Flower Power: Royal Oil

Traditional skin treatment from the Pacific

By Michael J. Balick

Photography by Mitch Mandel


how to make royal oilHow to Make Royal Oil

Making royal oil in the traditional way is fairly simple and inexpensive, and it can be done at home with a few easy-to-obtain ingredients.

1. Start with a few cups of pure coconut oil (which can be bought at a drugstore) and heat this gently in a pot or double boiler—low heat is essential. Too much heat will burn the oil and give it an unpleasant smell. If that happens, discard the oil and start the process again.

2. Pick fresh flowers or leaves with which to perfume the oil. Tropical ylang-ylang may be hard to come by, so try other aromatic flowers, such as rose petals, particularly a fragrant variety like the Damask roses that are traditionally used in perfume making. Mint or lavender leaves and stems can be used to make uplifting body oil. It is fun to experiment with different plants until you identify one—or a mixture—that has an aroma you find pleasing.

3. Remove the pot from the heat and put a cup of chopped petals or leaves in the warm coconut oil. Let the aromatic essences from the plants flow into the oil for 4 to 6 hours. If the oil begins to solidify, slowly heat it back up. Then, using a wire mesh scoop or strainer, remove the plant material. Repeat the process, removing the old flowers and adding new ones each time, during the next day or two, until you find that the scented oil pleases your senses. Pour the oil through cheesecloth or a metal kitchen strainer and bottle it. When I bring perfumed oil back from Micronesia as a gift for friends or make it myself at home, I always add the contents of a capsule or two of vitamin E to each bottle (discarding the gelcap) to prevent oxidation that might lead to rancidity.

To perfume the coconut oil without investing the time needed to make it in the traditional way, try using an essential oil instead. For each cup of warm coconut oil, add a few drops of essential oil, stir carefully, and test on your skin, smelling it to see if you like that concentration.

Oil stored below 76°F will turn into a white solid fat. Keep perfumed coconut oil in a glass or plastic jar that can be placed under a hot faucet, where it will slowly return to a liquid, and then you can easily pour and use it.

Michael J. Balick, Ph.D., is an ethnobotanist and the author of Ethnobotany of Pohnpei: Plants, People, and Island Culture (University of Hawai‘i Press/New York Botanical Garden, 2009).