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March 26

5 comments

Oils for Infusing Botanicals

Herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, rhizomes, seeds—any plant part has potential when infused in oil for making remedies, skin care products, and soap.

The question here is not the botanical but what oil is best. And, of course, we get back to that infuriating answer: It depends.

Infusions can be of two basic types: specific for a single use or product or stock infusions for use over time. The difference is in the type of oil chosen to make the infusion.

When asked about infusing an oil like hemp or rose hip seed, I would not entertain oils with such short life spans. The only way that choice could work was for a specific product where the benefits of such a delicate oil improve the healing process significantly. The need, then, is to compensate for the short shelf life by adding antioxidants and optimum storage of the final product.

Stock infusions, infusions made during one growing season with the intent that they last until the next season, will require a very different choice of oil.

Generally, we want infusions to last a minimum of a year, preferably two. Saturated butters and monounsaturated dominant oils are places to look for suitable oils.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is the herbal world's classic infusing oil, with its tradition reaching back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and people of the Mediterranean region. High in oleic monounsaturated fatty acids, the oil also has polyphenol compounds that are potent antioxidants and help protect the oil. While the oil has a slightly oily feel on the skin, using olive oil to infuse will result in wonderful botanical infusions.

olive oil in beaker with olives

Sesame Oil

I have found that sesame oil is an excellent oil for botanical infusions. It is lighter on the skin than olive oil yet has an extended shelf life due to the antioxidant lignans sesamol, sesamolin, and sesamin found in sesame oil. These compounds protect the oil's 40% linoleic acid (polyunsaturated), which contributes to the oil's relative lightness. If not buffered, linoleic acid could be the subject of rapid oxidation. I have been infusing sesame oil for years, and the oil holds up well against going rancid.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is another oil for infusing but needs melting to receive the botanicals. This prior melting may not be necessary in hot seasons or climates as its melting point is near 76℉/24℃. When stored properly, saturated fatty acids protect the infused oil for an extended period. Coconut oil has a distinctive scent unless refined. An unscented alternative to coconut is Babassu oil, which is similar in structure and would infuse similarly.

Almond, Apricot & Plum Kernel Oils

These three rose family oils are so similar that I’ll cover them together. High in monounsaturated fatty acids, the oils will hold up to oxidation reasonably well. They possess the antioxidant protection of tocopherols, but according to the experiences of some herbalists, they do not have the same shelf life as olive oil.

almond oil in beaker with almonds

Sunflower & Safflower Seed Oil

Sunflower and safflower are naturally high in linoleic acid, but over recent decades, the seed stock has been bred to favor monounsaturated oleic acid over polyunsaturated linoleic acid. The oleic acid dominance makes this choice useful as the oil is relatively inexpensive. When infusing, there is a certain amount of oil loss, where an expensive oil would not be cost-effective. Tocopherols in the oil would contribute some antioxidant protection.

sunflower seed oil in beaker with sunflower seeds

Jojoba & Meadowfoam Oil

What distinguishes and links jojoba and meadowfoam seed oils is the dominance of fatty acids that are 20 carbon atoms and longer. These longer-chain fatty acids perform differently on the skin and in the infusing process than the more common 18 carbons and under fatty acids of most oils. Yet the shelf life of both these oils is considerable and so that supports their use in infusing botanicals. 

Considerations to infusing botanical plants in oil

The process of infusing uses some amount of oil that is not recoverable which will depend on the technique the person infusing. Lipid oils are often expensive so the choice of infusing oil needs to be in keeping with your budget. I will list a few more oils that are generally more costly but, recent increases in the olive oil market is an indication that prices can change on a bad season or other economic factors.

Camellia Seed Oil & Hazelnut Oil

Camellia and hazelnut oils are both considered dry oils, meaning they have tannins that keep the oil feeling light on the skin. The tannins are also antioxidants that will help maintain the shelf life of the oils.

Avocado Oil

Avocado, another high oleic acid oil with an additional percentage of monounsaturated palmitoleic acid would be a good candidate for infusing. With only 16% polyunsaturated fatty acids the oil should hold up well over time.

avocado oil in beakers with fresh avocado fruit

Macadamia Nut Oil

Macadamia is an oil with similar properties to avocado in that it also has a relatively substantial palmitoleic acid percentage. Remember palmitoleic acid is also monounsaturated so both of these oils are about 80% monounsaturated. Macadamia has 5% or less of the reactive polyunsaturated fatty acids.

macadamia oil in beaker with macadamia nuts

What are some of your favorite herbal infusions to make? Leave a comment below

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Tags

almond oil, apricot oil, coconut oil, infusing, jojoba oil, olive oil, plum oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil


About the author 

Susan Parker

I'm Susan M Parker, author, teacher and researcher. My life is steeped in the lipid oils, carrier oils, plant butters. Since publishing my book Power of the Seed in 2014 I have been teaching and sharing my work with the botanical and lipid oils with students from around the world.

  • I’m wondering if there’s a list of polarity for these oils as that can determine which oil might be better for infusing botanicals

    • The natural lipid, carrier oils, are not polar (an affinity to water). Synthetic oils, esters, and other related compounds have polarity but I only work with natural plant oils.

  • Thanks for posting this. As newbies, we recently infused our home-grown and dried Calendula flowers in Argan oil. I had read an article online about oils recommended to use for infusions, and Argan attracted me due to it absorbing into the skin so well, and it being ‘noncomedogenic’. I have been using a couple drops on my face for moisturizer and it really helped with winter dry skin. Much better than a quality moisturizer that I was using.

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