I’m home from an exciting trip with my family… and preparing for another! Last week we spent several days in WV, celebrating a friend’s high school graduation and visiting with dear friends that we don’t get to see often!! 🙂 There’s a post on my family’s blog with a few highlights from the week, and some pictures we managed to capture 😉 … and I posted pictures and videos here.
(Esther, Sarah, Sarah, and Sarah ❤ …)
But for now… back to that series of questions and answers.
Question # 1 was posted last week. Question #2 is…
“What is some equipment that you believe is absolutely necessary and essential?”
Obviously, this really depends on what you’re going to be making! The girl who asked this question is especially interested in making her own healthy soaps. I have made soap a few times with a neighbor-friend, but this post is going to be based more on the tools and supplies I keep on hand for the products that I make and sell – mainly salves (and other cream/lotion type products), and essential oil blends.
So here’s a basic list of things I’ve found necessary, or extremely helpful! ~
Glass mason canning jars with lids
I use a lot of jars. A lot. I use mostly 8 oz because they fit in my crock pots without touching the lids, but I can fit a few 16 oz jars (pints) into my smaller crock pot that happens to be a little taller. It’s amazing how many jars you go through with infusing your own herbal oils. It’s good to keep extras on hand not only for that moment when you realize it’s time to infuse more oils and the jars are all in the pantry labeled with the leftover oils you don’t need for this particular recipe… but also so that once your infused herbs come out of the crock pot, you have clean jars to pour the strained oil into without washing and drying all the ones you just dumped them from. I get my canning jars from Walmart. I really haven’t found them cheaper anywhere else at this point – plus, I don’t have to pay for shipping if I can get them locally.
If you’re going to be making your own herbal infused oils, one of the best methods (practically speaking, when you have only a short few days to fill an order) is to warm (not cook!) the jars of herbs/oil in a crock pot of water, for several days. Our family has 3 crock pots (2 larger and 1 smaller), which I can fit about 17 canning jars of herbs into. Of course you can always opt out of the crock pot method, by infusing your herbs via the solar method.
I place a dish towel in the bottom of my crock pot(s) before I place my jars of herbs/oil in. That way when they are warming the jars do not have contact with the bottom of the pot. It is a safety precaution against anything breaking or rattling around.
Not recommending your family’s good kitchen dish towels here 😉 … the color tends to bleed out into the water at times, and the towel will fade over time since it is soaking in the water for 3 days straight.
Glass measuring cups
Once my herbs are infused into the jars of oil, I like to use my glass measuring cups (with a strainer on top) to remove the bulk of the herbs from the jar of oil. By dumping the entire jar through the strainer into the glass measuring cup, I can then pour the oil (with small remnants of herbs in it) through a piece of cheesecloth, into a clean jar. It saves the *huge* mess that takes place when you try to dump herbs and oil altogether into a clean jar, squeezing handfuls of herbs out and trying not to spill them all over the counter-top. 🙂
Let’s just say that I used to work with paper towels. And those really didn’t work well. At all.
Now I like to use a double layer of cheesecloth (which is pretty thin, but the holes are not too big and not too small) to strain my oil one last time before I pour it into a clean jar.
A small food scale
I use this mostly to measure out ounces of beeswax when I’m ready to turn my herbal oils into tins of salve. But for those who are wanting a tried and true recipe, or some record of the weight of herbs and other ingredients used (for calculation of costs or business records), a scale will come in handy here. It’s not always practical to just dump your herbs “about half” or “about two thirds” into the jar. Some are fluffy and need a little help settling in, and others are so thick and weighty that you’ll want a little less herbs in the jar, in order to actually get some oil out of it in the end. 😉 … and in the end it’s nice to know exactly how much you put in, so you’ll get that same quality of oil next time.
A funnel that fits nicely in the opening of your glass jars
Wow, this is a one of those little blessings that you don’t really think about until you don’t have one 🙂
It really speeds up the time that it takes to dump my herbs into the jars for infusing, when I can move the funnel from jar to jar and just spoon the herbs right in. No mess involved!
You don’t actually have to use labels. You can stick masking tape on the lids of all your oils and write with a sharpie. I label my jars this way while I’m infusing them (I also keep a drawing of my crock pots and where I’ve placed the jars containing specific herbs, just in case one of the labels gets soggy inside the crock pot) and when I store them on the shelves before the product-making begins.
On salve-making day, I’ll make up a bunch of sheets of more professional looking labels – the ones that are specifically designed for my company, and contain all the required information for selling them. I’ll store my finished products on the shelf with labels, until they sell.
It’s easy earlier on to be experimenting with a lotion product or some new type of salve, and think “Oh that one’s obvious. It looks so different from all the rest, and has that distinct smell… and I’ll just remember what it is.” Not a good idea. Been there, done that. Always label your products.
A notebook, or computer records
Always, always write down your recipes – and if you make modifications next time write those in without erasing the original amounts so you can alway go back if that second attempt was not actually an improvement.
It’s also a great idea to write down the ideas you come up with through your research, as well as trial and error. Maybe next time you want a little more preservatives because the shelf-life wasn’t long enough… or you need less beeswax because it was too hard. Make notes on your records – “This was too hard… that was not strong enough… this one needs less of that ingredient and more of this other one…”
Yes…there comes a time when it is completely beyond practicality to count drops of essential oil, as you’re measuring 10 different kinds from bulk bottles, into a pot of liquid salve.
The pipette droppers are amazing for quickly measuring out many ml of essential oil, which I find really handy and a huge time saver! It’s important though to have several on hand so you’re not dipping peppermint essential oil into your lavender bottle… if you get what I mean.
And there you have it… some of my essential (and nonessential, but helpful!) favorites. 🙂