There is a saying in Ayurveda:
What Love is to the Soul
Oil is to the Body
The word for oil treatments in Ayurveda is snehana from the word sneha meaning oiliness, unctuousness, fattiness, lubricity and viscidity but also meaning love, attachment to, fondness or affection. Snehana is also one of the 24 fundamental gunas or qualities of phenomena according to the ancient Vaisheshika philosophy which, in one interpretation, states that this quality of Sneha cannot exist independently without an observer or agent. This is an insight into this quality shared by love and oil.
Just think of some of the things that love does to your soul: Nourish, vivify, soothe, ease, delight, protect, blossom, flourish, resolve, allow, empower, and you get an idea of what oil does to your body. This is true for high quality versions of the healthy oils, like ghee, flax, hemp, borage and evening primrose taken internally, and also for oils applied externally, like massage and hair oils.
You know the statistic of how people with good love in their life live longer. In the same way, for many of the same reasons, the daily oiling of the body is considered one of the best habits to ensure longevity of both quality and quantity of Life. I once heard Bob Hope say that the secret to his longevity was his live-in masseuse.
What Ayurveda recommends is that you actually massage yourself with oil everyday, usually in the mornings. Of course, if you have a live-in masseuse you could have them do it, but either way, make sure you take off any excessive oil that is not digested by the skin after an hour or so. Always, whether it is herbs or oils or foods or friendships, whether it is via your mouth, your mind or your skin, you consume according to your digestive capacity or you risk getting congested.
You can buy massage oils, but making your own medicated massage oils is empowering in many ways:
- You can make a much stronger oil than typically commercially available, which in my experience are about 1/10 the proper potency
- You can make oils according to your constitution, regardless of whether you are fiery, dry or oily!
- You can make oils according to the season, as summer oils and winter oils are very different
- You can use high quality ingredients (most profit driven companies use the lowest quality as they can get away with)
- You can use large amounts of high quality ingredients (for instance, you can buy your essential oils from a great source like Floracopeia or Veriditas).
- You can save money (Yes, even using high quality ingredients to make much stronger oils is cheaper than buying mediocre oils in most stores.)
- You can have a tradition to unify and empower your family and community (My son has been helping me make oils his entire life.)
There are three main methods employed to make medicated oils in Ayurveda. Depending on what you want to accomplish, use one or a combination of the techniques. I sometimes use all three methods. Here they are:
- Simmering: (a water extract of herbs simmered into an oil)
- Steeping: (Dry herbs steeped in warm oil for a day or less)
- Shaking: (Shaking a glass jar filled with oil and herbs daily)
Here are some cursory insights into the simmering, steeping and shaking techniques.
In simmering, you first make a very strong water infusion or tea of the herbs that you want in your oil, then strain it very well, pour the strained tea/infusion into oil, and then slowly simmer away the water until you only have herbs and oil. The trick here is in the straining because if you have anything solid in the oil it will “deep fry” it and your oil will be burned. Once an oil is burned no amount of essential oils typically can “fix it.” As you simmer, stir constantly and use the lowest amount of heat possible. Because you need to have the end product water-free, and because even in dry herbs there is about 5-15% moisture, this technique is good for ensuring that your oil is water-free, especially in the case of using fresh herbs that are more like 50-90% water. This is also a good way of getting facets of the herb that are more water soluble and not oil soluble.
In both cases of simmering and steeping you need to use a strong oil that is OK with heat, what I call a “working oil.” For me this means organic sesame oil that I buy in bulk from grocery distribution companies. Do not use roasted organic sesame oil unless you want to smell like a falafel every time you massage yourself.
Simple Simmering Recipe:
- Simmer a half pound total of Tulsi and/or Brahmi in 1-2 gallons of water, making a strong tea
- Strain out the Tulsi very well, even decant if necessary
- Simmer away the infusion/tea until you have 1-2 quarts
- Add the herbal infusion to a half or full gallon of organic sesame oil and simmer
- When a glass held a few inches over the oil gathers no steam you are done
- Decant, add essential oils, bottle, label, enjoy!
In steeping you bring up the heat of the oil to 100 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and then steep the oils in them, making a very strong oil infusion. In hot places, like summer on the plains of India, you can do this in the ambient temperature. But if you do it on a stove or over a fire, the key thing is to make sure the oil is heated as homogeneously as possible and that the herbs do not settle in a hot spot. So this means hours of stirring and/or creating a double boiler situation. Again, if you burn the herbs, well… just don’t burn the herbs. Then when you are done, you strain the herbs out and you have a medicated oil. Obviously, the more herbs that you use the stronger the oil will be. I like my massage oils to be so potent that they are opaque.
