In this newsletter I will review the properties of certain oils – whether base/carrier oils or infused oils – to help you navigate the range available and make the best choice depending on what you need it for. Oils are important in herbal medicine because they are used as bases for creams or balms, as carriers for essential oils or other plant material used medicinally, taken internally for their nutritious value or used externally in their own right for medicinal or well-being purposes.
Infused oils (also known as a macerated oils) are base/carrier oils that have been “infused” with a medicinal herb. By infusing the oils with the herbs for a certain time, the herbs’ bioactive compounds will be extracted into the oil and the oil can then be used as a way to carry those compounds to the body’s cells for healing, regeneration, moisture, etc.
After the table I have included a step-by-step guide on how to make an infused oil using the traditional sun infusion method – particularly fun to try in the summer when (and where) there is plenty of sun!
|Argan (Agania spinosa)||Good skin penetration so helpful to use as a vehicle for other compounds (for instance essential oils) to penetrate the skin easily. Dry finish so doesn’t leave skin greasy. It has a strong resistance to oxidation. Has the added benefit of not clogging pores and is rich in vitamin E and vitamin A. Nourishing, revitalising, regenerative, anti-free radicals and anti-inflammatory, helps maintain skin hydration, skin protective. Improves skin elasticity. Make sure to use the “raw” argan oil used for medicinal/cosmetic use and not the one manufactured for cooking.||Good choice as a base oil for anti-aging and wrinkle prevention, stretch mark prevention, for dry skin and hair generally. Helps strengthen nails. Because of its tenor in linoleic acid it can reduce inflammation and is very useful for acne especially since it doesn’t clog pore and it reduces sebum levels; can be used to nourish skins prone to other skin conditions such as eczema.|
|Arnica (Arnica montana)||Penetrates skin more slowly than others. Anti-inflammatory, anti-ecchymotic, anti-hematoma, antalgic, anti-microbial, cicatrisant (wound healing), promotes circulation. Do not use on broken/open skin.||Bruises and other superficial skin wounds where skin is not broken, bites and stings, sports-related injuries (muscle pain, tension, aches and pains).|
|Avocado (Laurus persea)||Best kept in refrigerator once opened. Very moisturising, nourishing, protective, calming.||Works best for very dry, rough skin and to hydrate/protect hair and nails. Helps regenerate and restructure damaged skin. Reputed to help promote hair growth and keep them shiny.|
|Borage (Borago officinalis)||Slow skin penetration so best used in the evening. Anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-oestrogenic, rich in vitamin E and omega 6.||Used internally for PMS and peri-menopausal symptoms, sensitive skin conditions, mature skin, atopic (allergic) skin conditions. Promotes skin elasticity and tone. Good for skin atopic (allergic) skin conditions and rheumatic pain.|
|Coconut (Cocos nucifera)||Very good skin penetration, making it a good carrier oil. Good tolerance to heat – does not oxidise easily. Nourishing (skin and hair), softening, repairing for skin and hair; anti-lice (as a hair mask mixed with EOs or other herbal forms), antiseptic and antimicrobial properties||A good base for skin conditions like acne, eczema and cold sores. Nourishes and helps retain hydration for dry skin and hair, particularly due to extreme climate or salt water. Softens dry and scaly skin.|
|Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennsis)||Skin regenerating, anti-aging, soothing, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Hormonal-balancing. Anti-neuralgic, antalgic. Promotes elasticity and optimal hydration.||Good oil to restructure and promotes skin elasticity. Traditionally used to help promote hair growth. Good for skin irritations and conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Good as a base oil for neuralgic pain massages, especially for hormonally based pain or skin conditions.|
|Hemp (Cannabis sativa)||Best kept in refrigerator. Good skin penetration with a dry finish; Soothing, anti-aging, cicatrisant, promotes circulation, nourishing||For healing/regenerating skin especially when used as a carrier oil for essential oils. My personal favourite base oil for promoting wound healing.|
|Jojoba (Simmondsia sinensis)||Quick skin penetration, odourless – actually a kind of “plant wax”. Very stable oil that keeps well and long – can be used as a natural conservation agent for other oils or mixes. Emollient, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, helps protect from water loss from skin (anti-dehydration). Helps unclog pores and hair follicles and balances oil production. Contains vitamin E and B.||Good as an anti-fungal base for topical anti-fungal or anti-microbial treatments. Because it helps unclog pores and regulate sebum it is a good choice for acne or oily skin. Use to moisturise and nourish skin and hair. Prevent or help heal razor burn, helps to treat sunburns and wounds. Great for mature skin because it helps prevent aging and smooth skin.|
|Linseed/Flaxseed oil||Oxidises quickly – best kept in refrigerator. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linoleic acids (ALAs). Anti-inflammatory and cicatrisant (wound healing). Traditionally used to balance skin pH. Soothing, calming.||Good carrier oil to relieve skin conditions, such as eczema. To moisturise and improve skin elasticity and blemishes. Good for sensitive skins.|
