DIY Tuesday – How to Make Your Own Herbal Infusions

First off, I’m glad to have this information myself and really grateful to be able to share it with you.  I hope you enjoy this and can use it for your own applications.  It’s really not that hard to do, but for many it will be intimidating without references.  I’m no expert, but I think this information has been used by all walks of life for thousands of years, so I’m sharing what I know with you.  Feel free to contribute your research as well!

PLANT IDENTIFICATION:

My point of departure is that I quickly learned the foliage looks much different in Pennsylvania than that of the Bay Area, California.  The sunny and mostly arid climate makes for ideal herb growing in CA, while the alternating humid and dry freezing conditions make for wonderful floral and dense green woodland here in PA.  I came to enjoy wild edible identification, through urban mountain biking.  I’ve found lemon balm in sidewalk cracks, jewelweed on the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, nettle along singletrack, and plantain, dandelion and echinacea in most folks’ yards.  I use Newcombe’s Wildflower Guide (NE region book), Pl@ntNet and Phytotherapy (plant ID apps) on my Android on my smartphone to back up my intuition.  Being a fan of permaculture, I also try to get familiar with the natural companion plants growing nearby and their role in the ecosystem and possible uses in the home.  At this point, I kinda wonder if anything is really a “weed” anymore – it seems that everything has its role in the ecosystem, including human health.  With respect to that delicate system, I only collect small amounts of what I need, ensuring not to exhaust any area and always research permission protocol.  Sometimes, I will pull a root section of plants with known invasive or spreading quality, and transplant in my own garden where I can use it and keep it in check.  Many plants have specified harvest recommendations for time of year or day, and whenever I find them may not be optimal.  Every plant is different so you’ll have to look them up yourself, if you’re out foraging.  Nature has inspired a lot of my recipes, in this way.

GETTING STARTED: Once you’ve harvested what you’re going to use in a recipe, you have a few options.  I made a soap for Outdoor adventurers that uses Jewelweed extract to remove Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendronoils in my recipe, so I make both a tea and an infused oil to replace part of the base oil for the greatest effectiveness.

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FORAGING: Late Summer or Early Fall Jewelweed (Impatiens capensisplants with fully developed orange flowers and visible seed pods are preferred.  These are often 4-6′ tall, towering over the edges of roads, wide trails or in swampy ditches.  Conveniently, these are often growing right next to Poison Ivy, when you might need it most.  You could actually take a piece of the stalk and rub the sticky residue on an area you’ve been exposed to PO, and it would theoretically prevent Urushiol from binding to your skin and starting a histamine reaction in your body.  I pop the seed pods (aka Touch-me-not) to aid in reseeding before I leave the site.  I remove at the root, and fold the juicy stalks into a paper bag at footlong increments.

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When I get it home, I immediately rinse and cut it into 2 inch sections of all the plant matter (leaves, stalk, flowers), and stuff into a quart jar or two.  I pour either olive oil, safflower oil (* those are oils I often substitute in my soap recipe, but you can use many other carrier oils) or distilled water into the jars ensuring the stalks and leaves are completely covered.

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After putting the jar(s) into a water bath/double boiler and slowly bringing it up to just below a boil, I let it brew for a couple hours and then let it cool undisturbed for another couple hours.  You could also not use any heat but wrap the jar(s) in foil and place in a dark, cool corner for several months if you have a lot of patience, familiarity with cold-process canning (or preservatives) that I don’t have and don’t need to use it right away.  Some people wrap their herbs in foil and put it in the back of a dark, cool cupboard for several months to make a much stronger decoction – but I don’t have time for that.  When poison ivy is out there, I don’t want to wait to remove the Urushiol.  So, I implement a combination of heat and storage to make a strong infusion that I can use immediately and/or over the next few weeks.

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Whatever you decide for the timing and heat amount of your infusion, eventually you will strain the liquid from the mixture for immediate use or store it.  If I am making smaller amounts of infused oil as with salves and balms, I use a stainless steel sieve over the jar.

906621_797579003616387_5655437482914428522_o  After straining the infused liquid, I shake it and let it sit in the window for a few weeks to continue sun brewing.  When you’re ready to use it, you have a few options:

  • I like to keep a 1:1 ratio of jewelweed tea:rubbing alcohol in a convenient spray bottle for on-the-trail exposure and wiping down handles of tools that may have been exposed to Poison Ivy.
  • I also freeze surplus Jewelweed-infused oil and Jewelweed tea into an herb-dedicated ice cube tray and then dump into a freezer bag for later use when the plant is not growing.
  • Finally, my favorite application is to use both the oil and tea in my cold-process soap, which I use almost everyday in the Spring and Summer as a safeguard against unknown exposure in heavily wooded areas.  I had fun once and re-used old mountain bike magazines to save paper.  After that, I switched to plantable paper, but it doesn’t look as cool.

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Posted on January 13, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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