How to Start Making Essential Oils from Herbs
One of the big delights of growing your own herbs is being able to experience the aromatic smells they emit as you brush by them or sit next to them in the garden in the late evening or early morning. But this wonderful experience can be enjoyed well beyond the herb growing season by making essential oils from herbs.
They’re called essential oils because they contain the concentrated essences (aromatic chemicals) of your herbs. They can be used for cooking (e.g. basil oil for salad dressings and stir-fries), as healing ointments (e.g. garlic oil as a lineament) and as bath lotions and aromatherapy treatments (e.g. rosemary oil). In this article I’ll explain how you can easily make essential oils from your herbs.
If you want to try some herbal oils out before you start making essential oils from herbs go to Amazon and buy herbal oils.
The History of Aromatic Oils
Preserving herbs as aromatic oils has been practiced since ancient times. Hundreds of years ago they were widely used in the Far and Middle East, Egypt and China. In India they formed the basis of a system of traditional medicine dating back to 1000 BC.
But you don’t need to be be a student of history or a chemist to preserve herbs as aromatic oils. In this article I will explain how, in four simple steps and with easily available and inexpensive equipment and ingredients you can turn start making essential oils from herbs.
Harvesting Your Herbs
One of the most important things that you must learn if you want to use your herbs to make aromatic oils is how to harvest them properly. Getting this right is almost a ritual for the enthusiastic herb gardener.
The harvesting should be carried out when the volatile essences of the herbs are at their highest, which is between the time just before flowering up until the time the flowers are half open (although there are exceptions to this). Carry out the harvesting before the sun is fully up, and just after the dew has dried.
If you are harvesting annual herbs to make essential oils cut off the leaves of your herbs to within four inches of the ground. Don’t worry about killing your herbs when yo do this. As long as you have left enough leaves on your plants (which you will have done if you follow my instructions) they will soon grow new leaves to replace those harvested. All your leafy annuals can be cut in this way several times during the summer months. However, don’t harvest perennial herbs until the end of September.
If you intend to preserve herbs as essential oils your herbs must be harvested very carefully immediately before the process of preservation. As you cut the herbs spread them out on a flat surface. Don’t let them get squashed, compressed or bruised in a bag or box, because this will diminish the quality of the herbal essences. Wash off any dirt with cool water, but don’t let them soak in the water. When you have washed them lay them down flat to dry.
If you want to use flowers to make an aromatic oil (e.g. lavender oil), harvest the flowers when they are fully open and don’t wash them. To make aromatic oils from seeds such as dill and fennel, collect the seeds when they turn brown and start falling off the dead flowers when touched. To prevent the seeds falling to the ground cut the flowers carefully near the top of flower stem or place a small plastic bag over the flower head.
Three Essential Tips for Success
The process of preserving herbs as aromatic oils is called infusion because the herbs are treated so that their herbal essences “infuse” the oil in which they are immersed. For this reason essential oils are often called herbal infusions.
Pay careful attention to the three important tips below when you make your infused oils. If you do then preserving your herbs in the way described will produce really high quality herbal infusions:
- Use a good-quality, mild-flavored oil such as sunflower oil. You don’t want the taste of the oil to compete with the flavor and smell of your herbs. For this reason you should avoid using extra virgin olive oil
- Cover you herbs completely with oil during the infusing process. Any bits sticking out will oxidize and spoil the flavor of the oil
- Before storing the oil make sure you have removed all the plant material. If you don’t the oil will become cloudy and sour.
Making the Aromatic Oil
When you are ready to start making essential oil from your herbs, follow these four steps carefully:
- Put a handful of your herbs or flower heads into a clean glass jar. Choose either a single herb such as basil or a mixture such as oregano, rosemary and thyme. Crush them to release the flavor of the essential oils
- Pour the mild vegetable oil (400 ml) into the jar until the leaves or flowers are completely covered. Put a well-fitting top on the jar and let it stand in a warm (but not sunny) place
- After a week, strain off the herbs (use a cotton muslin cloth or an old open weave linen handkerchief) and then repeat the process of infusion with a fresh handful of your herbs (but using the same oil). Do this as many times as necessary until you have a jar of strongly flavored aromatic oil
- Store your aromatic oil in a small to medium-size sterilized bottle and label it. Tie a small strip of cotton cloth around the top to help reduce the chances of air getting into the bottle. Make sure that you keep your stored oils out of the sun
Now Experiment with Your Preserved Herbs
Once you have prepared your essential oils from your herbs you have around six months to use them before they are past their best. In this article I have only provided a few suggestions on how to use your essential oils. If you are particularly interested in herbal health treatments you might like to read my article on “Herbal Treatments Using Essential Oils”.
I suggest that once you have several bottles of different herbal oils you carry out some more research to find out how, by making esserntial oils from herbs you can start using them in lots of exciting new ways in your cooking, in bath and skin lotions and treatments, and for different aromatherapy preparations.
Happy herb gardening,
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