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How to Make Calendula Oil

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A calendula bloom.

Photo © Lauren Ware

Photo © Lauren Ware

Small farms are all about adding value with products like salve, lip balm, and soap. At least, some are. Although it's not the right approach for all, many small farmers find that the ideal small farm business involves not only growing something, but harvesting it and processing it into something more: something value-added.

Calendula is a self-seeding annual flower with wonderful medicinal properties. Plus, it's easy to grow. And it's used in a wide variety of beauty products: salve, lip balm, soap, face balm and moisturizer, lotion, and more.

Medicinally, calendula heals skin: it helps regenerate it when it's damaged, whether that is from a cut, scrape or rash, or even if it's just dry and sensitive. It's very soothing and gentle. Similar to its action on skin, calendula is healing to the gastrointestinal tract when taken internally. But you'd use a tea rather than an oil for this.

Before we start, you'll need to grow some calendula, and harvest and dry it properly for use in this recipe. You may need to scale your procedures to the amount you're making; I'm trying to cover everyone from the hobby farmer or homesteader who may be producing enough for a family for a year, to the small-scale but production farmer who is making products to sell to the general public.

The oil we're going to make can be used as a base for salve, lotion, and lip balm or used as-is on damaged skin.

  1. Start with dried calendula blossoms or flower heads. Place the blossoms in a clean glass jar or container. If you are making a very large quantity of oil, you can use a plastic food-grade bucket. Make sure your container is very clean - rinsed with hot or boiling water and then dried thoroughly is ideal. Also be sure your calendula is completely dry, so that mold or botulinum toxin doesn't contaminate your oil.

  2. Fill the jar loosely to the top with plant material and cover with oil. The oil you use depends on your ultimate product, but olive oil is a nice, fairly neutral base. You can use "light" olive oil to avoid a strong olive scent/flavor. Jojoba is also a very nice oil (actually a wax) for infusing calendula. Almond and grapeseed oils are two other commonly used cosmetic oils.

  3. Cap the jar or cover the container tightly. Place the jar in a warm place - in the sun, in a sunny windowsill, in a greenhouse or hoop house, or in a dehydrator. You could also use a crockpot or any large vessel that you can keep at a low, but warm temperature. You don't want to overheat the oil, but you want it to heat gently. If it's just in the sun, you'll want to give it some time - about a month - and shake the jar gently occasionally.

  4. When the oil has infused, it's time to strain the plant matter from it. You will want to use a cloth, cheesecloth, or another very fine material to strain the oil through. Give the plants in the strainer a good squeeze to extract as much oil as possible.

  5. Label your oil and store it in a dark, cool place. Discard if oil goes rancid (it will smell off).

  6. Make your oil into cream, salve or balm - or use as-is.

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