The Kitchen Magick School's Fragrant Oils

Witches often ask about how to make essential oils. I don't know exactly how you produce essential oils from herbs. What I do know is that it's a laborious process, and that most of the time you will want to dilute the essential oils anyway, so that fragrant, blended oils consisting of a carrier oil and a herb are often more versatile. In addition to that they are quite easy to manufacture. This is what you need:
A carrier oil. The intended use decides which one. Edible oils are sold in super-markets everywhere, and can often be used for other purposes than just eating. In herbal cosmetic shops like the Body Shop you can buy pure or blended oils for special purposes like bathing and massage. You can experiment with different oils for different purposes, but never ingest any oil that wasn't specifically made for the purpose. It's important that you use new oil with the best before date well ahead, as fragrant oils don't keep as well as essential oils. Wheat germ oil can be used as a preservative if you find that your oils don't keep well.

The herb. For this purpose it doesn't matter if it's fresh, dried or even frozen. Herbs are sold in many places. Occult shops often have quite an assortment, but the super-market in your area may sell some of these much cheaper. Super-markets often have herbs in either the spice department (notably fennel and cardamom), the health food department (notably rosehips and buckwheat) or even the hot drinks department (notably chamomile and cocoa). Specialized health food stores and natural cosmetics boutiques often have herbs too.

Growing your own herbs can be a very satisfying experience, and it doesn't take a lot of skill to do with the most common ones. You can buy plants at a nursery or raise your own from seeds. Seeds are available in super-markets, garden centers and nurseries. There are often quite adequate instructions on the seed envelope. If you are new to growing things, start out with easy growers like mint, heartsease and dill and grow them in pots.

Which herb to choose is a science in itself. If you want to use the oil for magickal purposes, you will probably want to choose it according to its correspondences. At the end of Star hawk’s Spiral Dance there is a substantial list of common correspondences, and the classic Culpeper's Complete Herbal lists herbs and their uses and correspondences. Of course if you follow a specific tradition you will want to consult it, so you don't use inappropriate herbs. Many eclectic witches like to make up their own correspondences following their intuition. If you will use the oil on your skin, make sure that it won't irritate or cause allergic reactions. You may want to consult a book on aromatherapy if you are using fragrant oils for healing. Some oils are considered aphrodisiacs, and can be quite fun to use for massage.

A practical consideration is the availability of a given herb. Herbs may be unavailable for many different reasons. Maybe it isn't traditionally used in your part of the world, it may be illegal for a number of reasons, it could be surrounded with superstition or it can simply be out of season.

A bottle. Fragrant oils are sensitive to light so try avoiding crystal clear bottles. You will often want to use just a spoonful of the oil, so a squirt cap is useful. Shampoo bottles can often be used, as they are generally about the right size and have caps which are made so you can easily take a small amount without having oil run down the outside of the bottle. Plastic bottles will often be found to take on some of the aroma of the contents, so you may want to throw them away after one use, or always keep the same oil in the same bottle. Some occult shops sell amber glass bottles, too. Of course it's neat to have all your oils in identical bottles instead of having an array of brightly colored shampoo bottles, but they're a lot more expensive than saved up shampoo bottles. Label all your bottles carefully with the name of the herb, carrier oil and date of manufacture!

The basic principle is easy: put the herb in the oil, and wait.

If you are bothered by herb particles in the finished product, you can use a tea egg or a small bag of muslin or nylon suspended by string in the bottle, and remove them when you find the fragrance strong enough. This requires a bottle with a wide opening. If you don't have such a bottle, you can strain the oil in a wire-mesh tea sieve instead. If you aren't bothered by herb particles, you can often leave the herb in the oil until you've used it all up. This works particularly well with antiseptic herbs like peppermint, but can in other cases make the oil go stale.

The time it takes for an oil to become pleasantly fragrant depends on the herb and the oil, what you consider pleasant and the conditions you keep them under. You will have to experiment with concentration, stirring, and time to find out which works best under your circumstances. With some herbs crushing can speed up the process. Seeds like fennel are among those. Many herbs vary quite a lot in strength depending on a range of factors, so sometimes you will have to adapt your recipes. The best thing is probably to develop your intuition with regards to herbs. As a rule of thumb, two weeks to three months should be adequate.

Suggested Uses for Fragrant Oils

Bathing: Many oils can change your mood when used in a bath. Try out different ones, like thyme and heartsease. Caveat 1: Some herbs are skin irritants, and you may be allergic to some without knowing this. If your skin gets irritated during or after a bath, immediately take a shower and wash yourself all over with hypoallergenic soap. Then dry yourself and use a hypoallergenic body lotion. This should take care of most skin irritations. If it doesn't, seek a doctor. Carefully note which herbs cause skin irritations in you, and avoid them. If you know that your skin is sensitive, avoid herbs which are known to cause skin irritations or allergic reactions in many people. Some of the more common ones are mint, vanilla and of course all hot spices like pepper. Caveat 2: Never use psychoactive herbs in a bath, this includes sleep inducing herbs. You can drown yourself quite easily that way.

Anointing: Fragrant oils are much milder than essential oils, and can often be used directly for anointing on your skin. If you are using fragrant oils for magickal purposes, you may want to take into account the correspondences of the carrier oil, too.

Vaporizing: Vaporizing means that you heat the oil so that it gives off its fragrance. This is useful in its own right, but can also serve as a substitute for incense when you or members of your household object to incense for medical or other reasons. Vaporizers can be bought in occult stores, shops for herbal cosmetics, interior decoration boutiques or even in the department store. The most common ones are a terracotta ring that you suspend on a light bulb, and more elaborate structures with a 'house' for a tea-candle and a shallow pan suspended above it. The fragrant oil has to be quite strong for this purpose.

Massage: Massage is a fine art and healing in many ways. You may want to experiment with using edible oils for this purpose. Caveat 1: The oil used for massage enters the skin even more forcefully than the one used in a bath. Make sure you aren't allergic beforehand. Vigorously rub in a tad of oil on a sensitive place like the inside of the arm just above your wrist. If the skin is irritated after an hour, don't use that oil on your skin again. Caveat 2: Massage is often a part of lovemaking. If you use a condom for birth control, don't use massage oils. The reason for this is that the oil makes microscopic holes in the rubber, and renders it useless.

Cooking: Fragrant oils of spices like oregano or basil can be used in cooking. You can use it as a marinade, or to brush on meat before you grill it. How about making your own curry oil? Caveat: Use only oils specifically made for ingestion for this purpose.

Libations: We often use wine or water for libations, but we know that for instance the Minoans on Crete offered their deities oils as well as wine and honey.

Further Suggestions

You can use this method with other mediums than oil; shampoo and liquid soap for instance. Find fragrance free products, and make your own herbal cosmetics. I like to use chamomile shampoo, so I blend 100 ml of fragrance free shampoo with 1 gram of chamomile flowers from a teabag. After one week the liquid starts to turn yellow and smell of chamomile, and is ready for use. I use a hair conditioner (again fragrance free) to make sure I rinse out all chamomile particles from my hair. The same can be done with rosemary if you have dark hair, and other herbs if you have problems with your hair or scalp. Lavender produces a soothing soap, and pine needles an invigorating one. Again, make sure you aren't allergic to herbs used on the skin or in the hair in this way.

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