Jun 112012
 

How to Infuse Herbs in Oil, Water, Vinegar, Alcohol or Honey @ Common Sense Homesteading

Looking for creative, easy ways to use homegrown herbs, or maybe you’ve tried some fancy flavored oils or vinegars and wondered about making your own?  Now you can make any meal a little special with your home infused oils, vinegars, alcohols and honey.

Plantain in Olive Oil at Common Sense Homesteading

How to Make an Infused Oil

The best oils to use for infusions are pure plant oils such as olive, sunflower or almond oil.  The oil I use most is olive, because it has a longer shelf life at room temperature.  I wouldn’t advise the use of canola, corn oil or “vegetable” oil.  Most of these will be made from genetically modified crops, which I do not recommend for consumption.  (Read more here.)  Small batches are always best with infused oils, so they can be used quickly before they have a chance to go rancid.

Solar Infusion

This works best with olive oil, which is the most shelf stable liquid oil.  To infuse an herbal oil, finely chop your clean, dry herb.  (Wash only if really grimy, and dry well, as excess water can cause the infusion to spoil.)  Place the finely chopped herb in a lidded glass jar, such as a mason jar or condiment jar.  (This is a great use for old jars that can’t be used for canning but have wide mouths and good fitting lids.)   Label the jar – for instance, “Plantain in Olive Oil’ and the date, as above.  You’d be surprised how some chopped plants start to look similar to each other over time.

Place the jar in a sunny window or other warm location for 2-3 weeks. Stir daily, pushing all plant matter below the level of the oil.  Wipe off any condensation from under the lid or above the oil.

Strain out the plant material and pour oil into a dark glass container.  Label with contents and date.  Store in a cool location out of direct light to maximize shelf life.  ( I cover the jars with my husband’s old mismatched socks – see “Homegrown Medicinals“.)

This is the method I was taught by my herbal mentor, and is the method I use.  Some people have expressed concerns over botulism because of the low acidity in involved.  If you are concerned about botulism, I recommend infusing over direct heat.

Direct Heat Infusion

Use dried herbs, and simmer them on low for 4-6 hours for medicinal use, as long as needed for flavoring (generally 30 minutes will do).  Strain, cool, bottle and label with date and contents.  Store in refrigerator.  Most people who use this method will only infuse fresh herbs if they are going to be used the same day.

For food items such as garlic or citrus peels, you should only use the direct heat infusion method and make the oil in small batches.  Store in the refrigerator, and use within two weeks to eliminate the risk of botulism.  Cold will slow but not eliminate the development of botulism spores.

Garlic and citrus are both naturally anti-bacterial (as are many herbs and spices), so risks are minimal, but we always want to error on the side of caution.  Plus, fresh oils taste better!

Infused oils make a great base for homemade salves, such as plantain salve, which I always keep on hand for bug bites, bee stings and other minor skin irritations.  Flavored oils such as chive or basil can be used for cooking and make lovely gifts.

How to Infuse Herbs in Water

Water based infusions are very similar to making tea, except that an infusion will steep longer.  You can use a muslin tea bag or stainless steel tea ball to hold your herbs, but I generally prefer to leave my herbs loose and then strain after brewing.

To make an infusion, place one tablespoon of dried herbs or three tablespoons of fresh herbs into a ceramic teapot, mug or mason jar for each cup of tea you intend to brew.  Cover with boiling water.  Place on the lid (or cover your cup with a saucer) and let steep for 10-15 minutes or overnight.  Strain and drink.  I regularly make infusions of oatstraw and nettle for general health and wellness.  Mint is great for soothing sore tummies.  You can read about herbs and spices that boost you immune system here.

Dandelion and Lemon Infusion, Cranberry Lime Infusion @ Common Sense Homesteading

Dandelion Lemon Aperitif and Cranberry Lime Mixer

How to Infuse Herbs in Vinegar or Alcohol

When you infuse herbs in alcohol or vinegar, it is commonly referred to as a tincture when used medicinally, but you can make some very tasty flavored vinegars and drink mixers, too.

