Jill’s Herbal Diary: Natural Oils and Their Uses

natural oilsBy Jill HendersonShow Me Oz

Natural oils are a vital component of herbal preparations such as lotions, salves, and balms.  These herbal products are often meant to sooth, moisturize, and nourish skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes.  Natural oils are often added to simple liquid herbal extractions such as tinctures, tisanes, and decoctions to allow them to adhere to the body for long periods of time and thus, allowing their healing properties to be absorbed.  They can be used alone, or in combination with other oils, fats, and herbs to make healing remedies at home.

As you can see, there are many natural oils that can safely be applied to the body for healing purposes.  Many of the oils listed below can be used alone to hydrate skin or hair without adding herbs or any other amendment.  Many are edible to varying degrees, but do your homework before consuming anything you are unfamiliar with and always read the labels on products you buy before ingesting or using.

Anise – Seeds extracted into carrier oil, neutralizes human smell.

Apricot Kernel Oil – Matches natural weight of sebum, very nourishing to the skin.

Borage Seed Oil – Extracted plant essence into carrier oil. Calming, tonic, soothing and anti-inflammatory.

Calendula (pot marigold) – Plant extract in carrier oil. Calming, soothing and especially good for use in baby formulas and in preparations for dry, damaged skin.

Canola – Vegetable base primarily made from rapeseed (Brassica napus) and sometimes from field mustard/turnip rape (Brassica rapa).  Light weight, edible.  (Almost all canola these days is produced using GMO rapeseed crops, so be sure to only buy organic canola oil).

Citronella – Intense camphor-like smell. Excellent insect repellent. Pure essential oil can be irritating to some skin types. For external use only.

Coconut – Oil is expressed from the ground, white nutmeat.  Good emollient for dry skin, especially after sun exposure or for winter chapped skin.  Nice mild coconut smell.  Emulsifier; solidifies when cool.  Melts easily at body temperature.  Lotions, salves, lip balms. (Make your own coconut oil using the recipe below!)

Grape Seed (grapeseed) – Very light oil with little smell. Nourishing properties. Can replace sweet almond oil in many cases.  Nutritious and medicinal.

Hazelnut – Expressed from the nutmeat.  A nice emollient for skin and hair. Short shelf-life.

Jojoba Oil – Extracted from the seeds of the jojoba plant (Simmondsia chinensis).  A nourishing, waxy-feeling oil that adds body to other oils, but is also an effective medicinal in its own right.  Unrefined oil is yellow with a nutty smell and short shelf life.  Refined oil is clear, has no smell or taste, and has a long shelf life.

Olive Oil – Produced by pressing whole olives.   A good base for suspending other ingredients.  Emollient, healing and edible with a long shelf life.  A great all-purpose oil to use in all your preparations.  “Light” olive oil has less of the olive smell.

Safflower – Made from the seeds of the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius.)  Flavorless and colorless, safflower has a long shelf life and makes a light weight massage oil.  Edible and medicinal, having about the same nutritional qualities as sunflower oil.

Sunflower – Expressed from the meat of sunflower seeds.  The oil has a lightweight feel and smell and is especially good for use in bath products.  Similar to Canola in texture and weight.  Edible and medicinal.  (At this time (2013), commercially produced sunflowers are not genetically modified.)

Sweet Almond – Expressed from the nut meat.  A good multi-purpose emollient with a soft almond scent.  Moderate shelf-life.

Wheat Germ Oil – Pressed from the wheat germ.  High in Vitamins A, D, E and lecithin. May occasionally have a strong smell. Long shelf-life.


But before you try this, please know that I got this recipe years (and years…) ago from an unremembered source.  I have no idea if the method is valid or not because I never actually got around to trying it!  I did, however stumble upon this fun little video on making coconut oil and the process looks very similar to that described below.  If you actually know how to make coconut oil at home, I would certainly enjoy hearing of your experiences! 🙂

Crack the coconut open by hammering a nail through each eye of the nut and draining the milk into a bowl.  Place the drained coconut in a 350 degree oven for about one hour or until the shell begins to crack. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool down a little and it should easily come apart.

Allow the meat to dry for three or four days before finely grating and placing in a medium sized bowl. To the grated meat add one-half cup of water and knead for several minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve or cheesecloth into a glass pot and bring the liquid to a boil.

Reduce heat and allow to gently simmer for one to one and a half hours without stirring. Strain what is left in the pot through several layers of cheese cloth, cool and bottle.

To further clarify the oil measure out the oil and add three times as much water as there is oil (example: three cups water to one cup oil) into a glass pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for fifteen minutes. Pour into a glass bowl and refrigerate overnight. The next day skim off the solids that have formed on the top of the liquid and discard the water. Allow the hardened oil to come to room temp and then place in a glass jar.

I have followed and been fascinated by plants and nature my entire adult life.  Learning the healthful ways of wild and cultivated plants and passing on what I have learned over the last 25 years has been among my life’s greatest passions.  Entries for Jill’s Herbal Diary originate from notes taken in my very earliest study journals.  So, enjoy, be kind, and feel free to share with a link back to this site. ~ 

These journal entries are taken from various books, journals, magazines, and other sources.  Some notes were taken verbatim while others were written in my own words or summarized.  More often than not, they were a combination of both.   My intent here is share some of the things I learned about and not to plagiarise – my apologies, should the latter occur.

THPOKH-214x32115Love Herbs?  Check out my book,
The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs

The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a no-nonsense guide jam-packed with no-nonsense information on growing, harvesting and using 35 of the world’s safest and most flavorful herbs. In addition to the 35 detailed herbal monographs are entire chapters on growing, harvesting and using kitchen herbs to spice up your favorite dish or create healing herbal remedies. This is one book you will turn to time and time again!

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore

Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.

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7 responses to “Jill’s Herbal Diary: Natural Oils and Their Uses

  1. Good resource Jill! Two more I love: Castor oil (often used as a ‘pack’) and Sesame oil (an important part of ayurvedic healing practices).

    • Very nice, Sara! Thank you for those additions (which will now go in the journal for future reference!). I’ve read a little on castor oil – when I was a teenager, the girls used to say that if you put it on your eyelashes, they would grow thick and long!

  2. Very timely, Jill. I bought a bunch of soapmaking supplies containing many different types of oils, and am unsure which oils to use for which purposes…and I am also interested in learning to make natural cosmetics. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Di! Glad you found it helpful. I always have fun looking through my old journals and notes – keeps reminding me of what I’ve forgotten! 🙂 I still haven’t gotten around to soap (if you can believe that!) so I hope you do start making your own. I bet you’re a natural!

  3. Jill, you might also enjoy a recent book I just finished, Farmacology, by Daphne Miller, http://www.amazon.com/Farmacology-Innovative-Family-Farming-Healing-
    Got mine from the local library, Good discussion on herbal tinctures, natural cosmetics, etc., towards the end. I like her connections between good soil and good health throughout the book. Many mentions of Missouri’s organic food production.

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