Meghan Rhodes MCPP MAPA

Why Potent Herb-Infused Oils Are One of the Most Important Remedies in Your Apothecary

As a home herbalist, herbal enthusiast or even qualified practitioner, have you ever made a herb-infused oil or topical remedy, looked at it, smelt it and thought - I know the herbs are great, but I'm not actually sure what I've made is going to do anything?

Or equally, have you questioned - I've made this lovely herbal topical remedy, but I'm not particularly confident how long before it goes off - and that's then stopped you from using it in the ways you really want?

The secret to effective topical herbal remedies

The secret to making effective topical herbal remedies is in the herb-infused oil. 

That's why potent herb-infused oils are one of the most important herbal preparations you can have in your apothecary.

Make a potent oil that extracts the maximum proportion of compounds and constituents, and you know the power of that herb is going to be captured in the oil and then translate into your topical remedy. That applies to salves, creams, body butter, balms - all of them.

When you know what colour each herbal oil should be and how it should smell, when you're working with a potent oil, there's no question as to whether or not they'll be effective, as long as you're appropriately pairing the right herbs for the intended use for the particular individual.

This also means you don't waste time and effort - especially if you're foraging responsibly or growing your own from seed - making the oil and then the balm, only to have it go off quickly or not use it or bin it because you're not sure if it's still good. Making oils that have a long shelf life saves you time remaking, waste and perhaps most importantly, doubt.

herb infused oil made into a salve

Why not just use essential oils?

Herb-infused oils are different to essential oils.

Essential oils require significantly more plant matter to make and are highly concentrated extractions of primarily the volatile oils in a plant. This means they should only be used in very small amounts diluted in a remedy and never internally. It also means, although they are powerful and potent, they are only capturing a particular spectrum of compounds in the herb. Essential oils have their own set of benefits when it comes to the field of aromatherapy (where only small amounts are used at a time) and the actions of the herb in that form are not always exactly the same as when the whole plant is used (again, because they concentrate specific compounds).

Herb-infused oils, however, require a lot less plant matter (70g dried powdered herb per 500ml of oil), extract a wider spectrum of compounds when properly infused, maintain much more of the context of the plant and are generally safer to use, as they do not need to be diluted. This means they can be blended with each other and massaged directly into the skin or incorporated with other fats or liquids to craft a salve or cream.

Be able to formulate any topical blend when you need it

Because high potency, slow-infused herbal oils are so central to my practice of herbalism and so beneficial for my students and family, I almost always have one to three different infusions on the go at any given time. I make sure I never run out of something (especially lavender oil and liquorice oil!), so I can always make an oil blend or balm quickly when I need one.

Like my herbal tinctures, I make and store them in dark amber glass bottles as simples - one herb each, rather than blends. As a practitioner, I find I now have a range of herb-infused oils to hand in my apothecary that nearly equals the range of tinctures I stock. This means I have the flexibility to create bespoke topical remedies quickly. This is particularly important when it comes to dispensing a remedy if you're in clinical practice, as you'll want to get your clients their prescriptions swiftly. Having them wait at least a week to infuse multiple oils to make their blend just isn't practical, but keeping a running track of inventory and making new batches as you go is.

When it comes to home and family use, having all my herb-infused oils to hand has been invaluable - especially with a toddler! When I needed to make more nappy cream for her when she was an infant, I had my chamomile oil ready to pop into a bain marie with some beeswax and make a top up of our salve. When chicken pox spots cropped up, I went straight to my apothecary, popped a blend of oils into a pump bottle, and immediately commenced frequent and regular slathering of her entire body.

Put this knowledge and power back into your own hands

All of my own teaching centres around putting knowledge, skills and power back into your hands so one by one every household has the confidence and ability to take ownership of their own health and support themselves naturally. We do discuss the core principles of herb-infused oil making techniques and work with oils I've infused on my courses and workshops, but until I'm running multi-day workshops (at some point in the future!), we can't cover every step in this process beyond demonstrating the highlights.

Fortunately, there is someone who can. Kami McBride is a qualified herbalist in practice for over three decades and she is the absolute expert when it comes to herb-infused oils. Her processes and techniques have completely transformed my herbal oils and made everything I've mentioned a reality - from being able to use my senses to gauge and assess the quality of a herbal oil, to the nuances of the making process, to having the knowledge-based confidence that my oils are potent and have reliable shelf-lives, to ultimately growing and developing the infused oils component of my professional and family apothecaries, making me self-sufficient in herbal oil production.

Her course is available online and on-demand with extensive video, audio and written resources, all with lifetime access (doubly brilliant, as she continually adds updates and further resources) and direct communication with her to pick her brains as you get started, try new things and venture into speciality oils. Kami has made it all, done it all and seen it all.

In my own journey into herbalism and development as a qualified herbalist, Kami's course in herbal oil making has genuinely been one of the most important and beneficial aspects of my training - and you don't have to be a professional to learn from her! From the moment I completed this training, I have recommended Kami's course to students on my workshops and courses, as well as to colleagues and other herbal professionals (long before I was asked to be an affiliate!).

When you learn this skill yourself, it is like having the ultimate extension to your home herbal medicine cabinet at home. So if learning, developing and mastering the skills and craft of making herb-infused oils is something you want to bring into your own home, use my affiliate link to enrol. It will be one of the best investments you make in your health and self-empowerment.

*N.B. I do earn a commission if you use my link to learn more and enrol.
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