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Herbal oil - application, benefits and production

Herbal oil - application, benefits and production

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Herbal oils - preparation and recipes

You can do a lot with herbal oil at home. It is not only possible to use it in the kitchen. Herbal oils can also be used excellently for the treatment of diseases and injuries, as well as for aromatherapy. Use as a massage oil is also conceivable.


When selecting herbs, oil production depends on their individual effect and, especially in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčedible oils, their taste. In the following guide we would like to give you useful tips and information on the production and use of herbal oils.

What is herbal oil?

In herbalism, there are a number of extraction processes to bind the healing properties and aroma of medicinal and aromatic herbs in a concentrated form. In addition to tinctures, which are commonly made by placing herbs in alcoholic solutions, oil extraction is one of the most important processes here. The vegetable oils obtained in this way usually have a slightly lower active substance concentration than the tincture, which is mainly due to the viscous consistency (viscosity) of oil. On the one hand, it ensures that oils cannot be mixed with water. On the other hand, due to the increased viscosity of oil, active ingredients are released more slowly and incompletely from inlaid Ingridenzien than is the case with alcohol.

Especially when using herbal oils at home, their lower concentration of active ingredients has a decisive advantage. Because the active ingredients are easier to dose, which helps prevent side effects. Oils are also generally gentler on the skin, which allows a variety of external uses. When cooking, herbal oil is not only helpful for refining salads, but also for searing meat, fish, seafood and vegetable side dishes.

Edible oils

The German term "oil" comes from the Latin word oleum, which actually means "olive oil". This was one of the most important edible oils in ancient times. In addition, olive oil was also used as a fuel for oil lamps and for medical treatment, such as skin diseases or inflammation. In the medical field in particular, olive oil was used not only in its pure form, but also as a basis for extracting other medicinal herbs.

As is well known, olive oil is one of the edible oils. These represent a special group within the herbal oils because they are edible for humans and are also tolerable in larger quantities. In the food industry as well as in the catering trade, edible oils are therefore of particular importance to improve the consistency, taste and sometimes also the color of food. In the production of herbal oils, edible oils also serve as the base oil in which the herbs to be extracted are placed.

Edible oils are obtained from so-called oil plants (also: oil fruits). They contain a particularly high proportion of fatty acids, which is why a relatively large amount of vegetable oil can be obtained from them. Depending on which parts of the plant were used to produce the edible oils, there are three different types of oil:

  1. Fruit oil - The cooking oil is obtained from the fruits or pulp of fatty plants. Typical oil plants used to make fruit oil are:
    • Avocado,
    • Thistle,
    • Coconut tree,
    • Marula tree,
    • Olive tree,
    • Oil palm.
  2. Kernel oil - The edible oil is obtained from the fruit kernels or seeds of the oil plant. The most popular core oil suppliers include:
    • Peanut,
    • Hemp,
    • Pumpkin,
    • Flax,
    • Almond,
    • Rapeseed,
    • Mustard,
    • Sesame,
    • Soybeans,
    • Sunflowers,
    • Walnut.
  3. Germ oil - The edible oil is obtained from the young germs of fatty plants. The most well known are:
    • Corn oil,
    • Grape seed oil.

If you want to use cooking oil to extract herbs, you are often advised to use tasteless oils. Because base oils, which inherently have an intense taste of their own, falsify the natural aroma of the herbal oil. Olive oil, although it was the standard base oil in antiquity, is therefore rarely used today to produce oil extracts. Instead, the following are recommended:

  • Safflower oil,
  • Corn oil,
  • Rapeseed oil,
  • Sunflower oil,
  • Grape seed oil.

Good to know: Soybean oil is also tasteless, but not recommended in view of the high allergy potential. Bean sprouts also contain plant hormones that resemble female estrogen. Time and again it is reported that this herbal estrogen (phytoestrogen) can lead to hormonal disorders. This applies in particular in interaction with other herbal active ingredients, which is why it is not advisable to use appropriate mixtures in herbal oil.