To make a basic alcohol or vinegar tincture:  (from Holistic Herbal)

  1. Place 4 ounces by weight of dried chopped or ground herbs (twice as much for fresh) into a glass jar with lid that can be tightly closed.
  2. Pour 1 pint of 30% (60 proof) vodka on the herbs, close the container tightly.  I watch for sales on vodka, and prefer those in glass jars over plastic, because I figure if the alcohol can leak compounds out of the herbs, it may attack the plastic, too. Label with contents and date.
  3. Keep the container in a warm place for two to six weeks and shake it well twice every day.  This one shouldn’t go in direct sun, but on the kitchen counter is fine.
  4. Strain out the plant material – it makes great compost.  Don’t be afraid to squeeze it dry.  You can let it settle before bottling or strain through a coffee filter if a clearer product is desired.
  5. Pour the tincture into a dark bottle (or store out of direct light).  Don’t forget to label it with the contents and date.  Pretty bottles of food stuffs look lovely on display, but light speeds the breakdown of many compounds in the food/medicine.  When you’re trying to break down plant material to transfer its compounds into oil, this makes sense, but not for long term storage.

Susun Weed prefers fresh herbs, some sites recommend only dry herbs.  Some recommend infusing in warmth and light, others recommend cool and dark.  I think it’s a matter of working with what you have.  I do oils in the sun, tinctures out of direct light, and I typically use fresh herbs for both.  With water, I’ll often use dry herbs, like making tea.

Susun’s tincture making method recommends filling the jar with fresh herbs, filling it with 100 proof vodka making sure all the herbs are well covered, sealing, labeling and letting it stand for six weeks before straining.  Sometimes she doesn’t even strain, just dips some out of the bottle and leaves the plant material in.  She says she’s kept some this way for years with no loss of potency.  This is the method I regularly use, because it’s quick and easy.

How to Infuse Herbs in OIl, Water, Vinegar or Alcohol - Common Sense Homesteading

Chive blossoms infusing in white wine vinegar

My preferred choice for vinegars that I plan to eat, especially in a product like this, is a good quality white wine, champagne or apple cider vinegar.  Vinegars can be done in about two weeks, and are best stored in a bottle with a cork or other non-metallic lid.  I saved my vinegar bottle and plan to put the vinegar back in once it’s done infusing.  :-)

Dandelion Aperitif from Healing Wise

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cups fresh dandelion blossoms
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • rind of half a lemon
  • 1 quart vodka

Directions

Do not wash flowers.  Cut off green.  mix all ingredients together into jar; cap.  Shake daily.  Wait two weeks, then strain and enjoy with ice and lemon, or hot with water and honey, or by itself before or after meals.  This recipe can be made with any edible flower or herb.

To make the cranberry-lime vodka, I fill the bottle with fresh cranberries and a slice lime and covered it in vodka, then let it steep.  (Photo at top of post.)  You can add sugar, too, if you like, or just use strips of zest instead of lime slices.  Repackage in a fancy bottle with a bow and you have a nice gift.  (These were headed for my own hooch cabinet.  ;-)  Yes, I know the cranberries and limes are not generally considered herbs, but they do make for a pretty photo and a tasty drink.

Vanilla Infused Honey @ Common Sense Homesteading

How to Infuse Herbs in Honey

You can also infuse herbs in honey. (I made some vanilla honey for Christmas gifts last year – so yummy!)  The flavor takes a little longer to permeate the honey, so I’d recommend a minimum of a month on this one, although if you are using strongly flavored herbs, two weeks may be enough.  For vanilla honey, add one or two chopped vanilla beans per cup jar, depending on the size of the bean and whether they’ve been previously used.  (I used beans that had previously been used to make ice cream and let them steep for three months.)  Rose petals, mint, anise, chamomile and lavender are other popular choices for flavoring honey. 1 to 2 tablespoons of herbs per cup of honey should be plenty.  Mild honeys work best for flavoring.


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Featured on Homestead Barn Hop #65 and Frugal Food Thursday.

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  60 Responses to “How to Infuse Herbs in Oil, Water, Vinegar, Alcohol or Honey”

  1. I do not have herbs yet but am very interested in learning what I need to grow to do this.

  2. Today I am infusing my own honey with my own herbs. I’m starting with lemon thyme honey for sore throats.

  3. I enjoy reading about the how toos of all these things, but once I have them in the jars it’s like—-Now what? I haven’t found a site that will help tell which herbs are best for what as an oil/tincture or best infused with honey/alcohol. It’s all mind boggling to me. Anywhere I can go and sort this all out, or does one just need to hunt here and there?

