Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oil making in the warm desert

I had almost forgotten how easy it is to make a nice herbal infused oil in the summer in the desert. For the most part, I'm a huge fan of FRESH plant herbal oils. Dried plants really don't lend themselves well to oil, unless you fog the plant material with alcohol prior to blending in a blender for 10 minutes until it is hot and then straining.
I have a number of problems with this method, not the least of which involves the amount of fossil fuel energy required to produce and ship alcohol, produce and ship a blender, and the electricity required to run said blender. Second, I really have disliked the residue of alcohol in my oils when I've done this. Third, it is in NO way a traditional method of oil extraction that our wise grandmothers would have used.
As some of you may know, I'm tending towards moving away from non traditional methods of administering herbs, including the use of tinctures. I haven't given them up entirely, but if I can use a tea, a powder, an oil, or other more traditional method, I will. SO...that leads me to dislike the idea of using alcohol to extract plant medicine into oil.

Many traditional peoples would infuse their herbal medicines into bear fat, buffalo grease or other animal fat, probably over a warm fire or coals. Later, plant material is set into olive, sesame or other plant oils to infuse for a couple of weeks. This is good and fine for dried plant material, but if you leave fresh plant material macerating in oil for more than a few days, more than likely you'll get mold, rancidity and plain old nastiness ( ask me about the horrid fresh ginger coconut oil I tried to cold infuse. GAK!).

So, what is an herbalist to do? In general, I find the fresh plants extract beautifully into oil if given a little heat over a 48 hr period. I've often put fresh plants into a jar, covered with oil, put a lid on, and placed into a warm water bath for two days. I never let the water boil, just get steamy hot. After two days, I pull the oil out, strain out from the plant mater, and let any water settle to the bottom in a wide glass measuring cup. Then I pour off the clear oil from the water into a clean bottle. Perfect, effective fresh plant oil, sans moldy nastiness.

This can also be done with dry plant material, but requires more work, time, and heat, and in my opinion often renders a less potent oil. But, that said, warm infused dried plant oils are a good choice in some cases. I know herbalists who use warm water baths for this as well, and it is the method I used in the winter, or when I'm living somewhere not so sunny.

I recently harvested fresh alder leaves and bark, and subsequently decided to make oil with them. But in this dry heat, my leaves and bark were already dry by the time I got to making my oil. So I ground up my alder, and put it in my jar, and topped it off with oil. No alcohol. Outside it went, under the shade of the ramada, where it is nice and hot. 1 day later and that oil is becoming a rich shade of greenish red. It's obvious that the plant is giving its properties to the oil readily in the warmth of the desert summer. I love how easy it is to make a nice oil in the desert. I'll give this oil another few days until it looks dark and smells rich.

I faithfully follow this method when making a fresh chaparral/creosote bush oil. I've seen some pretty sad looking salves and oils supposedly made from chaparral, which are just plainly the color of the olive oil it was infused in, scented weakly of chaparral. When I make my fresh chaparral oil in the warmth of the desert summer, it turns a rich, dark greenish, black, and is full of the resinous intensity of the plant. I've seen this oil turned to salve retain a very dark green color, a strong scent and hold it for years. This medicine is always potent, and effective. I've seen it relieve and soothe cases of eczema, psoriasis, ringworm, sunburns, stove burns, bug bites, rashes and more.

I'm planning on getting some fresh chaparral in the next several weeks as the monsoons hopefully shed some moisture on the desert and the chaparral plants green up a bit. I'll oil this medicine up in olive oil, or even better jojoba oil and begin making salves. If you'd like to order some of this potent desert medicine, please e mail me to arrange the quantity and type of oil you'd like.


Kiva Rose said...

yes indeed, i agree all of that very heartily indeed... i love fresh mugwort salve, mmmm. now that it's too hot to use the woodstove warmer, i've been making more with sunheat too.

there's something weird about the chaparral though... i have, at times, used fresh plant for oil and not been able to get it as dark. i dunno why, since i nearly always gather it when it's flowering from the same place. it always seems to work though so ~shrug~

Shamana Flora said...

