Last week I did a Spotlight on Plantain, a common plant that is so very useful for treating minor insect bites, rashes and other skin irritations. Today I want to talk about making an infused oil with it. Infusion is the process of extracting the active compounds from plant materials by steeping them in a solvent such as water, alcohol or oil.
To begin, gather at least two cups of plantain leaves. Either the broadleaf type (Plantago major) or the narrow leaf kind (Plantago lanceolata) will work, or even a mix of the two. Wash them in cold water to remove any grit or dirt, then drain and blot dry with a clean towel. You can infuse fresh plantain leaves in oil if you plan on using it right away, say within a few days. Any longer than that and it will likely spoil. But if you want it to keep longer, you need to remove most of the the moisture from the leaves.
You can do that by air drying, or with a dehydrator. With the dehydrator, I use the lowest setting (for herbs) and the leaves are dry enough in less than a day. The time required to air dry will vary depending on the environment.
With either method, you don’t have to dry the leaves until they are crisp and brittle, just until they are wilted and the moisture is removed. It’s moisture in the oil that will cause it to spoil. In oils you plan to consume it can cause botulism.
Once you have the dried leaves, there are several different ways to make an infusion. The easiest way is also the slowest way, usually called cold infusion. For this method, a clean glass jar is loosely filled with the plantain leaves, then covered with the oil of your choice. Sweet almond oil is my favorite where the end use is something that will be applied to the skin, but olive oil has been a traditional favorite for centuries and coconut oil is also a popular choice. Give the mixture a little stir to remove any air bubbles, then cap the jar with a tight fitting lid.
For cold infusion, you just let the jar sit for at least two weeks, preferably about a month, giving it a shake or a stir every few days whenever you think about it. A sunny windowsill is s good spot, where the heat of the sun will gently warm the oil to coax out the beneficial compounds.
A much quicker way is hot infusion, where the oil is heated to speed up the process considerably. My favorite way to do this is to use a crock pot. Fill and cap the jar(s) as above, then put them in a crock pot filled with hot water. Turn the slow cooker to low heat, cover, and let the jar sit for about 8 hours.
There are fans of both the hot and cold methods, so it really just depends on your personal preference. After the oil is infused you need to strain out the plantain. You can set a fine mesh metal strainer over a glass measuring cup or bowl, and pour the oil into that. You can also put a clean knee high nylon stocking over the jar and use that as a strainer. That’s what my wife is doing in the above photo. The stocking can then be washed and reused for later straining operations.
After straining, pour the oil into a clean container and label the contents and the date it was infused. Store the oil in a cool dark place, much like you would a cooking oil. The shelf life of the infused oil should be about the same as the base oil. Do not use if the oil develops a rancid smell. You can add a few drops of vitamin E to help preserve the oil, and the oil can also be refrigerated to keep it fresh.
The plantain infused oil can be applied to the skin to help soothe the itch from insect bites and poison ivy rashes, and to aid the healing of minor cuts and bruises. And with a few other ingredients it can be made into an wonderful salve that we always keep on hand around here. I’ll be back soon with the recipe for that!
To see more about how to identify and find plantain, read Saturday Spotlight: Plaintain.
To find out how to make an anti-itch salve with the infused oil, read Homemade: Plantain Anti-Itch Salve and Lotion Bars.