Herb-infused oils can be a powerful base for salves, skincare, and other remedies. Get step-by-step guidance on how to make herbal oils with this in-depth article.
I didn’t always know how to make a potent herbal oil.
For years, I followed the basic steps to make an herb-infused oil. I could even turn the oil into a decent salve that gave pretty good results.
But as I’ve grown as an herbalist, I’ve learned new skills and techniques that have helped me make more powerful remedies. One of the most incredible improvements has been in my herbal oils.
With a few little tweaks to the basic process, I’ve started creating deeply colored, heavily scented, and incredibly concentrated herbal oils that have taken my salves, skincare, and remedies to the next level.
If you’re ready to make herb-infused oils that wow you, let’s dive in!
Disclosure: Affiliate links are included for recommended products. If you purchase, I can earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks!
What an Herbal Oil Is and Isn’t
Before we dive into how to make herbal oils, it’s important to cover what they actually are.
First, and most importantly, herbal oils are not essential oils. You can’t easily make essential oils at home (though it’s possible if you invest in a still).
Rather, herbal oils are stable fixed oils (also called carrier oils) that are infused with herbs. That’s why you’ll also see these oils called herb-infused oils.
In the kitchen, herbal oils are often bottles of olive oil with some sprigs of dried rosemary or oregano tucked inside. Garlic is another popular option. After a few weeks, the oil takes on the herb’s flavor and you can use it anywhere you’d use regular olive oil.
Sometimes people will strain out the herbs. Other times they leave them in the oil for extra flavor and a fun appearance.
In herbalism, though, herbal oils are more potent. That’s because you use much more herbal material in the oil and usually include some other steps to increase the oil’s medicinal qualities. When your herbal oil is finished, it contains the herb’s oil-soluble constituents (or plant chemicals) and should look and smell like the herb because of them.
The Best Herbs to Use in Herbal Oils
You can infuse many different herbs into oil. My favorite herbs to use, though, are those that have a lot of oil-soluble constituents or are particularly helpful for skin conditions.
If a plant’s beneficial compounds are mostly water-soluble, then that plant is best suited for infusions, decoctions, vinegar extracts (called acetracts), and low-alcohol tinctures. Oil-soluble constituents, on the other hand, are happy to dissolve into oils, butters, and high-alcohol tinctures. Plants with lots of oil-soluble constituents tend to make really potent herbal oils.
Herbs that support skin health often calm itching and inflammation, moisturize, or tighten tissue through astringent actions. Oil is often a great way to deliver those benefits since you can easily turn it into solid preparations with a little beeswax. It also has a longer shelf-life than water-based preparations. Plus, your skin gladly absorbs it.
Some of my favorite herbs to use when making herbal oils are
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Plantain (Plantago major, P. lanceolata)
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- Oregano (Origanum spp.)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
But there are many more to try! After being on a purple dead nettle kick, I’m currently experimenting with a dead nettle-infused oil.
Should You Use Fresh or Dried Herbs?
Many people wonder if it’s better to use fresh or dried herbs when you make an herbal oil. I’m firmly in the camp of using freshly dried herbs.
Fresh herbs will leave a water residue in your finished oil. Unless you want your oil to mold, you have to get rid of that watery sludge. That means letting your strained oil settle for a day or two, then very carefully pouring off the herbal oil so the watery material stays behind. That extra step requires a lot of care and diligence.
Freshly dried herbs, on the other hand, still have their bright color and characteristic scent. This means they’re as potent as fresh herbs, minus the water that can cause problems.
Dried herbs that have lost their color and scent won’t make great oils, though. So if your calendula is only faintly yellow and pale orange, or your plantain is a dull, grayish-green, you’ll want to find better herbs for your oil.
Like all things, though, there are exceptions. Some herbs make the best herbal oil when the fresh herb is used. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a prime example. You must use the fresh herb to end up with a medicinal herbal oil. If you’d like to make St. John’s wort oil, you can learn more here from my friend Heidi.
The Basic Steps for Making an Herb-Infused Oil
Before I share the extra steps I now take for infusing herbs in oil, let’s cover the basic process first.
- First, fill a jar 1/2-2/3 full with dried and crushed herb. If you can, coarsely grind the herb with a clean coffee grinder, small blender, or small food processor first.
- Pour oil over the herb. You can use olive oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, or any similar fixed oil. Both Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals carry excellent fixed oils.
- Cover the jar and place in a crockpot of water, set on low. You can also use a saucepan full of simmering water, but place a cloth or canning jar ring under the jar so it doesn’t crack.
- Allow the oil to warm and infuse for a few hours up to a couple of days, then strain out the herbs through a metal mesh sieve lined with a clean, lint-free cloth. Wring out as much oil as you can.
- Label your finished oil with the herb used and the date finished. Store it in a cool, dark place away from heat and light. It will keep for around one year, depending on how well you strain it and what kind of fixed oil you used.
