How to Make an Herbal Infusion in Water or Oil
Making an herbal infusion involves steeping herbs in a carrier substance such as water or oil with the intention of transferring the herb's aroma, flavor, and sometimes medicinal properties to the carrier. This process is a great way to preserve fresh herbs from the grocery store or your garden, and its applications are endless - from the kitchen to the bath to pretty much everywhere else in your home. This article will detail the process of making infusions in both water and oil, and will also list some of the best and most common uses for infusions in both of these mediums.
Infusing Herbs in Water
Infusing herbs in water is a lot like making tea. You can either steep fresh or dried herbs in boiled water, or you can place herbs in a glass jar filled with water and leave it in the sun for a day. You can adjust the amount of herbs you use per cup of water depending on how strong you want the finished product to be. For an infusion that's about the strength of tea, use 1-2 rounded tablespoons of fresh or dried herbs per cup of water. For more concentrated infusions, use 1/4 cup or more of herbs per cup of water, or repeat the instructions below more than once using the same water and a fresh batch of herbs.
Using Boiled Water:
- Place loose herbs at the bottom of a heat-resistant container that is large enough to accommodate the quantity of infusion you plan to make (you can also put the herbs in a tea ball instead of leaving them loose if you prefer).
- Boil the desired amount of water, pour it into the container over the herbs, cover, and let steep for at least 10 minutes.
- You can skip this step if you used a tea ball:
After the herbs have finished steeping, uncover and strain the liquid into another container. If you don't want any bits of leaves in your infusion, use a cheesecloth. If you use a strainer, you'll get fine little pieces of leaves. It's up to you.
- Store your infusion in an opaque container (preferably glass) with a tight-fitting lid, and keep in the refrigerator until you're ready to use.
Using the Sun:
- Place desired amount of herbs at the bottom of a clear glass jar with a tight-fitting lid that is large enough to accommodate the amount of infusion you want to make.
- Pour cool or room-temperature water into the jar over the herbs and screw the lid on tightly.
- Place the jar in the sun in the morning and leave there all day. You're essentially making sun tea.
- When your infusion is finished, strain the liquid into an opaque (and preferably glass) container with a tight-fitting lid. If you don't want any leaf fragments in your infusion, use a cheesecloth. Otherwise, use a strainer.
- Store the infusion in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
Infusing Herbs in Oil
Using oil is another popular way to make herbal infusions. You can either use hot oil or heat from the sun. Depending on how you plan to use the infusion, you can adjust the ratio of herbs to oil. If you only want to add some flavor to cooking oils, like olive oil or vegetable oil, use 1-2 tablespoons of fresh or dried herbs per cup of oil. Alternatively, you can put whole sprigs of your herb(s) of choice straight into the bottle and let it sit unopened for a couple weeks.
On the other hand, if you want to make more highly concentrated oils, use a lot more herbs - about 1/4 cup of fresh or dried herbs (or more) per cup of oil.
I recommend using the following oils if you don't want the flavor of the oil to conflict with the herbs: light olive oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, almond oil.
If you only want to add flavor to cooking oil, then you can use any oil of your choice.
Using Hot Oil:
- Mix your desired amount of herbs and oil in a double-boiler (or a saucepan) and simmer on low heat for a couple hours, making sure you don't burn the herbs or the oil. If you want a stronger infusion, you can simmer for a little longer, or you can stop, strain the herbs out with a cheesecloth, add a fresh batch of herbs to the same oil, and repeat the process one or more times.
- Once you've completed the infusion, store in opaque glass containers with tight-fitting lids. For best results, use several smaller bottles as opposed to one or two large ones. This helps the oil stay fresh longer.
- Store your oils in a cool, dry, dark place. They'll keep for several months to a year.
Using the Sun:
- Place desired amount of herbs and oil in a clear glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Put the jar by a sunny window for at least two weeks and up to a month.
- If you want to increase the strength of the infusion, repeat this process one or more times using the same oil but a fresh batch of herbs.
- When you're finished infusing, pour the oil into opaque, glass containers that seal tightly, and put them in a cool, dry, dark place.
- For best results, use several small containers rather than one or two large ones. This helps keep the oil fresh. It should keep for several months to a year with proper storage.
Uses for Herbal Infusions
Infused water and oil have endless applications, but here are several of the most popular:
- Drinks: use infused water straight or as a mixer, hot or iced, in teas and other beverages
- Cooking: use infused oil where you normally use oil in cooking to add extra flavor to your dishes. Works especially well with olive oil and vegetable oils.
- Baking: use oils such as almond, grape seed, and vegetable oil that have been infused with herbs or spices that work well in baked goods. Some good choices would be mint, lavender, lemon or orange, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Use herbs and spices specific to a recipe to give the finished product a boost of flavor!
- Perfume and Aromatherapy: mix infused oil (or water) into perfumes, lotions, creams, massage oils, body washes, and bubble baths. You can also add it to liquid potpourri or reed diffusers in your home or office.
- Ointments: oils infused with herbs that contain medicinal properties can be used topically to help treat cuts, burns, rashes, and sores. Olive and almond oils work well for this purpose.
These are just a few ways you can use infusions. The possibilities are endless!