    • Judi – if there is one “how to” for all things herbal, I haven’t found it. I discuss two of my favorite books in this post – http://www.commonsensehome.com/getting-started-herb-gardening/ Susun Weed’s books are more intuitive, but I enjoy them, too, just for that reason.

      Different cultures use herbs differently, and of course, different herbs grow around the world. I think it would take a lifetime or two to even make a dent in what can be done with them. Simply start where you are with what you have, and experiment with one new use at a time.

  4. Great ideas! have to flavor me some vodka:)

  5. I’ve been making rosemary vinegar for my hair rinse for a few years. But yesterday I just strained out nettle and hibiscus. It is a glorious blood red color.

  6. I just recently started some vanilla extract in vodka – SO EXCITED! I also made some plantain olive oil a while back that I’ve been meaning to make into some salve with comfrey and calendula. And on my to do list next is to infuse some home made wild-fermented apple cider vinegar with rosemary. I heard recently that rosemary is good for dandruff, and my boyfriend and I have both been having a few more flakes than we’d like lately… But the rosemary vinegar will work perfectly for me because I have switched from shampoo to baking soda followed by cider vinegar. I am so inspired by your chive vinegar! I have some healthy garlic chives growing right now, so I may have to try it myself.

  7. Hey, thanks for the shout out! We’re brewing up some herbal goodies this week! See you tomorrow for Wildcrafting Wednesday!

  8. [...] giving away on her blog post so don’t forget to take her challenge and reply directly on her infusing herbs blog [...]

  9. The infusion of herbs and honey is very common in Yemen- for adults and children. I use it regularly with my family, especially for coughs and stomach issues. It was so good to see this much ignored practice mentioned here- thank you for a great post!

  10. How wonderful – gosh I just made some comfrey ointment and really enjoy using it – it is very healing. Plantain salve will be next on my list!
    http://africanaussie.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/rainy-day-makes-way-for-experiments-in.html

  11. Just wanting to know… How would you go about making an extract or is the process the same as a tincture…??? What about using Everclear as opposed to Vodka for that…??? Is it too strong for extracts…???

    • Kate – yes, you make extracts the same way. I made a very yummy vanilla extract by mixing a couple different types of beans. Orange and almond extract are also very easy – just use orange zest strips and almonds. Everclear will work, but not exactly the same. It may be more bitter, for instance. More info on that here – http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/732579

  12. I’m growing horehound and will use it in honey for a throat syrup. Thanks to your blog I might even know what I’m doing now ;) I can’t wait for your post on nettle. I checked out Healing Wise by Susun Weed from the library and LOVED it! I might have to buy it if I don’t win it. Thanks for the opportunity.

  13. I have some comfrey drying. And I have my first herb garden growing. I’m not sure I’ll be able to harvest anything this year as I would rather have an established herb garden, but we’ll see how it goes. :)

  14. Wow – great info here! I’ve pinned and shared on FB :) As much as I love to cook and make things from scratch, I’ve never actually made an herbal infusion. So I can’t wait to follow the directions you have here for making herbal oils and herbal tinctures. Also really like the book giveaway – thanks for that!

  15. I would like to make a comfrey infused oil.

  16. Thanks for the helpful information! I really would like to make some real vanilla extract and some stevia extract..I will give it a try :)

  17. It’s hard to decide what to do first but I may try some comfrey because it is something I am finally growing here now. No wait, I have plantain too, maybe I’ll do both first! :)

  18. There’s so much interesting information here!

  19. This is all new to me and I can’t wait to learn more about it. I love using thyme, so maybe would use it first.

  20. I have tried to infuse plantain with vinegar. It has worked for itchy spots (such as mosquito bites) and poison ivy.

  21. I have been making plantain infused oil, arnica and ginger for another oil as well… ;0)

  22. thank you for your directions of oil infused herbs. I also like olive oil and herbs. I have sage and basil growing that I am definitely going to try this with.

  23. This is so interesting! I’ve infused vinegar before and would love to learn more!

  24. [...] just love Laurie at Common Sense Homesteading. I have 2 posts from her this week! One is How to Infuse Herbs in Oil, Water, Vinegar, Alcohol or Honey and the other is from her awesome Weekly Weeder series this week is Prickly Wild Lettuce. Laurie [...]

