BY: Dorene Petersen, ACHS President
Plants provide us with a rich array of therapeutic ingredients known as active constituents. Many aromatic plants are packed with specialized cells containing essential oils, as well as other constituents that provide healing qualities. Usually these aromatic materials are distilled, which releases the essential oil from the specialized cells.
Distilling essential oils requires specialized equipment. For this reason, most people are not able to distill their own essential oils at home. However, infused oils are a good alternative. Though less concentrated than essential oils, infused oils require much less botanical material than distillation and are well suited for making massage oils, as well as culinary and bath oils.
To make infused oils for personal use at home, you need very little equipment. To prepare an infused oil, you heat a base oil with your botanical material (or herb) over hot water. It is important to pick the best base oil for your infusion, because many base oils have active constituents that can enhance the therapeutic benefits of the infusion you are making.
Base oils, also called fixed oils, are made primarily from the seeds or fruits of plants. Unlike essential oils, however, base oils are non-volatile. (Essential oils are called “volatile” because they readily vaporize when heated at a low temperature; base oils — like almond or avocado oil — do not.)
When making infused oils for personal use, cold-pressed, organic base oils are preferable, because they retain more of their natural elements than heat-extracted oils. Heat destroys antioxidants, which are naturally occurring in oils, and which help prevent the oils from spoiling when they come in contact with air. By contrast, cold-pressed oils already contain vitamin E, a naturally occurring antioxidant that prevents spoiling.
Base oils include:
- For massage infusions, almond Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis, aloe vera Aloe barbadensis, and camellia Camellia japonica oils work well.
- For bath infusions, apricot Prunus persica, grapeseed Vitis vinifera, and wheat germ Triticum aestivum oils work well.
- When making culinary infusions, however, olive Olea europaea, peanut Arachis hypogaea, and sesame Sesamum indicum oils are good base oils. (People with food allergies to nuts should avoid contact with peanut oil.)
* The article below originally appeared on the website BlogCritics.org.