When I first learned how to make my own organic flavored oils with fresh herbs, spices, edible flowers, and wild foods, about 30 years ago, I was so in love with them I just about stopped using my usual organic sesame and extra virgin olive oils. The first flavored oil I made was basil oil, which I drizzled on salads, soups, and steamed vegetables. Then I began cooking with it, using it to sauté and roast vegetables and even to fry eggs. I added it to sauces and used it as a dip for bread, as well as a marinade for sun-dried tomatoes and grilled eggplant.
I began by ripping up enough basil leaves to fill a pint jar, but quickly graduated to quarts and then half gallons. The technique for making flavored oils was so simple that I found myself becoming more and more creative with each type I made. Soon my creations included an assortment of pints and quarts with various herbs, spices, and edible flowers. In addition to basil oil, I made garlic oil, garlic-basil oil, calendula oil, garlic-basil-calendula oil, chili pepper oil, chili pepper-cilantro- garlic chive flower oil (shown in the photo above), and garlic-fennel oil, among many others.
Every summer, I try new flavored-oil combinations with basil, cilantro, oregano, chili peppers, garlic scapes, calendula flowers, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, garlic chive flowers, and whatever else I come across. As far as I can tell, no matter what the combination, you can’t go wrong.
There is also a health bonus to using olive oil as the base for infused oils. A heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, olive oil is rich in antioxidants and has been shown to actually help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. While my preference is to use extra virgin olive oil, sometimes its strong flavor can overpower delicate-flavored herbs like marjoram and nettles. For these types of herbs, I use light olive oil.
To make your own flavored oil, please follow these instructions:
For the Best Results
As you will see, it is easy to “go wild” when concocting flavored oils. For the best results, keep the following tips in mind:
Use a clean dry glass jar with a lid.
When using fresh ingredients—herbs, spices, edible flowers, fruits, mushrooms—fill the jar about an inch from the top, and cover completely with oil (extra virgin or light olive oil is recommended).
When using strong-flavored ingredients like mint, tarragon, or chilies, fill one-third of the jar with these ingredients and two-thirds with oil.
When using dried mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes, fill the jar only halfway with these ingredients, as they will absorb the oil and expand, eventually filling the jar. As the ingredients steep and expand, you will have to continue adding oil to keep them covered.
Before screwing on the lid, try to eliminate any air holes by pressing the plant ingredients down gently with a butter knife.
Once you have finished preparing the jar, label it with the contents, including the type of oil, and the date it was prepared. Also include the date it will be ready to use—two to six weeks later.
Place the jar on a small plate and set it on a windowsill. After two weeks, check the flavor of the oil, and continue checking it once a week after that. The oil is ready when you are. I have found that a sunny window tends to shorten the steeping time.
When the oil is ready and has been strained into a clean bottle or jar, add a label with the type of oil and the date—for example: Basil Oil, August 2004. As a decorative touch, consider adding a fresh herb or another ingredient that was used to flavor the oil. Store in a cool dry place, where it will keep for at least a year.
Following these guidelines will help to insure successful results with your flavored oils.
As the ingredients steep, the oil may expand and leak from the jar—especially when set on a sunny windowsill.
Keep the jar on a small plate to catch the flavorful overflow, and then use the oil to cook with, add to salads, or enjoy as a dip for bread. Delicious!