Herbal oils in the kitchen

In contrast to pure edible oils, the individual aroma of the added plants is desirable for herbal oils for kitchen use. Here too, the inherent taste of the base oil is rather a hindrance, which is why it should be pointed out again that only tasteless cooking oils are used for the production. The taste of the herbs should then also be chosen carefully, as some herbal aromas are much better suited to refining the taste of dishes than others. Lavender or rose oil, for example, are rather unsuitable here, since the aroma hardly harmonizes with culinary dishes. Instead, you should rely on the taste of well-tried aromatic herbs. Your plant parts are often used to taste even when fresh or dried and can therefore also contribute a lot to the aromatic refinement of meat, fish, vegetables or salads as an oil extract.

A particularly popular ingredient for herbal oils in this regard is Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary or thyme. In addition to a culinary aroma, these herbs also bring considerable health benefits. For example, thyme is a traditional medicinal herb for the treatment of colds. Rosemary, on the other hand, is often used to stimulate digestion and to relieve gastrointestinal complaints such as flatulence, which is why the oil of the plant is wonderfully suitable for taking away unwanted side effects from flatulent foods such as peas or beans. The same also applies to the savory. Another spice plant from the Mediterranean region, which has almost been forgotten by us and owes its name to the fact that it improves the taste of bean dishes and prevents unpleasant flatulence after eating beans.

Speaking of forgotten spice plants. Herbs like borage or dandelion were also used much more often as kitchen spices than today. Borage oil in particular is also relevant in naturopathy, since the ingredients in the plant are extremely beneficial for itching and inflammatory skin diseases such as neurodermatitis. Borage also strengthens the immune system. Dishes that contain the herb's spice or oil are therefore particularly beneficial to health.

Good to know: Borage also has the nickname cucumber herb because its taste harmonizes particularly well with cucumber dishes. Borage oil is therefore made for a delicious cucumber salad!

Caution is advised with regard to herbal oils in the kitchen with particularly flavorful herbs! Not that spices like chilli or garlic are less suitable for making an aromatic oil. On the contrary, the aroma of such herbal oils is very intense. Therefore, you should only dose them very sparingly and use a little less than too much at the beginning. Overall, the following herbs are suitable for the production of herbal oil:

  • Savory (Satureja hortensis),
  • Borage / Cucumber (Borago officinalis),
  • Chilli (Capsicum annuum),
  • Garlic (Allium sativum),
  • Caraway (Carum carvi),
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum sect. Ruderalia),
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana),
  • Melissa or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),
  • Clove or clove (Syzygium aromaticum),
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare),
  • Pepper (Piper nigrum),
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita),
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis),
  • Star anise (Illicium vernum),
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris),
  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus).

Herbal oil in medicine

From a naturopathic point of view, the smell of herbal oil is irrelevant. What is in the foreground here are medicinal herbs. Two of the main main uses of herbal oils are skin diseases and injuries. Because the oil is easy to apply to the skin and then quickly absorbed into the tissue, which can accelerate the healing process. The oil itself also makes the skin supple and can help to strengthen the skin barrier. For this purpose, many herbal oils are also processed into ointments or creams, in which further ingredients for skin care and skin regeneration are added to the healing properties of the pure oil. The classic medicinal herbs that are often used for dermatological treatment purposes and for skin care include:

  • Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense),
  • Real aloe (Aloe vera),
  • Arnica (Arnica montana),
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale),
  • Birch (Betula alba),
  • Nettle (Urica dioica),
  • Spruce (Picea abies),
  • Oat (Avena sativa),
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla),
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsiforme),
  • Bedstraw (Galium verum),
  • Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris),
  • Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis),
  • St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum),
  • Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis),
  • Marigold (Calendula officinalis),
  • Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum),
  • Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides),
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium),
  • Wegwarte (Cichorium intybus),
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana).

By the way: Some herbal oils from the kitchen area, for example borage, lovage or clove oil, can also help with skin problems. Base or edible oils such as walnut, sesame or almond oil are also very popular in skin care because they tighten the connective tissue and thus tackle unpleasant stretch marks, for example.

