The Herbal Artist: Make Your Own Medicinal Oils

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Kiki Geary is the founder of Poppy Swap, an online marketplace that offers an amazing selection of handmade products from herbalists all over the country. If you love your local farmers’ market, Poppy Swap is for you!  The following Sword Fern Hair Tonic recipe was made from a sword fern in Kiki’s own backyard.

Medicinal oils are a great first project for anyone interested in creating their own herbal medicines. They require very simple tools and because they are simply applied on the skin, rather than taken internally, they are generally a very safe place to start. There are so many wonderful herbs that can be used to make a medicinal oil, you probably won’t have to go past your own back yard or garden. Calendula, lavender, mugwort and arnica are some that are commonly used. Organic beauty products, massage oils and nourishing skin remedies are sometimes just quick clip and a day away! They can also make a special handmade gift.

Tools: To make a medicinal oil, you will need three simple tools: garden clippers or a shovel, a crock-pot and a metal sieve. You will also need a container for storing your finished oil. A recycled kitchen jar works great!

Ingredients: Your favorite medicinal herb and enough organic olive oil to cover the herb material while it heats in the crock pot.

[Pictured: Sword fern roots]

The Simple Steps: To make an oil, all you do is place your herb material in the crock pot and cover it with oil. Leave the crock pot on the lowest setting and let it sit for one to three days. The amount of time you let it sit will depend on which part of the plant you are using. For lighter materials such as flowers and leaves, one day is often enough. For roots, stems and resins, leaving it in the heat process longer will make a stronger medicine.

When making a medicinal oil, it is a good idea to let it heat with the lid off  or at least open to prevent condensation and moisture from falling into the oil. Water will make your medicine vulnerable to rancidity and bacteria. Also, when straining the oil make sure to use a metal colander, or wait until the oil is completely cooled. One of the worst mistakes I ever made was when I was making my first salve. I was so excited to get to the next step, I poured a whole quart of hot oil through a plastic kitchen colander. It was not only totally ridiculous and wasteful, it was also pretty dangerous. Always remember, plastic melts, glass breaks, and skin burns. So please be careful!

Digging for oil

A Sword Fern Sample: Today, I will share a recipe for a quick Nourishing Hair Oil made from sword ferns. Sword ferns grow prolifically in the Pacific Northwest, and carpet our forests with a gorgeous lush, radiance. I made this tonic last year and shared it with my girlfriends during our monthly herb gathering. It was the weekend so we all tried it that day! Everyone reported that their hair had a bit of extra bounce the next morning. For naturally heavier hair, it’s best to leave it on for a few hours and then shampoo it out. You can also rub it on the tips your hair after a shower.

I choose a small to medium-size sword fern from my yard. I love this plant and if you look at the belly of the leaves, you will see the tiny spores of propagation. It was kind of difficult to turn but not impossible. The roots were thin and plentiful and we gave it a good shake and cleaning to get the dirt out. I chopped the roots, laid them in the crock-pot and covered them with olive oil. We harvested on Friday and let them sit on low until Sunday’s gathering. The house smelled like warm forest floor.

Here’s a link to some of the medicinal oils currently on Poppy Swap. You can read about each herbalists process and which herbs they choose for different applications!