil
Alternatively, you can prepare the jar of herbs and oil as described in the method above and then setting the jar in a warm (70-80°F / 21-27°C) windowsill. UV rays from sunlight damage oil, though, and can cause premature oxidization and spoilage. Placing the jar in a brown paper bag will protect the oil from UV light while keeping the oil warm and gently extracting the herbal properties from the plant material. Placed in a warm place, such as a window sill, your herb-infused oil will be ready after two weeks.
Using Fresh Herbs to Make Herb Infused Oil
You can use either dried herbs or fresh herbs to make herb-infused oil, but there is a catch. Dried herbs are much easier and safer to use since they do not introduce moisture into the oil. Water in oil leads to oxidization, pathogens, and increased risk of the oil going rancid. Dry herbs also have no risk of contaminating your oil with botulism, a worry if you’re planning on making lip salves. Fresh herbs do.
Despite this, you can use fresh herbs to make herb-infused oil, though. In some cases, such as in St John’s wort, mullein flowers, and chickweed, you should use fresh plant material. The trick with using fresh is that you need to either infuse the material quickly (see crockpot method above) and/or ensure that it stays submerged below the surface of the oil. If you don’t do this, the plant material will mold, rot, and introduce pathogens into the oil.
With wet herbs, like chickweed, you should also allow the leaves to wilt for twelve hours before you begin the infusion, turning them over halfway through so that excess moisture evaporates off.
If you’d like to use fresh herbs using the slow-infused herbal oil method, I’d recommend using a fermenting weight to keep the plant material submerged under the oil. You will also need to strain and decant the finished oil in a very particular way – see section further below. Lastly, never use herb-infused oils created using fresh herbs for lip products. There is a chance that they may contain botulism.
Crockpot Method for making Herb Infused Oil
I tend to use the method above for making herb-infused oil, but there are other ways too. Lucy Jones, in her book, Self-Sufficient Herbalism, describes a quicker way that uses a crockpot. Crockpots are brilliant kitchen gadgets that many of us use for making stews, soups, or even hot-process soap! You can use this method for herb-infusing both liquid oils and solid oils and butters.
If you have a crockpot with a warm setting (not to be confused with low), the temperature will be warm but cool enough not to damage the oil. Unfortunately, the low setting on crockpots is too hot to use for this method. When you heat oil to high temperatures, it can change its chemical makeup and cause the oil to oxidize. You want to avoid that when making herb-infused oil, especially if you’re using cold-pressed oils. Just remember that high temperatures, especially high and prolonged or repeated temperatures, can ruin your oil.
To use Lucy’s first crockpot method, fill the crockpot dish with dried herbs, then pour your choice of carrier oil over them. Fill so that the herbs are entirely covered. You’ll then turn the crockpot to the ‘warm’ setting for an hour, then turn it off. Repeat this the next day, and the third day, before following the straining method further below.
Double Boiler Method for Making Herb-Infused Oil
For an even quicker way to make herb-infused oil, use a double boiler. You can create one in a pinch by setting a stainless steel saucepan inside another larger saucepan. You fill the larger saucepan 1/3 full with water and then heat to a simmer. The smaller pan floats on this hot water and is thus heated indirectly. Using a double-boiler method ensures that the contents of the smaller pan don’t feel the full effect of the direct heat.
To make herb-infused oil using a double boiler, half-fill the smaller pan with herbs. Next, pour oil over them, submerging them completely. Use either liquid or solid oil to make herb-infused oil with this method. Either way, the herbs need to be fully submerged in the oil. That may mean waiting for solid oils to melt and then adding more.
Float this smaller pan containing the herbs and oil in the larger pan of low-simmering water and heat through for 1-2 hours. Keep the temperature between 120-140°F (49-60°C) during this time and carefully monitor it. If the water simmers too enthusiastically, then water can sputter up and get into your pan of oil.
Alcohol-Intermediary Method for making Herb-Infused Oil
The alcohol-intermediary method is new to me, and I learned about it through the Mountain Rose Herbs. Although oil is an excellent substance for extracting herbal components, it will only pull out the beneficial properties that are oil soluble. Alcohol is the best solvent you can use to extract the full range of medicinal properties from plants. It also does not have the risks that using water can impart to herb-infused oil.
In this method, you finely pulse one ounce (28 g) of dried herbal material to a powder. Mix it with half an ounce (14 g) of high-proof vodka or brandy and allow it to macerate for a day. The next day, place the herb-alcohol mix in a blender with eight ounces (227 g) of liquid carrier oil. Then you’ll turn on your blender and allow it to blend for five whole minutes. Strain and store as described for all herb-infused oils, below.
Straining Herb Infused Oil
No matter which of the above methods you’ve used, you will strain and store infused oil in a similar way. After the maceration time, pass the infused oil through a sieve and/or material that will remove the plant material from the oil. I tend to use a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl but often line the sieve with cheesecloth too. It’s quick, and you can gather the fabric and herbs in a ball and squeeze any excess oil from it. Doing this will remove the vast majority of the herbal material from your lovely infused oil.
After this, I will set the herbal material back in the sieve and allow any additional oil to drip out overnight. Afterward, the herbs or flowers go in the compost pile, and I thoroughly wash the cheesecloth first by hand and then through the washing machine.
There may still be some sediment in your oil after straining it this way, though. If you’d like to remove it, you can pass the herb-infused oil through a coffee filter-lined sieve. Just take an ordinary coffee filter and set it inside a sieve over a bowl. It takes longer for the oil to pass through, and you may find that the filter clogs up after a bit. If that happens, you’ll need to change the filter. You can also add any extra oil that might have dripped from the herbal material overnight.
If you’re using fresh herbs, you will need to follow an extra step now. Place the filtered oil in a tall glass jar and allow it to settle overnight. The next day, carefully decant the oil from the container from the top, leaving the bottom half-inch to be discarded. Moisture introduced from the fresh herbs will eventually settle at the bottom. Removing the oil from the top helps separate the herb-infused oil from pathogen-introducing moisture.
Storing Herbal Oils
Decant herb-infused oil into glass bottles and label them with contents and date. If the glass is clear, you should store them in a dark place. Alternatively, you can store the oil in dark glass bottles, with brown and blue bottles relatively standard in the cosmetic packaging world. Stored in dark bottles, you can keep your oil on a shelf, but do protect them from sunlight and heat.
As for shelf-life, you should use your herb-infused oil by the best-by date of the carrier oil you used or one year. Whichever is closer.
Using Herb Infused Oil for Skincare and Salves
Now that you have your herbal oils made and waiting, what can you do with them? You have the choice to use infused oil directly on the skin or to use it to make skincare products. Herb-infused oil is a brilliant starting place to make handmade skincare. That includes lotions, creams, lip balm, massage oil, serums, eyelash oil, haircare, and salves. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Herbal Healing Salve Recipe
- Herbal Lip Balm recipe
- Chamomile lotion recipe
- Massage Oil Candles (for warm oil massages)
- More ways to use herbs in handmade skincare