5 Easy DIY Herb-Infused Cooking Oils From Your Backyard (That Could Also Heal Your Hands)
Herb-infused oils are wonderful to have on hand. Depending on the dried herb used, many infused oils are versatile. You can cook with them, use them as a moisturizer, treat small scrapes and cuts and more.
The best oils to use for infusing your herbs are pure plant oils that have a low smoke point and long shelf life. Consider using such oils as almond, olive, coconut or sunflower, though many recipes call for olive oil since most people have it in their pantry. I’ll recommend common herbs you can find in your backyard, garden or through a friend, along with a few family stories about useful remedies for each.
Herb-infused oils, whether used for culinary purposes or traditional medicine, can be prepared in two ways: the folk method or heat method. The folk method is also referred to as a cold infusion or a solar infusion, as you let the herbs naturally infuse into the oil in the sunlight for a few weeks. The heat method sometimes makes use of a simple saucepan, but commonly, you’ll use a double boiling method — this method is the quickest. Here are five easy herb-infused oils you can make right now.
Garlic-Infused Olive Oil (Heat Method)
My family would prepare many recipes with fresh garlic as the cold season set in. When the cold nipped you, you bit back with herbal remedies. Soups laden with garlic were common at the sign of a cough or fever, an herb which has antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Some folk remedies recommend placing fresh garlic in your socks when you’re sick to draw out inflammation, but thankfully, I never fell asleep that way. Here’s a more effective recipe for garlic-infused olive oil that’s great for small cuts and family recipes.
Using a small saucepan, heat four smashed garlic cloves in a fourth cup of olive oil. Slowly stir the garlic cloves every few minutes so they don’t burn. Simmer the ingredients until the cloves are a light brown (about 30 minutes). Then, remove the pan from the heat.
Let the mixture rest for another 30 minutes. Finally, strain the infused oil through a sieve or cheesecloth into a pint-sized mason jar. Seal the jar. The recipe will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month.
Lemon Balm-Infused Olive OIl (Folk Method)
Lemon balm contains antioxidant properties and has also shown promise as a tonic and diuretic. Its scent is “lemony” and adds zest to any recipe.
My grandaunt used lemon balm in salads and would infuse leftover dried leaves into olive oil to use as a dressing. There’s no exact measurement for the amount of leaves used. She simply used whatever was left over from her garden. Here is her simple recipe using the folk method.
Add dried lemon balm leaves to a mason jar, and fill the jar up to a third. Then, top the herbs with olive oil, sealing it. Allow it to sit in a sunny spot in the window for about four weeks before straining. Store the oil in your refrigerator for up to a month.
Lavender-Infused Oil (Folk Method)
Aside from lavender-infused lattes, you might not consider using lavender-infused oils in your cooking. However, this oil is surprisingly versatile on both savory and sweet dishes. You can also rub the lavender oil into itchy spots on your skin or as a massage oil to help you destress.
If picking your own lavender, select the buds just as they’re about to open. Let them dry out in a sterile clean jar, filled up to a third of the way. Cover the flowers with a carrier oil of your choice, such as olive oil or almond oil.
Strain the oil into another jar, using a cheesecloth placed into a funnel. If you prefer, you can use a bottle with a dropper if turning the recipe into a massage oil. Store in your refrigerator for about a month.
Plantain Leaf-Infused Oil (Folk Method)
Plantain leaf can be used both internally and externally, and it contains anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and astringent properties. My grandmother used to crush up the leaf and rub it on cuts before placing a bandaid on my finger. The dried herb can also be used in homemade tea remedies to soothe a sore throat or cough. On its own, plantain leaf may not lend much flavor to heated foods, but it could be a soothing addition to a spring or summer salad as a dressing.
Pick fresh plantain that hasn’t been exposed to chemicals, pollution or pets, and let it dry out in a sterile area. Fill a mason jar with dried plantain, up to a third of the way. Cover the herb with olive oil. Then, cover it tightly. Let the oil infuse in a sunny spot for about four weeks.
Strain the oil into another sealable jar of equal measure using cheesecloth in a funnel. It should keep in your refrigerator for a month.
Rosemary-Infused Oil (Folk Method)
Rosemary has symbolic associations with good memory, wealth and protection. In terms of culinary and medicinal use, it’s both delicious and beneficial — indeed, rosemary contains cognitive-improving and antioxidant properties. However, I’ve made this oil solely for use in pasta dishes.
Fill a mason jar with dried rosemary about a third of the way. Fill it with olive oil. Let it sit for two to four weeks. Strain the oil through a cheesecloth and funnel, but many prefer leaving some of the rosemary in for aesthetic purposes. The recipe will keep for a month in your refrigerator.
- Some folk method recipes require as little as two weeks or up to six weeks. Each recipe varies. The length of time required can be due to the bulk of the herb, the amount of sunlight received and other variables.
- If using a heat or double-boiling method, slowly heat the oil on a slow simmer. Check on the oil every few minutes to ensure it’s not overheating. Heat method recipes should not take longer than an hour to make.
- Dry herbs by hanging them upside down or placing them flat and spaced apart. Let your herbs completely dry out before using them. If you don’t dry your herbs before making an infused oil, you run the risk of contamination.
- When collecting herbs, make sure you know the land well. Never pick herbs near the road due to the likelihood of contamination. Avoid where pets frequent. Never take more than a third of a plant to ensure the plant’s survival into the next season. Always get permission before picking if the land isn’t your own.
- Never use a plant if you’re not 100% confident you’ve correctly identified the plant. It would be better in such cases to order dried herbs through a local store or online.
- Always label your oils with the date you’ve made them, how long they’ve steeped and the estimated expiration date. You can store oils in a dark, cool corner of your cabinet, but they may not keep as long. I recommend storing them in your refrigerator for about a month, but this time can vary by recipe.