  25. I’ve just been gifted some new herb plants by a friend and I trimmed them back when I planted them so thought I’d use the trimmings . I now have lemon balm oil, chive oil, tarragon vinegar and sage vinegar sitting on the side steeping. We will probably use them mostly as salad dressings, my four year old loves putting together salads with me ! He thinks he is a master salad maker and who am I to argue with that.

    • Esther – that’s wonderful! It’s so fun when the kids start to take ownership of dishes that they make. My eldest likes experimenting with spice mixes. Some experiments have turned out better than others. ;-)

  26. This is all new to me too but I’m excited to try! Ive made my own vanilla extract and my own chive blossom vinegar. I would really like to learn more about making lotions and balms though, that’s next on the list!

  27. [...] coughs and support your immune system. I want you to think about making super simple lotions from Laurie’s infused oils. And I want you to think about drying some flowers and berry leaves from your own garden and making [...]

  28. [...] we already apply the infusions technique when we make our own vanilla, splitting a pod and dumping vodka on it.  With the new WA state [...]

  29. [...] back near the beginning of June when I explained the basics of How to Infuse Herbs?  Several people joined in the challenge and shared their infusions, and now the time has come to [...]

  30. Just drained my first oil infusion and it has a smell. It smells different than the olive oil plain. Any thoughts?

    • Does it smell rotten or just strange? For instance, the plantain infusions smells a little like pepperoni as it ages. You are breaking down plant material to draw out the useful compounds. As long as there’s no mold or truly “rotten” smell, you’re probably fine.

  31. yes very pepperoni or even like dog treats. It is actually a fresh calendula and olive oil infusion but I have a plantain going as well. Hope it is okay, may have to add essential oil to help with the smell.

  32. Can you mix the oils when infusing? I would like to make a patchouli oil using dried herb but really don’t want it to smell too much like olive oil. Could I mix a bit of the olive oil (since it does have a longer shelf life) with mostly almond oil to make it last longer? Would it be better just to do straight almond oil? How long of a shelf life does almond oil generally have? I’m using it for a body oil and would like to bring out the patchouli smell as best I can. Thanks so much.

  33. [...] looking for a great homemade gift, you may want to check out our super easy hard lotion bar recipe, vanilla infused honey or some of our favorite Christmas [...]

  34. What about using coconut oil? I know you have talked about the great benefits of this. Would this work well like the olive oil or almond? Or maybe not since it solidifies above certain temperatures?

  35. I notice when infusing things (specifically i’m interested in honey and oils) everyone recommends you strain out the plant material. Why is that, and would it be okay to not strain? (for example lavender and honey)

    • Over time, the plant matter will fade and look less attractive, and of course most people don’t want chunks to fly out of a bottle when poured. Infused oils should be used fairly quickly, as they will go rancid over time. With honey, I’ve personally just scooped around the herbs, as honey acts as a preservative.

  36. For infusing in oil I didn’t see how much to use? U mention putting herbs in jar & the next comment said close with lid never mentioned adding the oil. I realize this is obvious but do u fill your jar full with herbs, then add only enough oil to cover them etc? Thank you

    • In her books Susun Weed describes “filling the jar and then filling it again”. I don’t really measure, I just use what I have harvested and make sure it’s completely covered with oil and stirred to remove air pockets. The more herbs used, the stronger the infusion.

  37. Would these be the same as essential oils?

    • No, these are not the same as essential oils. Essential oils are the concentrated extracts of a given plant or plant material. They are commonly distilled from vast quantities of plant matter, although different techniques are used depending on the plant material involved.

  38. If I use lemon zest with 100 proof alcohol (or any other fruit) is there any risk of botulism? I’m looking to make some simple tinctures as you describe.. Thanks!!

  39. Hey there.
    I just thought I would let you know that it is a bad idea to recommend infusing fresh herbs in oil, for weeks in a sunny spot. I have taken the time to learn about botulism and how fast it can occur in oil and I recommend you do the same. You could cause someone to get really sick.

    • The method I describe in the post is from the teachings of Susun Weed, who has been studying and teaching herbalism for nearly 50 years. She has not been killed or crippled by botulism. She recommends the use of the fresh herb for greater potency. This is the way I was taught by my herbal mentor. This is the way I may my oil.