Massage oils

Another medical use of herbal oils is as a massage oil. Mainly used for strains, sore muscles or joint complaints, an oil for wound treatment should also be mentioned here: comfrey oil.

The comfrey bears his name for a reason, because the plant has a good reputation when it comes to complaints in the bone and joint area. Even broken bones are said to be repaired faster thanks to comfrey. The oil of the medicinal herb has the advantage that it can quickly reach its place of application when applied from the outside. This mechanism of action can also be used for muscle ailments and further accelerated by massaging into the skin tissue.

Like all herbal oils, massage oils are made from edible oils, preferably almond oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or sesame oil. An exception to this is jojoba oil - a core oil variant that is not suitable for consumption, but is long-lasting and has a particularly strong effect on the skin and connective tissue. This effect also plays an important role in the other base oils for massage oil mentioned. They are all characterized by a more or less strong

  • antioxidant,
  • circulation-promoting,
  • skin and connective tissue firming,
  • skin re-moisturizing,
  • skin cleansing,
  • and cell regenerative effect.

In addition, the oils mentioned have a weak to slightly aromatic smell, which is perceived as invigorating and relaxing. For an additional increase in aroma and an intensification of the healing effects of massage oils, essential oils are often added to the selected base oil.

Essential oils

If you take a look at the classic medicinal herbs, which are often used for dermatological treatment purposes and for skin care, in addition to traditional plants such as marigold or witch hazel, some tree species, such as birch or spruce, are particularly noticeable. There is a reason for this, because birch leaves and spruce sprouts are rich in essential oils. This is the natural variant of highly concentrated plant active ingredients.

Essential oils are the trademark of the so-called fragrant herbs. So they are not only found in medicinal herbs, but they are particularly abundant in many medicinally used plants. In contrast to edible oils, they have no fatty acids. Instead, they are composed of substances such as alcohols, esters, ketones and terpenes. Numerous essential oils can only be obtained from their plant source in significant quantities by steam distillation. This is especially true when the essential oil is found in very woody parts of the plant such as tree bark or branches of shrubs. A certain proportion of these oils can usually be extracted from plants by extraction or squeezing. Sometimes just rubbing the plant leaves is enough to release the oil and smell it.

Odor and medicinal properties are equally important for essential oils. Fragrance-compatible aromas are often typical of these oil variants, which is why they play an important role in the manufacture of care products and cosmetics. On the other hand, the natural healing process of aromatherapy also relies on the health-promoting effects of ethereal scents. In particular tree resins and balms like

  • Benzoin,
  • Myrrh,
  • Peru balsam,
  • Styrax
  • or incense

are used for smoking because of their high essential oil content. In addition to the aromatic fragrance of the oil, it also contains an abundance of terpenoid active ingredients, to which various health problems respond positively depending on the type of plant.

Lavender is a famous medicinal herb that perfectly reflects the interplay of beneficial aroma and medicinal effects. The number one medicinal herb for depression, pain, sleep disorders and a number of other health problems that can be attributed to nerve-related causes. Both lavender oil based on edible oils and the pure essential oil of the plant are very versatile in use today. In addition to lavender massage oils, you can also buy aromatherapy scented pillows, scented candles, room scents or oil bottles for the domestic scented oil stand. Some similarly popular fragrance herbs are:

  • Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa),
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus),
  • Jasmine (Jasminum officinale),
  • Lime (Citurs aurantiifolia),
  • Mimosa (Mimosa pudica),
  • Neroli (Citrus aurantium),
  • Orange (Citrus sinensis),
  • Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin),
  • Rose (Rosa damascena),
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album),
  • Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia),
  • Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata),
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum),
  • Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens).

Caution: essential oils are not suitable for consumption! Therefore, they may only be used for external use or for inhalation purposes!

