There are many ways to extract beneficial properties from herbs. From herbal astringents to wine infusions, there is an appropriate method for every situation.
Herbal astringents are made by steeping plant material in ethyl alcohol for two weeks. (Good herbs to use are chamomile, bayberry bark, sage, nettle, or yarrow.) When strained, the resulting liquid is called an extract. One cup of extract mixed with one cup of witch hazel makes a good astringent (for additional "tingle" mix in a few drops of peppermint oil). Bottle, cap tightly, and shake gently before use. Astringent is good for skin. It kills germs, closes pores, removes excess oil, and makes good aftershave lotion.
Active plant ingredients can also be extracted in oil. There are two techniques, the hot method and the cold method. The hot method is best for sturdy herbs like comfrey, chickweed, and rosemary. The cold method is suitable for fragile material like calendula or rose petals. The resulting product is infused oil. It is used in massage oils, creams, and ointments. Infused oils will last for years if kept in a cool, dark location, although small amounts made fresh are more potent.
To make infused oil with the hot method, put 8 ounces of cold-pressed vegetable or nut oil (almond, walnut, olive, grape seed, or safflower) and a big handful of plant material in a double boiler and gently heat over simmering water for 3 hours. Strain through a jelly bag or double layer of cheesecloth. Store in a clean, airtight bottle or jar.
To make infused oil with the cold method, pack a jar with herbs and cover completely with cold-pressed oil. Cap tightly and let stand in a cool place for two weeks. Shake gently every day. Strain through jelly bag, and repeat process for two more weeks with fresh plant material. Strain again and store.
Infused oils are made into ointments by adding a thickening agent like beeswax or hard fat (like 100% cocoa butter). Just put 4 ounces of infused oil back into the double boiler, add a small piece of wax or cocoa butter (about a tablespoon), and stir until gently melted and completely mixed. Add about 10 drops of complementary essential oil if desired. Pour into jelly jars or tins while still warm. Cool before capping tightly. Mixture will thicken as it cools.
Ointments can be made in the microwave but some of the healing properties will be lost. Just heat infused oil and wax until melted together, cool a little, and stir in essential oil. Store in tightly sealed jars or tins.
Ointments help many conditions including dry skin and chapped lips. Try a nice cocoa butter and lavender ointment on winter weary feet. First soak feet in warm vinegar water. Dry and apply ointment. It's like a little bit of heaven on earth. See Astringents, syrups, and lozenges or Ointments for more information.
* Astringents prepared with ethyl alcohol are for external use only. Do not take astringents, infused oils, or ointments internally. Do not apply to deep wounds. Always use common sense and discontinue use if irritation develops.
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