Conjuring up a range of magical, extremely versatile, herbal oils is an awesome way of expanding your preserving skills.
These wonderfully aromatic, delicately flavoured oils have a whole host of culinary, cosmetic and even medicinal uses. Plus, when stored in pretty glass bottles, make the perfect, homemade gift for that extra special occasion.
Easy to make and — as long as scrupulous attention is paid to hygiene and appropriate storage conditions — fairly long keeping: the latter also depending on which herbs have been used.
Herbal oils made from fresh herbs have potentially higher water content than those made from dried herbs and their shelf life ranges anywhere between one to six months on average.
On the other hand, those made using dried herbs as an ingredient can keep as long as 12 to 18 months without spoiling and, in some cases, both flavour and colour are enhanced over time.
Personally speaking, the writer finds that herbal oils made from fresh ingredients are superior in taste to those made from dried ones.
Once opened, it is recommended that herbal oils be stored in the fridge, especially during the summer months.
Herbal and floral oils add mouthwatering ‘zing’ to cooked foods and salads, plus, you can use them in your beauty care routine too
The preferred base oil to use is, for a top quality product, pure, extra-virgin, olive oil — remember that Pakistan now produces this, so support this fledgling, indigenous, agricultural development if you can. If processing green herbs, sunflower oil comes a close second and walnut oil, although costly, is well worth experimenting with as well.
Herbal oils made using herb flowers or flower petals may be made using the aforementioned oils too, but oils such as apricot kernel oil and almond oil provide a more delicate base, thus enhancing the floral taste and bouquet. Coconut oil can be completely overpowering but melds surprisingly well with strongly perfumed flowers such as lavender and thyme flowers.
Freshly pressed apricot kernel and almond oils are vastly superior to commercially bottled ones and we are lucky that we can still have the raw ingredients pressed, right before our eyes, in some bazaars.
Whatever else you do, do not use mustard oil as a base for culinary herbal oils as, whilst it is excellent for hair oils, the taste and aroma completely overpower everything else.
Instructions using fresh herbs
Sterilise a wide necked glass jar — the size of the jar relative to the amount of oil you wish to make — by thoroughly washing it in very hot water and then standing it, upside down on a scalded wooden chopping board (this is done by pouring boiling water over the chopping board) and standing it outside, in direct sunshine, for at least one hour, until it is totally dry.
Pick selected fresh herbs — organically grown ones of course — when the sun is high and all dew has totally evaporated. If the herbs need washing, you can pick them at any time of day, rinse them off, spread out on a towel and leave in the sun just until washing water has evaporated and no more. Roughly chop the herbs and pack them loosely. Half fill the dry, sterilised jar with them. Fill up the jar with whichever oil you have selected, pushing the herbs down with a boiling water sterilised spoon to release any trapped air bubbles and then firmly tie a freshly scalded piece of fine muslin cloth over top.
Stand the jar on a sunny windowsill; give it a careful swirl around (without spilling any oil) once or twice a day for 10 days. Next, sterilise as many smallish bottles and their screw on lids or corks, as you think are needed, plus, sterilise a jug, sieve and another piece of muslin. Put the muslin over the sieve and carefully strain the herbal oil mixture through this into the jug. Pour the strained oil into the awaiting sterilised bottles, adding a fresh spring of selected herb for appearances sake. Screw on the lid/push in the cork, and there you have it … your very own herbal oil.
The exact same method is used when making herbal oils with fresh flowers or flower petals.
- It is best to begin by making smallish amounts of individual herbal oils, progressing to larger amounts once you get the hang of it.
Instructions using dried herbs
Exactly the same as for fresh herbs except that you quarter fill the jar with dried ones instead.
Green herbs for infusing include: different varieties and flavours of basil, fennel, aniseed, marjoram, oregano, mint varieties, tarragon, thyme, savoury, rosemary leaves and stems, lavender leaves and stems, dill, lemon balm and sage.
Flowers for infusing include: carnation petals, fragrant rose petals with the bitter white base removed, chive flowers, lavender flowers, rosemary flowers, sweet violets, sweet Williams, elderflowers, calendula petals and clove pinks.
- All green parts/bits must be removed from flowers.
You can, in time, experiment by mixing together herbs of choice to create personalised blends of herbal excellence, with which to enhance your cooked meals, salads and even your skin and hair care regimes.
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 8th, 2020