Manufacture of herbal oils

Steam distillation of essential oils is unfortunately very difficult to carry out in the private sector. For this reason, the oils are predominantly available pre-distilled in small bottles, for example in the pharmacy, drugstore or in specialist shops for incense. Pressing edible oils usually also requires a certain amount of expert knowledge and professional equipment, which is why they are also best bought in stores - not least because of their degree of purity. The production of the herbal oil itself then works relatively uncomplicated.

Cold extraction process

The cold extraction process is used in the production of herbal oils to extract active ingredients from soft, non-woody herbs, or their flowers. These include, for example, nettles, marigold or linden flowers.

Ingredients and aids:

  • desired herbs,
  • suitable base oil (e.g. sunflower or safflower oil,
  • large undyed screw-top glass (for oil extraction),
  • clean linen cloth (undyed),
  • Drip tray,
  • Funnel,
  • dark glass bottle or vial (for storing the oil),
  • and, if necessary, essential oils (e.g. with massage oil).

Step 1: At the beginning, the herbs are placed in the screw-top jar. You can confidently fill the glass with dried herbs to the brim before pouring it on with a suitable base oil.

Step 2: The next step is to close the screw-top jar well and to leave it in a bright place (e.g. the window sill) for about four to six weeks. The jar should be shaken daily so that the active ingredients of the herbs mix well with the base oil.

Step 3: After the ripening process, the oil mixture is then placed in a clean linen cloth and filtered into a sufficiently large pan or a pot. To do this, gradually tighten the linen cloth until the oil drains off under pressure.

Step 4: If a massage or fragrance oil is planned, the herbal oil can now be enriched with essential oils. As a rule of thumb, a dose of ten to 15 drops applies.

Step 5: Finally, the oil is poured into the container intended for storage via a funnel. This should be dark (preferably blue) and absolutely stored in a cool place, as light and heat accelerate the decomposition process and thus the rancidity of the oil.

Hot extraction process

In the hot extraction process, mainly herbal oils are made from woody plants and root extracts. Fresh, very damp herbs should also be extracted hot to avoid sacking due to residual moisture. It should be noted that the hot extraction process is a quick process, which is why the active substance concentration is somewhat lower than with cold extraction.

Ingredients and aids:

  • 250 g dried, fresh or root herbs,
  • 600 ml base oil,
  • heat resistant glass bowl,
  • large saucepan,
  • Linen cloth for fluttering,
  • Funnel,
  • dark glass bottle for storage.

Step 1: Heat a large saucepan full of water. Meanwhile, put the herbs in a glass bowl and pour the base oil over them.

Step 2: The oil deposit in the glass bowl must boil on a low flame in a water bath for about three hours. Make sure that no cooking water gets into the glass bowl.

Step 3: Allow the herb oil to cool well after the water bath before filtering it through the linen cloth and finally funneling it into the storage container. The storage is then cool and dark again, preferably in the refrigerator.

Shelf life of herbal oils

Depending on the care during extraction and storage, herbal oils can be kept for half a year to a year. The ingredients selected are also a decisive criterion. For example, garlic oil can be stored a bit longer because cloves of garlic naturally contain preserving ingredients. In contrast, almond oil tends to become rancid much faster. However, at least for herbal oils that are not suitable for consumption (massage and fragrance oils) there is a little trick to increase their durability: the preservative anti-rancidity. It is used as standard for oily cosmetic products and massage oils to make them last longer. With an herbal oil, two to three drops are sufficient. (ma)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Miriam Adam, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Ben-Erik van Wyk, Coralie Wink, Michael Wink: "Handbook of Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Guide", Scientific Publishing Company, 2003
  • Gerold Knobloch: Natural Remedies from A to Z, neobooks Self-Publishing, 2013
  • Heidelore Kluge: Frankincense and its healing effects: An old remedy rediscovered. Successful with many diseases. Numerous tips for your individual therapy, MVS Medizinverlage Stuttgart, 2005
  • Monika Werner, Aromatherapy Practice: Basics - Profiles - Indications, Karl F. Haug, 2016

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