So if you want a very simple process for making herb-infused oils, you can start with these steps. You’ll get a good product in the end and it can feel less intimidating than the steps I’ll cover next.
How to Make Potent Herbal Oils for Medicinal Use
This process for making herbal oils is slightly more involved, but it gives you a much more concentrated end product. Since making my herb-infused oils this way, I’ve never gone back to the simpler process!
Step One: Grind the Herb
When you grind your dried herb before infusing it in oil, you increase the amount of herbal surface area that’s in contact with the oil. When more of the herbal material comes in contact with the oil, more herbal constituents can transfer into it.
Grinding the herb also allows you to use a better herb-to-oil ratio. Whole herbs like calendula and chamomile are fluffy and take up a lot of space in a jar, so you have to use more oil to cover them completely. If you powder them, you can use less oil and get a stronger finished product.
A basic coffee grinder works really well for grinding herbs. Just carefully clean it to remove any coffee residue and grind the herbs in batches so you don’t overwhelm the machine. Clean it out again before you grind up your next batch of java. You can also keep a coffee grinder on hand that you only use for herbs.
Step Two: Use an Intermediary Solvent
When I added this step to my process for herb-infused oils, my oils immediately went from good to incredible. I first learned about it through a video Mountain Rose Herbs hosted with herbalist Maria Noël Groves.
An intermediary solvent sounds intimidating, but all it means is that before you add oil to your herbs, you first add another solvent. In this case, you’ll add a small amount of alcohol, like 100-proof vodka.
The alcohol helps break down the cellular structure of the plant so that all of the medicinal compounds can more easily transfer to the oil. When you use an intermediary solvent with coarsely powdered herb, the plant material readily gives up its healing constituents.
For best results, you’ll need to carefully measure how much herb and alcohol to use, though. If you use too much alcohol, you could have trouble with the oil infusion step.
A simple ratio you can use is 1/2 ounce vodka (liquid measurement) for every 1 ounce of herb (by weight). Maria suggests using a measuring shot glass to easily measure out the vodka.
If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can also add alcohol 1 teaspoon at a time to your ground herb until it’s the consistency of damp sand. The herbs shouldn’t feel wet and you don’t want any alcohol pooling at the bottom of your container.
Next, transfer the herbal mixture to a jar so it’s 1/2 to 2/3 full and cover with a lid. Allow the intermediary solvent to work on the ground herb for around 24 hours before moving on to the next step.
Step Three: Add Some Gentle Heat
Once your herbs have soaked in the intermediary solvent for a day, it’s time to add your oil and some gentle heat.
Again, you can use any fixed oil you prefer. I highly recommend the book Power of the Seed (available on Amazon or Bookshop) if you want to learn about the benefits of various oils and butters. And while it’s fun to play with different carrier oils, herbalists have relied on faithful olive oil for thousands of years. So it’s fine to simply stick with that.
You want to cover your herbal material completely with oil with an inch or two of additional oil on top. Stir the oil into your ground herbs to make sure you don’t have any pockets of dry herbal material. Add more oil as needed.
A general guideline is to use around 10 times more oil by volume than herbal material by weight. So if you use 1 ounce of herbal material by weight, you’ll use around 10 fluid ounces of oil.
Next, it’s time to add some gentle heat to your oil. You have a few options for that.
- With a lid on your jar, place it in a small crockpot filled with water. Set the crockpot on low and allow the oil to warm and infuse for a day or two. You don’t need the lid on the crock, but if you want to add a foil top to keep in the heat, you can. This is the easiest method and requires the least amount of attention.
- Similar to the previous option, you can place the covered jar in a saucepan filled with water and set on the lowest setting of your stovetop. Place a kitchen towel or canning rack at the bottom of the pan so the glass jar doesn’t get too hot. The water should steam, but not boil. Small simmering bubbles are okay. Add more water every couple of hours, or as needed. Let the oil warm and infuse for 4-8 hours. You can repeat the process for an additional day or two if you’d like. I usually use this option.
- If you’re infusing multiple jars of herbal oil, you can also use your oven if it can keep a very low temperature. Place your jars of infusing oil in a baking pan and fill it with water. Place the pan on a lower rack so the tops of the jars aren’t touching or close to any heating elements. Set the oven to 150-170* F and allow the jars to warm all day. Turn off the oven at night and repeat again the following day, if you’d like.
Be very careful to remember what’s in your oven if you try this option. You don’t want to forget there are glass jars in your oven, then turn it up higher to bake something. It’s possible that the glass would crack and create a dangerous mess to clean up. I personally don’t use this method because I know I’m likely to forget about the jars of herbal oil in my oven.
After your herbal oil has warmed and infused, allow it to cool before moving on to the next steps.
Step Four: Finishing Steps
Once your oil has infused and cooled, it’s time to strain it, bottle it, and label it.
The simplest way to strain an herb-infused oil is to line a metal sieve or strainer with a clean, lint-free cotton cloth. I often use old cotton sheets for this, but 3-4 layers of tightly-woven cheesecloth work great, too. Just be sure to use sturdy, lint-free fabric that won’t let herb particles through (lace would be bad) but will allow the oil to easily flow through it (denim would be too thick).