|Olive (Olea europaea)||Softening, soothing, nourishing, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial. Helps maintain hydration (anti-dehydration). Cicatrisant (wound healing). It helps to improve skin issues by reducing inflammation and fighting the growth of bacteria. Quality counts – use the real extra virgin oil.||A great base oil for infused/macerated oil since it keeps for a long time and supports warm temperatures. Helps keep skin supple and since it has anti-microbial properties it is also good as medicinal base oil for skin conditions, like dermatitis, psoriasis, acne and atopic (allergic) conditions. Can reduce inflammation and fight bacterial infections.|
|Rosehip (Rosa rubiginosa)||Good skin penetration with dry finish. Regenerative (skin), cicatrisant (wound healing), anti-aging, anti-inflammatory. Anti-pigmentation. High in vitamin C.||Preventative for wrinkles, aging, and pigmentation due to sun exposure. Helps skin regeneration and healing by promoting microcirculation and because of its tenor in EFAs. Good for atopic (allergic) conditions, such as eczema and skin infections. Also good for sun burn and sun damage, healing from skin lesions and postoperative or other scars (even old ones). Helps in rosacea and for stretchmark prevention.|
|St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforaturm)||Skin anti-inflammatory, antalgic, anti-neuralgic, regenerating and cicatrisant (skin wounds), soothing for sun burns. Can be photosensitising so do not use prior to sunbathing.||Great for sun burns and other superficial burns (it can be photosensitising so do not use out in the sun), skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis, baby skin conditions such as diaper rash), as a base oil used for massage in neuralgic pain such as fibromyalgia|
|Sweet almond oil (Prunus amygdalis)||A light oil with easy penetration into skin. Antioxidant, emollient, nourishing, softening, calming, and repairing for skin. Good massage oil base.||Can be used on anyone (subject to specific allergies) – most commonly used oil for babies (for instance skin irritations, little bruises, diaper rash etc), stretch marks, dry skin, light burns/sunburn, itchy skin and other skin irritations. Use in mixes for eczema and psoriasis. Good for dry brittle hair or to tame frizzy hair.|
|Wheat germ (Triticum vulgare)||Oxidises quickly so best used quickly and kept in the refrigerator. Also good to dilute with another oil because of its richness. Anti-wrinkle, nourishing, regenerating, anti-oxidant, cicatrisant (wound healing), rich in vitamin E and Omega 6||Helps improve devitalised and mature skin (improves tone). Thanks to its tenor in carotenes, anti-oxidants and vitamins it is a very quick skin regenerator.|
The sun infusion method
Try making your own infused oil by using this traditional method of infusing oils. This method uses the warmth of the sun to heat the oil gently and help the plant compounds infuse into the oil. This is a good method to use to make St. John’s Wort oil and in June, St. John’s Wort flowers are in full bloom, so you can make this fresh and watch it turn into a lovely red colour (the colour all proper St. Johns Wort oil should be).
- The best option is to start by finding a herb or flower that is in season and make an outing of foraging/picking it. Ensure that you you have identified the correct plant, and pick the plant at the right time of the year. If flowers, always best to pick them just at the time of blossom, before the bees have got to them or they look droopy and dry. Generally also best to pick them in late morning (around 11am to noon) on a sunny day. Do not put the picked flowers or herbs into a plastic bag – prefer paper or a wick basket. If you don’t have access to fresh organic plant material you can always use dried material ordered by a reputable supplier.
- Sort through the herb material to pick out any insects, twigs or other non-relevant material. Do not wash or otherwise wet the plant material.
- Clean and sterilise a glass jar and ensure it is completely dry.
- Completely fill with the flower/herb of choice. Using a clean dry spoon, gently push down on the material in order to pack as much of it as you can in there.
- Choose a carrier oil of your choice – I personally like olive oil but any of the non-infused oils in the list above could work, especially those which are tolerant to high temperature and which don’t oxidise quickly.
- Pour the oil over the plant material ensuring it is completely covered. Fill the jar almost to the brim with oil minimising the amount of air bubbles which can oxidise the oil. Pour about 1-2 centimetres of oil above the plant material and ensure there is about 1-2 centimetre of space above the oil level and the top of the jar.
- Tap on the jar lightly to help air bubbles come to the surface.
- Put the lid on the jar. I like to use a large preserve jar with a two-part lid and use a cheesecloth in place of the central part of the lid to allow air to escape while keeping bugs and dust out.
- Place the jar in a sunny window or counter to infuse for at least 6 weeks. There is variation in relation on how long to infuse the oils – some people will only infuse them for 4 weeks and others longer. I like to infuse mine generally between 6-8 weeks. Turn the jar and tap out any air bubbles every few days.
- After the infusion period, strain the contents of a jar through a muslin/cheese cloth, squeezing the plant material to get the most oil out.
- Let the oil settle before using. I like to store my oils in amber glass jars/bottles in a dark cool place away from direct heat so they keep as long as possible.