How to make arnica oil { and a little bit about our harvest day }

How to make arnica oil { and a little bit about our harvest day }

A few days ago I visited a dear friend’s property here in Bonners Ferry that invited me to harvest her beautiful arnica flowers. They grow on a sunny hill with partial shade here and there, typical of arnica. This was my second harvest there, and I knew it would most probably be the last arnica harvest this year as it likes to give its blessings early in the season. 

As usual, I brought my two helpers along - their enthusiastic contribution usually more than doubles the harvest! One of my favourite activities with my young boys is collecting flowers for oil making. The hill was particularly rich with flowers, which surprised me because it was late for arnica. Of course I am still relatively new to this region and still learning the local plant cycles. It is the end of their harvest season and many had already gone to seed. My boys had great fun picking arnica that had gone to seed and blowing it, watching the snowy white seeds fly all around in the air!
We concentrated on cutting close to the top because the flowerhead is the part that we would use for making the oil. When we felt we had enough for a decent yield, we thanked and gave glory to God for the gifts from His garden!

We took the harvest home and the preparation for the oil making began! Here are the steps we followed:


1. We spread the abundant harvest on my hanging drying rack and waited for a few hours. The flowers are best used fresh. But care must be taken to allow a large part of the humidity to evaporate so our oil does not go rancid. 


2. In the meantime I took care of my work area for making the oil: This would be my favorite, tall wooden kitchen counter, crafted by my skillful husband! This process is much like a “mise en place”, as the French call it, a preparation of the surface and materials before cooking: I cleared out the counter and thoroughly cleaned it, then placed clean jars, funnels and a large bowl on the table. Let’s not forget the garden shears! These will come in handy early on when I will need to isolate the flowerheads from the rest of the plant!  


3.  I transferred some flowers from the rack to the bowl, emptied them on the counter and started cutting the flowerheads off the stem (inspecting them for and ridding any tiny insects from the plants). Having placed a funnel on a quart jar, I started filling the jar with flowerheads. I filled two quart jars around ¾ full. 


4. When all the flowerheads were in the jars, I brought out the olive oil I use for making oil - my organic extra virgin olive oil that comes from my fatherland, the island of Crete in Greece! Having a father that grew up in Crete, I know that some of the best olive oil in the world comes from that region. I was so delighted when I found out that I was able to get that oil to use in my salves here in Idaho! I know and trust the Cretan oil because I believe that what we put on our bodies should be just as pure as what we put in them. Keeping the funnel on the quart jars, I poured the olive oil on the flowerheads covering them entirely. When the jar was almost full of flowers and olive oil I stopped.


5. I took out my cheesecloth pieces, cut in squares big enough to cover the opening of a wide mouth jar, and covered my jars. I then screwed on the rings. For a couple of days I am going to have jars covered with cheesecloth so that the last bit of humidity evaporates. After that I will take off the cheesecloth and properly seal the jars with a lid.


6. I labeled my jars. When I make oil I make sure to include in the label for future reference: The flower or flowers (if I am making a blended herbal oil)  in the jar, the particular kind of olive oil I am using, and the date that the infusion began. 


7. The last step is placing the jars on a south facing window, where they will sit for 4-6 weeks. In this time the oil will be infused with the flowers and the plant will lend its beneficial qualities to the oil adding to its properties. This is what is known as the slow infusion method, one I prefer because it is the safest for keeping the integrity of the oil intact. The olive oil itself has beneficial properties for the skin known since antiquity and in order to preserve these properties, the slow method is best!

8. A couple of days after I put the jars on the windowsill I replaced the cheesecloth with a lid. During the infusion time of the 4-6 weeks, especially in the first few days, I check the oil and make sure all flowers are still covered by the olive oil (otherwise I add some more oil) and that no sign of humidity is appearing. If I see condensation high in the jar, I take off the lid, wipe it off, and cover it again with cheesecloth for a couple more days.

9. After the 4-6 weeks have run their course I decant the oil through a sieve or a cheesecloth into clean jars, seal, label them, and place them down in my basement shelving reserved for my oils, where it is dark and cool.

This is the general process I follow for making all of my herbal oils that I make with fresh flowers. So if this is a practice you would like to get into and haven’t yet, now you know the method! Prepare your materials for the flowers you would like to use this season to make oils, and go out to harvest!

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