Simple Steeping Recipe
- In a large stock pot add herbs
- If the herbs are dry leaves like Tulsi fill till the pot is ½ -2/3rds full.
- If the herbs are powders like Triphala add till the pot is ¼-1/2 full.
- Fill the pot with oil till it is ¾ full.
- Add very low homogenous heat and stir continually, or at least every 5 or 10 minutes, for several hours at least, if not all day
- Strain, decant, add your Essential Oils, bottle, label, enjoy!
Shaking is the easiest and safest method, in the sense that you could damage your oils and herbs with heat. Typically I take a gallon jar, fill it quarter to completely full with herbs, depending on what herbs I have and what I want to do, and then fill it will an oil, usually organic sesame oil but sometimes also with organic olive oil or a blend. If the jar is full of rough cut Tulsi leaves and flowers then you will be able to put a half gallon of oil or more into that “full” jar of Tulsi leaves. If the herbs are powdered like Triphala, then you’ll have to leave space. Every day, or more often, shake the herbs, turning the jar upside down to make sure nothing settles. Shake for 1-5 minutes, and focus your mind on the oils, filling the oil with whatever flavor of consciousness is most suited for what you want the herbs to do. If you want the formula to calm angry skin then you think more cool lunar energy into it, and if you want the oil to be more warming and activating, then your thoughts and intention and will is much more solar flavored.
Typically I put the herbs into the oil around a new moon, and then pull the herbs out on the full moon, 6 weeks later.
Simple Shaking Recipe
- Take a large glass jar with a good lid that seals well
- Fill it halfway with rough cut Tulsi leaves
- Fill it the rest of the way with organic sesame oil
- Everyday shake it, at least once but several times is OK as well
- When not shaking it leave it in a place that is out of direct light and heat
- You can out it in a meaningful place or just on a shelf, but it is good for it to be in a place where it catches your attention every now and then
- 1 to 20 weeks later, strain, decant, add essential oils, bottle, label and enjoy!
There are many herbs that traditionally lend themselves to making medicated oils. In Ayurveda at the top of the list are Tulsi, Brahmi (both Bacopa and Centella), Bhringraj (Eclipta alba), Triphala, and especially for the hair, Rosemary. As far as essential oils, most companies add about 1-3 drops per ounce of oil. I add about 20-50 drops, depending on the oil and the use. Good candidates are Lavender and Rose Geranium. Personally I also love to add the deep note resinous oils like Frankinscense, Jatamansi and Vetiver. Also, again for the hair oils, Rosemary is an ally in so many ways. Though you can absolutely make a wonderful medicated oil with one base oil, one or two herbs brewed into it and one or two essential oils added at the end, the main oil that I make, called Sama Til, has over 8 base oils, over 12 herbs brewed into the base oils, and about 20 essential oils.
The difference between a massage oil and hair oil is the herbs and oils that you use, and whether you want that oil to be left in the hair or washed out. For hair oils, use more of the herbs that excel at ensuring hair and mind wellness, like Bhringraj, Tulsi, Brahmi and Rosemary, though most herbs can be used in both situations.
Experiment and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as I often learn more from the mistakes than from “doing it right.” There is no “right way,” there is only functional and dysfunctional according to what you want to accomplish. Also, don’t go and buy fancy equipment to do this, at least not at first. Rather I love to just “use what I got” to be part of the empowered ingenuity of “doing it yourself.”
Also, practice the TLAR method of creativity. Some of my Aerospace Engineering professors were the people that designed phenomenal aircraft that had very few design precedents that they could “build on.” They also did not have the CAD (computer aided design) that we have now. So to some extent they had to use very informed and skilled guesstimates at what would work. TLAR, “That Looks About Right,” is a design technique that is still used throughout the world of engineering and medicine making and gives credit to and supports our innate ability to have a good sense of what is right. Someone might say that TLAR is not exact, but I would say that TLAR allows what is right in that moment to happen, and that may be much more precise than sticking with a formula that presupposes something that is not the case.
Of course, I could go into so much more detail and dozens of “secrets” of making medicines, but this is just a blog to give a little guidance. If you want to learn more take a medicine making class from a local herbalist or start experimenting. Don’t worry about perfection, just start gaining direct experience for yourself, just start getting herbs and oils together and see what happens. Experiment with smaller quantities and see what you like, and what likes you! Often certain medicines just seem to want to be made. Have fun, experience, discover and share.