Macerated or infused oils are a key part of herbal traditions and a central part of the majority of the Archeus range.
At Archeus we use a range of plant oils such as camellia, olive, sunflower, castor, borage, hemp seed and pomegranate oil. Each of these oils has its own unique identity, colour, rate of absorption and shelf life.
Castor oil, for example, is a very thick, viscous oil with an extremely long shelf life. It helps the skin retain moisture. By comparison, borage oil is a light oil and due to its high rate of essential fatty acids (the things our body needs but cannot produce) it is prone to oxidising and has a much shorter shelf life.
When I formulate products for Archeus I think about what I want the product to do, and how I want it to feel. I also think about the energetic qualities of each plant such as peace, protection, love and subtler variations of all of these. From there I start to select the oils I want to use.
The next step in this process though is thinking about what beneficial properties I want the product to contain. This dictates what other herbs I select to include in the mix.
There are a few ways you can introduce these other herbs: oil maceration or infusion, water infusion or decoction, alcohol or glycerite tincture. Personally, I love making oil macerations because I think that you get a double-whammy of benefits: the therapeutic qualities of the herbs added and the soothing and therapeutic qualities of the oil. American herbalist James Wood describes this very nicely, “Medicinal oil infusions, when applied to the skin, form a protective covering and are used to hold other therapeutic or cosmetic agents to the skin.”
Maceration is really just another word for soaking, or infusing. I make my oil macerations a couple of different ways. If I am using fresh plant material from the Archeus gardens, say for example plantago lanceolata (plantain), I first gather it, making sure to give thanks to mother nature for the gifts she has provided, then I spread the plant matter out and let it wilt a bit. Overnight is good. This helps reduce the water content of the plant material. Then I chop it up and put it into an airtight container with the oil at weight ratio of about 1:1.
Sometimes I leave this container in a warm place to gently macerate or infuse over a period of time, making sure to check the container regularly and to top up the oil if needed. This can be left for a couple of weeks or so and then carefully strained. I had a little Vitamin E to the oil to help prevent it going rancid too quickly. When you use fresh plant matter you do have to train it carefully as there will be some water content which will be at the bottom of the container in a gloopy looking brown sludge. We don’t want that!
It is always a joy to see the base oil such as organic camellia oil begin to take up the properties of the herbs
The other way I make these oils is a bit shorter. I may use fresh herbs, or I may use dried herbs. Some of these will have been grown and dried in the Archeus gardens and apothecary and others will have been sourced from around the world (sadly NZ does not produce all the herbs we need). I add oil to the dried herbs at a ratio of about 1:10 - 1:15 and then gently warm the mixture to about 38C each day for anything up to a week. Then I strain and store. The leftover herb is called 'the marc' and is returned to the garden as compost.
It is always a joy to see the base oil such as organic camellia oil begin to take up the properties of the herbs. The colour of the oil will change. For example, if it is being macerated with something like nettles it will go a dark green; or if it is with calendula or St John’s Wort it will go a beautiful golden or red colour.
A big part of our ethos at Archeus is to work with traditional techniques and wisdom. Preparing these beautiful macerated and thus, medicinal oils, is at the heart of this. This is also what makes the Archeus products so effective and special.