      Since you are familiar with botulism, you must also know that the CDC recommends boiling all home canned food for 10 minutes before consumption. I don’t do that, either.

      I’m sure you also know that the CDC recommends you do not feed infants under 2 years old honey because of botulism risk, although their own website notes there have been no recent cases of infant botulism from honey. Specifically, they state, “Most infant botulism cases cannot be prevented because the bacteria that causes this disease is in soil and dust.” See – CDC-Botulism

      Botulism can be deadly. To reduce the risk of botulism exposure, some people will only infuse dried plant matter over heat, simmering them for 4-6 hours (or more or less, depending on which reference you use). They may also store them in the refrigerator, or only use them on the day they are made.

      Traditionally, before refrigeration, long term preservation in oil without refrigeration was very common.

      For more a more detailed explanation of safe food and herb preservation according to various government organizations, I recommend

      Food Safety & Preservation: Herbs and Vegetables in Oil” from Oregon State University

      and “Preservation of vegetables in oil and vinegar” from CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – Australia)

  40. can you help me? I know this is old but I really need help. I did a mix of herbs and infused it into braggs ACV for about two weeks. strained into a sterilized mason jar and put it under the sink to use in my hair rinses and home made facial toners. but within a week it had this black liquid mold type stuff on the kid, it seemed like the vinager had seperated and gotten a lot darker and had a rancid smell to it. I wouldn’t be as worried if it wasn’t for the black mold looking stuff on the top of the lid and the strange smell… is this rancid? what can I do next time to keep this from happening?
    thank you

    • “Black mold looking stuff” sounds bad. Normally, vinegar is very acidic, so it will inhibit mold growth. You may have introduced too much liquid in the form of fresh herbs. Try with dry herbs, or use less plant material, and make sure it is finely chopped so the vinegar can penetrate all the way through.

  41. okay I didn’t have a mortar and pestle last time but I do now, I used dry herbs. what is a good ratio of herbs to vinegar? and if I do a tincture with alcohol do the same rules apply? you said it was recommended to fill a jar with plant material and then fill the jar with vodka so I’m guessing vodka inhibits mold growth more than vinegar? thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it. I couldn’t find anywhere where someome said their infused acv had grown mold! I was so confused haha.

    • I shared the instructions as they were shared with me from my mentor, but I guess there’s more room for interpretation than I realized. I usually go loosely packed when I’m filling jars, so that there is plenty of room for the preserving liquid.

      Both alcohol and vinegar act as preservatives, but, yes, alcohol acts as a stronger preservative. Think about lab specimens preserved in alcohol.

      For an alcohol or vinegar based tincture, the Holistic Herbal recommends 4 ounces (120 grams) of chopped or ground dried herbs, twice as much for fresh, in combination with 1 pint (500 ml) of vodka.

  42. If you are still monitoring/responding, I have a question about infusing vinegar – Early in May I infused some purple basil with champagne vinegar – glass jar, just set at room temp on shelf/in kitchen. Really neglected it. A month or so later, I noticed it had a film across the top of it – kind of rubbery similar to a kombucha mother. I removed it, thinking I need to figure out if this is safe – set the jar aside and ignored it again. Now there is a new film on top – but the vinegar smells pretty good actually! -the film is sort of opaque – if it weren’t for the purple basil affecting the color, it would be a whitish opaque. Is this likely a vinegar mother forming? Is it likely safe now 2+ months later to remove the basil and consume this?

    Do you have a favorite book/resource for more in depth info about infusing herbs as use in food products that would address these types of safety concerns?

    Thanks for your time!

    • It really sounds like a vinegar mother. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet read any books that get extremely in depth about infusing. Plenty that mention it, but they’re all pretty casual with virtually nothing on troubleshooting. They are probably out there, I just haven’t run into them yet.

      Normally, the acidity in vinegar will basically pickle whatever you put into it, as long as you don’t put too much plant matter into it. If you have some way to check the pH, you could double check that it has stayed acidic enough to inhibit the growth of any nasties. (You’re looking for around 4.6.)

      • Same with me about what I’ve found/read about infusing.
        I do have pH strips – thanks for mentioning that – and thanks much for taking the time to respond.

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