Place the strainer over a bowl so that the sides of the strainer hang down into the bowl. If they don’t, oil might drip out the sides of the sieve and out of the bowl, which is both messy and frustrating.
Carefully pour the oil and herbs into the cloth-lined strainer or sieve and allow the oil to drip through. Once you’re left with an oily heap of herbs, it’s time to wrap it all up in the cloth and wring, twist, and press it until you can’t squeeze any more oil out. This is a great way to build upper body and hand strength!
I’m not sorry to say that I have a heavy-duty tincture press now and can squeeze my herbal oils with ease. But it was a big investment, so just hand-squeeze your herbal oils unless you do this for a living.
Finally, once your oil is thoroughly strained, you can bottle it, label it, and store it in a cool, dark place. I often reuse the bottle that my carrier oil came in for simplicity or grab whatever jars I have handy.
When you label it, be sure to include the herb (with common and botanical names) and oil used, along with the date (month and year are fine) you strained it. I also like to include where the herb came from so I know if it was homegrown or purchased.
As an example, when I make plantain oil, I might label it something like “Plantain leaf oil (Plantago major), homegrown, in olive oil with intermediary solvent, June 2022.” If you carefully measured and weighed out your ingredients, you can also include the amounts used for each.
How to Use Herbal Oils for Skincare and Remedies
You can use herbal oils as-is for a number of needs. They make great moisturizers and can help soothe rashes, burns, bites, and other skin irritations and injuries. Some herbal-infused oils, like comfrey and arnica, even work to support healing at deeper levels.
But herb-infused oils also make incredible bases for other remedies. With a few additional ingredients, you can make all sorts of fun skincare and remedy creations!
- Use your herbal oil in place of regular oil for homemade lip balm.
- Make a simple salve by adding enough beeswax to solidify the oil. This First-Aid Plantain Salve is a great place to start.
- Add it to a homemade facial moisturizer, like this super hydrating formula.
- Try your herb-infused oil in an easy skin scrub or an herb-based skin scrub.
- Add some to an aromatherapy Epsom salt bath to help dilute and disperse your essential oils while softening your skin.
- Use it as a carrier oil in your favorite essential oil roll-on formula. Calendula, plantain, or yarrow oil work really well in a blemish blend roll-on.
- Instead of using a plain carrier oil when you need to dilute essential oils, use an herbal oil. You’ll get the best of both herbal and aromatherapy worlds! The Essential Oils Quick Reference Guide gives you all the guidance you need when diluting and blending essential oils.
Printable How-To Card
To help you remember all of the steps covered above, I’ve created this handy printable how-to card for you. It summarizes all you need to do, but you’ll likely need to check back here until you’re familiar and comfortable with the process.
- Freshly dried herbs, like calendula, plantain, comfrey, yarrow, lavender, chickweed, or self-heal
- Vodka, around 100-proof
- Fixed oil of choice, like olive, coconut, sweet almond, grapeseed, or jojoba
- Electric coffee grinder
- Metal sieve or strainer
- Sturdy, lint-free cloth or cheesecloth
- Coarsely grind your freshly dried herbs. A coffee grinder works great for this. If possible, weigh out your herbs using a kitchen scale.
- Place your herbs in a glass jar so it is 1/2-2/3 of the way full.
- Add vodka, using 1 ml for every 2 grams of herb, or 1/2 ounce vodka by volume for every 1 ounce herb by weight). If you aren't able to weigh out your herbal material, simply add vodka by the teaspoon, mixing it into the herbs after each addition, until the ground herbs resemble damp sand. Cover the jar and allow the herbs to soak for 24 hours.
- Next, add enough oil to completely cover the herbs with an additional 1-2 inches of oil on top. Be sure to stir the oil thoroughly into the herbs so there aren't pockets of dry herbal material. If you weighed out your herbs, you'll use around 10 ml oil for every 1 gram of herb, or 10 ounces oil by volume for every 1 ounce herb by weight.
- Warm the herb-infusing oils in a crockpot filled with water and set on low, or by using one of the alternative warming methods. Allow the oil to warm and infuse for 1-3 days, adding more water to the crockpot as needed.
- Allow the oil to cool, then carefully strain through a cloth-lined sieve or strainer into a bowl. Once all of the oil has dripped through, wrap the oil herbs into the cloth and squeeze as much additional oil out as you can.
- Pour the finished oil into a bottle and label with the herb used, oil used, and date strained. Store the herbal oil in a cool, dark place to extend the shelf-life. Your oil will last for around 1 year.
With these steps, you can now say goodbye to pale herbal oils that don’t really do much and water-contaminated oils that spoil.
Instead, you’ll create incredible oils that are packed with the power of herbs, even to the point of taking on the herb’s scent and color.
Your remedies and skincare will never be the same once you start making herbal oils this way!