I was mostly reffering to the sad salves I saw at the farmers market here. they hardly even smelled like chaparral, and were sort of pale and ...

I'm kind of stuck up about my chaparral oil. What can I say. I freely admit it.

That said, I know all herbalists make things differently and they almost always work for them. some people swear by the fogging method. Some people do exclusively dry plants. It's all good medicine, since we all have our own relationships with the plants and medicine making.

Yours does work. BTW...:P

Kiva Rose said...

wow, they must have worked hard to keep it from smelling LOL. I haven't met any chaparral salve like that, but then the only stuff I've used is mine, yours, and the stuff made by Desert Rain, all of which is quite lovely. I have stuff from you that must be about six years old, and stuff from Desert Rain that must be about 10 years old and both are still great.

you're not stuck up, you just have quality control LOL

and with stuff like that at the market, it should be damn easy for you to do very well with your medicines!

Shawna Greenway said...

Great post- really thought provoking- I have never heard of the fogging thing OR the waterbath! gah! I am out of the loop of things!
One thing I have been pondering lately re:sun herbal oils is this-
It seems when I first got into herbalism, there were def no- nos about infusing in the sun, lots of herbalists saying this was not a good idea. But as I got researching the use of traditional fats in the *older* references I see much more openess to putting them in the sun or part shade- lots of, put them in the partly shaded sun, bury them in the sand outside, and I can't help wonder if the older herbalists sun infused because they were using animal fat, which does wonderful in the sun? My oils that sun are totally fabulous. So that has me wondering.
Also, I've taken in Weed's way of doing oils but I don't like the cold six weeks infused thing. I would rather do shorter infusions in very low nice heat (be it outdoors, or on the back of my stove) and I know they are potent because they smell great, and color is good and they are very active. With the fats, I put them on the back of my stove for a month or so, adding to them as the flowers (if that is what I am using) bloom, and they are heated periodically. I have bear fat and hypericum going right now which always is a deep ruby red and just glows. I dunno, I think you are right, each herbalist does it their own way. I was just teaching a class on oils and really stressed that there are so many different ways of doing it and for students to experiment and find their own method and true with oils I think.
I say be a snob about the oil, LOL I totally am too. When you see what a really potent vibrant oils can be and look like, its so easy to spot non vibrant oils and be like- gah, what is that?
I really like this topic.

Sarah said...

I'm envious of anyone who can make sun infused oils. The only one I make here in the UK is SJW in sunflower oil. It sits in my kitchen window for about three months while I watch it turn from yellow to deep red which glows when the sun shines through it!

I make lots of double infused herbal oils in either a double boiler saucepan or a crockpot. I've just made one with elderflowers infused in a mixture of olive oil and avacado oil and I'm desperate to find the time to turn it into a salve to use as a face cream. I made some elderflower water a few weeks ago and I'm looking forward to trying out the two cosmetics together.

Thanks so much for your blog, Darcy, I love reading it!

Shamana Flora said...

Shawna, I have mixed feelings about direct sun. Here in AZ being in the shade is still downright HOT during the day. It doesn't need sunlight to warm up. Of course, some oils I like to do in the sun (chaparral, for example, or St Johns Wort) because I like the energy the sun lends to the oil.

The fogging thing is a Michael Moore invention, and lots of his students and folks in the west use that method. I've done it just doesn't feel good energetically. I'm sure it makes nice oils, but it doesn't sit well with me. I was listening to his recent lecture recording of the SW herb conference, and he explains that polar plant constituents wont be given up to non polar oil without an intervening step. Fine, but maybe you dont need every single polar molecule?? Or other things come out in oil. I'm not sure. BUT, another thing is that in Ayurvedic traditional oils, the herbs are cooked in a water and oil base until the water evaporates away over the heat source. I'm hoping to try this at some point, seems like it would be somewhat like evaporating the milk fluid out of butter for ghee....

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~