In order to use herbs to create culinary treats or therapeutic potions, it is important to know how to prepare herbs in a variety of forms.
Whether it is a simple tea, infusion or an old-fashioned poultice, the end result you desire will determine which method of preparation to use. The next few blogs will deal with herbal infusions.
Herbal infusions, used in cooking or as a dressing on your food, are a great way to add flavor to meals.
Herbal infusions are also a great way to utilize the healing properties of plants. But be sure to Do Your Research. It's very important that you never make a preparation using an herb unless you understand its properties and potential strength. For example, whiles some herbal infused oils are safe to be used on broken skin, others are not. Also, people can have allergic reactions to herbs, so when you are applying a herbal-based oil for the very first time do a patch test.
While most herbs can be infused either dried or fresh, herbal oils can turn rancid or grow mold, especially if fresh herbs are used due to the water content.
Infused oils that exhibit any change in color, scent, clarity, or taste should be discarded for safety.
This blog deals with making Oil Infusions
There are two basic methods to prepare herbal-infused oils: Cold infusion or Hot infusion.
Cold or Solar Infusion is the simplest method but it takes a long time, usually around 3-6 weeks
- Fill a clean, completely dry glass jar 1/3-2/3 full of dried herbs. Dried herbs will expand, so do not to fill more than half way.
- Completely cover the herbs by filling the entire jar with your oil of choice. Do not want to leave an air gap at the top since it will promote oxidation and spoilage.
- Stir gently with a wooden stick to remove air bubbles trapped inside. The oil needs to be in direct contact with all parts of the herb to minimize the mold formation. You can gently warm the oil first to get things going.
- Once herbs are completely covered, place the jar in a sunny location and steep for 3-6 weeks. Sunlight will encourage the herb to release its active components into the oil.
- Gently shake or turn the jar every day for the first week and once a week check for mold.
- Once your oil is done infusing and strained, protect it from heat, light, and air. When you label the oil write the date you made it.
- Generally infused oils made with dried herbs will keep in on the shelf, in a cool, dark place for up to a year. They can also be refrigerated.
Hot Oil Infusion: involves heating the herb in the oil to extract its constituents. It can be done in a few hours, but you do have to be very careful not to cook your herbs. For this method, you need to use indirect heat, like a double boiler.
Double Boiler Method:
- Add the dried herbs and oil into the top of your double boiler. A general guideline is 1 cup of dried herbs to 2 cups of oil.
- Once the water in the bottom pan is boiling, turn the heat to a low simmer and place the herb and oil mixture on top.
- Cover and simmer VERY gently for 2-3 hours. Check frequently to make sure oil is not overheating. The lower the heat and longer the infusion time the better quality of the oil.
- Allow the oil to cool enough to be handled and then strain, bottle and label it. Generally infused oils made with dried herbs will keep in on the shelf, in a cool, dark place for up to a year. They can be refrigerated.
If you do not have a double boiler or do not have time to watch a pot on the stove, you can heat the oil to about 170 degrees, turn off the heat, and add then the herbs while the oil is still hot. Cover and allow to steep until the oil has cooled.
Crockpot method: While a crockpot is easy and will work quite, they can often get too hot even on the lowest setting. You will have to experiment with your own crockpot since temperatures vary quite a bit. It is a good idea to use a thermometer to check the temperature.
Place dried herbs and oils in the crockpot and set on lowest possible heat. As a general rule, 2 to 4 hours will do it.
No matter which method you choose, if you notice mold, cloudiness or anything that looks unusual, discard immediately.
We use a crockpot with an alarm thermometer for all of our oil infusions. We turn the crockpot off and on for about a week. The long, slow infusion process ensures the rich quality of oil we want. Herbal oil infusions are used as bases for our salves, bath and body oils and even some lip balms.
For our organic Healing Herbal Salves we often double infuse to make a more potent oil. We take our infused oil and add it to a new batch of herbs and repeat the whole process over again.
Our concentrated herbal salves help bring the soothing properties of medicinal herbs deep into the tissues. We use our organic salves externally for minor skin irritations, insect bites, cuts, abrasions, sore muscles, chest congestion and stress relief. Click here to read a great comparison of our Herbal Salves!
A Culinary Treat: Ida's Garlic Infused Olive Oil
4 cups extra virgin olive oil
9 heads of garlic
- Roasted Garlic Olive Oil
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
- Remove the cloves from the head and place in a baking dish
- Cover cloves with olive oil and place the dish on a baking sheet in preheated oven
- Roast for 45 to 60 minutes. Carefully remove the pan—the oil will be very hot.
- Your garlic may not look roasted at first, but it will keep on cooking until the oil has completely cooled.
- When the oil is cool enough to work with, remove garlic. (I pour slightly warm oil through a strainer into a large bowl.)
- The olive oil then goes into clean, dry jar (I will often reuse the empty olive oil bottle).
- Infused oils made with FRESH ingredients should be refrigerated. (See food safety note below)
- Once cooled, the roasted garlic can be portioned out into freezer bags or containers. It will keep for many months in the freezer.
I love making this infusion because you end up with two culinary treats - - garlic flavored oil and roasted garlic too! I make 2 quarts at a time since we use this oil for everything.
In the winter I store the oil bottles in our very cold garage and in the summer in the refrigerator. I take the garlic and freeze it in small portions—so we always have plenty of roasted garlic on hand.
Ida's Favorite! Mash up some of the roasted garlic, mix it with some of the garlic oil,
Romano cheese and dried herbs to make a great dip for a baguette.
A Culinary Treat: Sam's Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
5 pounds potatoes (I like Yukon Gold)
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
10 large fresh garlic cloves, cut in half
4 ounces cream cheese (softened)
4 ounces goat cheese (softened)
1/2 stick butter
1 cup sour cream
8 to 10 large roasted garlic cloves
Directions: For this recipe, I use a buttered lasagna type casserole dish.
- Peel potatoes (leave a bit of peel on) and cut into large cubes.
- Place in a pot with enough water to cover the potatoes. Add salt, onions and fresh garlic cloves to pot.
- Gently boil until potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes in a colander--remove onion and garlic.
Place potatoes in a large bowl and mash.
- Add cream cheese and butter to potatoes and mix.
- Add sour cream a bit at a time until the potatoes are the consistency that you like. You can use a mixer if you like really smooth potatoes, be careful not to mix too much or they become gummy.
Add mashed up roasted garlic, salt and pepper and mix until blended.
- Place the potatoes in a greased casserole. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
- This recipe can be made the day ahead. If making ahead--bake originally for about 15 minutes. Then to reheat--dot with more butter and heat thoroughly--uncovered.
Food Safety Concern: Infused OILS, especially those made with FRESH ingredients (as opposed to dried), can be potentially dangerous if improperly stored. The infused ingredients (like herbs and garlic) should be removed before storage. The oil should be refrigerated or frozen if not being used when freshly made. The low acid environment of oil infusions can lead to the growth of Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria responsible for botulism), without affecting the taste or smell of the products. If you are concerned about an oil infusion note that the toxin produced by the bacteria is readily destroyed by high heat.
Join us next week when we discuss How to Prepare Herbs: More Infusions
If you have any favorite recipes to make or use herb infused oils--please share!