At long last, here is a post for you, the delay in which I can only apologise humbly and profusely for. It has been a busy summer, what with writing the Wild Medicine course, teaching numerous workshops, working in our new clinic one day a week and trying to keep going with the creative things I have been working on, but recently I shared a really delightful few days with a super herbal student, and during that time we got partially caught up on the tincture making, and even managed to make a couple of infused oils. Not bad given the sheer volume of rain we had before the heat wave we are currently enduring which makes stepping outside less than pleasant! But I digress.
I’ve been rummaging in some of the old herbals over the last few months, researching herbs for lessons and book writing, and it would seem some of the old herbalists would prepare their herbs by literally frying them in oil, or at least thats the way some of the entries read to me – though to be honest ‘digest’ could mean fry or infuse the way we commonly do these days. So I decided to have a go at both methods of oil preparation, both the frying and the infusing!
The herb of choice was Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) – a vulnerary herb of great repute which grows abundantly in my garden, much to my delight. So my visiting student and I took advantage of a rare dry day and brought in great bunches of the stuff, in full vivid bloom, some of which went for making a tincture (which we will turn into a spagyric tincture later in the year) and some went into two batches of oil. One lot of herbs was finely chopped and piled into an enamel saucepan with several large dollops of coconut oil. The other lot, also finely chopped, was packed into the top of my trusty double boiler and had organic sunflower oil poured over the top, then both were put on to slowly heat. The coconut oil version took a while to come to a proper temperature but then fried up surprisingly quickly. We left it until the herbs had gone crisp, then filtered them out through a piece of kitchen roll, pouring the resulting liquid into clear glass jars.
The second lot we infused for about an hour at gentle simmer, not allowing the oil to boil at all, in the usual manner. At the end of that time, this oil was also filtered and then we compared the two.
For a start off, the mucilages do not do well in heat, so those in the fried oil denatured, leaving a very clear dark coloured oil which set solid after a while. So this oil will not be suitable for drawing poultices and the like, whereas a salve or ointment made from the oil infused with self heal should work well as this came out fairly cloudy and a rather lighter colour. The cloudiness did not settle over time, so I’ve poured it into a bottle and will check back on it later on. I’ve made cloudy oils before which did not go rancid, and those this happened with did tend to contain higher levels of mucilage and were infused at a lower temperature.
All in all, an interesting little experiment! I’ve tested the coconut oil version on a minor cut and it did the job quite nicely, but I really need to experiment further to see how effective it is in comparison to the standard infused version. I think one of the advantages (and probable disadvantages as well, to be honest) of the fried version is that the extreme heat will be more likely to kill any bacteria that is lingering on the herbs and which cannot be washed off. The disadvantage is that this same heat will most likely cause some of the other constituents to denature as well, particularly the vitamin C content in Prunella, which is destroyed by heat.
Have any of you lovely readers had a go at this? Any thoughts and comments would be welcomed!