Our botanical garden was so prolific this year! We grew basil (Ocimum basilicum), German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum), melissa (Melissa officinalis), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens var. roseum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and many other herbs. We have already processed many aromatic plants into dried herbs, hydrosols and infused oils.
Whether you have a garden or are growing potted plants there are many ways to prepare your bountiful harvest for use throughout the year.
Drying- for culinary use or as herbal teas. After you harvest the plant material you can either place them in a basket with a cloth or paper towel in the bottom to soak up any moisture, hang them up, or place them in a paper bag.
Once well dried put into a glass jar and label. It is best to store dried herbs in a dark and cool environment to prolong the shelf life. These can be used for tea, spices, infused oils, ground up for facial products, or distilled for hydrosols and essential oils.
Distillation- steam distillation for all aromatic plants can be processed for both essential oils and hydrosols. There are many glass and copper home garden distillers on the market. They range in size from 5-100 liters.
Stovetop Hydrosol- this is another easy and inexpensive way to distill any aromatic plant. The distillation equipment is simple and is usually found within your home; stainless steel pot, stainless steel bowl, ceramic bowl, brick and ice. This process results in a lovely hydrosol with a very small amount (0.02-0.5%) of essential oil.
Flower Essences- if you still have fresh flowers in your garden, processing them into flower essences can be a fantastic way to soothe the emotions and instill a healthy balance throughout the year. A useful book reference for this process is Flower Essence Reparatory by Patricia A. Kaminski and Richard A. Katz.
Infusion or Maceration- is another method of extraction that is used for plants and herbs that cannot be steam distilled or extracted through pressing the seeds or nuts.
The flower heads are collected and covered in a vegetable base. Olive or jojoba oil is the best base to cover the plant material and to draw out the beneficial nutrients. Neither of these oils will oxidize, nor become rancid, as so many other carrier oils do. See the detailed step-by-step process of infusion below.
Examples of plant matter used for infusion:
Arnica (Arnica montana) The flowers are used in the maceration process, while the roots of the plant are used for homeopathic remedies. Arnica oil is used to reduce pain and inflammation for fractures, sprains, bruises, strained muscles, tendons, bruises, contusions and swellings. It is excellent to reduce muscle and joint inflammation in massage oil or used as a compress, when it is used as soon as possible on injuries with unbroken skin. Precaution: Arnica oil should only be used externally, not internally. Do not use on cuts or open wounds. Do not use Arnica during pregnancy or while nursing. Do not use Arnica if you have a daisy allergy. If taking blood-thinning medication, consult a physician.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula looks similar to Marigold, but should not be confused as such. Calendula has incredible anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties; it is found to be particularly useful for imbalances of the circulatory system. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it useful in balms and salves for wounds, bruises, bedsores, and skin rashes. It is excellent for skin care, particularly eczema.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
St John’s Wort is useful as an anti-inflammatory, for wounds, mild burns, soothing inflamed nerves, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, sores, ulcers, muscles, as well as sprains, and bruises. Precaution: Photosensitivity - do not apply before going into the sun or tanning bed.
Rosehip (Rosa canina)
Rosehip oil is extremely beneficial in tissue regeneration for conditions such as facial wrinkles, premature aging, burns, and on scars following surgery. It is believed that these important functions in regeneration and repair of the skin tissue are due to high levels of both gamma-linolenic acid (47.4%) and linolenic fatty acids (33%).
Oil Infusion Process:
STEP 1- Clean and dry the herbs or plant material for a day or two.
Method- Dry the plants by putting them in a basket with a cloth or paper towel in the bottom to soak up any moisture, hang them up, or place them in a paper bag.
STEP 2- Once the plant material is dry then you chop, crush, or grind into small pieces or powder.
STEP 3- Place the crushed or ground up plant material into a glass jar, then cover with a base of olive or jojoba oil. Allow a small amount of room at the top.
NOTE: Use jojoba oil for any delicate aromatic plant material, or if it will be used as carrier oil for facial care products. Olive oil is fine for other plant matter such as arnica or calendula.
STEP 4- This mixture is then left in a dark and warm environment for four to six weeks, shaking the mixture daily 100 times, until the base oil has absorbed the properties and essential oils from the plant material. When you see the plant material starting to degrade it is time for the next step.
STEP 5- At the end of four to six weeks, the oil is drained off and filtered. Use a funnel and strainer or a coffee filter.
STEP 6- Bottle- It is always best to store the finished product in a dark amber bottle.
STEP 7- Label- Include the common and botanical name of the plant and a date of filtering on the bottle.
The end result of this infused oil is wonderful carrier oil to add to your essential oil blends and aromatherapy products.
Alcohol Infusion: Is mostly used for non-aromatic herb plants like Motherwort (Leonurus cardiac)and Echinacea Root (Echinacea purpurea) that will be used as an herbal tincture.
With this process you can use freshly harvested plant material and do not have to dry it first. Follow the same instructions that have beengiven for the oil infusion.
Enjoy Your Bountiful Harvest!
Shanti Dechen, CCAP, CAI, LMT is the founder and director of Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy, is a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, clinical health practitioner and a certified massage therapist since 1979. She has a university background in healing and the sciences—over 15,000 hours of extensive holistic training and certification in bodymind therapies. She is the NAHA Regional Director of Colorado and lives and gardens in the beautiful mountain community of Crestone.