A Complete Guide To Botanicals and Botanical Extracts

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If you’ve had a look at one of my facial recipes or soapmaking recipes, you may have noticed I use lots of weird and wonderful ingredients. Green Tea Glycerite, Witch Hazel Tincture, Carrot Seed Macerated Oil?

These natural ingredients sound interesting, but what exactly are they, how and when do you use them, and most importantly where can you buy them? Let’s take a look at botanicals and botanical extracts in a bit of detail.

using botanical extract

What Are Botanicals & What Are Botanical Extracts?

So, here’s the skinny. Botanicals are ingredients that are derived from natural sources, particularly from various parts of plants, trees, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. But sometimes you can’t just add these directly to your diy cosmetic products. That’s where botanical extracts come in.

For instance, you couldn’t add whole lavender buds to your new lotion recipe. While lavender has wonderful healing and anti-aging properties, throwing whole pieces into your lovely lotion could ruin it. You also probably won’t get the full benefit of your botanical doing this, as much of the nutrients and benefits can be locked inside the fiber and cells of the botanical.

So, that’s where extracts come in. A botanical extract is a concentrated liquid or powder, allowing you to add the wonderful properties of a particular botanical without affecting the overall consistency of a product.

botanicals

Can Whole Botanicals Ever Be Useful?

So if botanical extracts are better, why would you ever use whole botanicals? Raw spices, herbs, and other botanicals do have a place in DIY face care, but you have to understand how and when to use them.

While adding calendula flowers to a bath melt as I have done here, might not necessarily add benefits for your skin, they can add what I like to call an aesthetic flourish to the product. In other words, they make it look nicer. These flourishes also scream ‘i am natural’ to your giftee, customer or anyone in your life who is interested in your craft.

DIY Bath Melts with botanicals

Another example is raw turmeric. While it doesn’t have any real skincare benefit, it can be added to soap to provide a warm, gorgeous orange color. Most importantly, though, is that turmeric is a natural dye, allowing you to infuse your soap with a gorgeous color without sacrificing on purity.

Important When gifting or selling

Using botanicals in this way is very important for anyone who plans to sell their product, or perhaps gift them to family and friends. Nobody wants to buy a product that looks dull or uninteresting. You’ll also get a much better response from a giftee who thinks their new body lotion looks amazing as well as makes their skin feel super soft.

However, occasionally botanicals can have some further, functional benefits as well. For instance, certain coarse, dry herbs can be added to soaps to give them added powers to exfoliate the skin.

Nevertheless, these benefits are probably limited and easily replaced for greater efficiency. For instance, you would get much more exfoliating benefit from adding jojoba beads or crushed almond shells to your soap than you ever will from adding coarse dry herb.

What Type Of Botanical Extracts Exist?

So let’s talk a bit more about extracts. Extracts come in 4 main variants, tinctures, glycerites, macerated/infused oils, and herbal infusions. Which one you’ll use will depend on the type of botanical, and what type of product you’re making. We’ll discuss each in greater detail later on.

If you’re going to take away anything from this page

It’s that glycerites, tinctures, and herbal infusions can be used in water-based products and macerated/infused oils can be used in oil-based products. If you’re making an emulsion, you could very well use either depending on the phase and parts you use them in.

It’s also worth noting that depending on the type of botanical, you may not be able to find a particular extract type you’re looking for. For instance, botanicals that contain a high content of saponins are more difficult to macerate with glycerine. Alcohol is a much better solvent in this case, and so you would need to look for a tincture.

Nevertheless, manufacturers of botanical extracts are getting cleverer, and so you may soon be able to get your hands on almost any botanical extract, regardless of type. Even if you can’t, keep your eyes peeled and do your research. You’ll find a great alternative to a particular botanical that cannot be extracted into something with suitable solubility.

Are Essential Oils Botanicals?

essential oils

If you think about what essential oils are, the concentrated distillation of various natural ingredients, you would think that they would be botanicals, right? Technically, yes, but in practice, not really. Essential oils are distinct and varied, so much so that they have their own category, ‘aromaceuticals’.

Right off the bat, essential oils are usually more potent than botanical extracts. The process of distillation is the reason for this. An infused/macerated botanical oil, for instance, is simply the process of allowing herbs to infuse with oil over several weeks. The process of distillation is much quicker, and the extraction is much purer.

It’s easy to get mixed up with essential oils and botanical extracts

I’ve seen dozens of videos on youtube, claiming to show you how to make essential oils, only to show you a process of extracting for a macerated/infused oil. Don’t be fooled! For an essential oil to be an essential oil, it must be distilled or made with a co2 extraction process.

It’s also important to note that the other reason essential oils have their own category is because of their strong aromas. Essential oils are the key ingredient for aromatherapists. While some botanicals can smell lovely, the concentrated scent of an essential oil is extremely valuable and an important aspect of natural DIY face recipes, that even a beginner formulator should be thinking about.

Why Would I Want To Use Botanicals?

So, the all-important question, why bother with botanicals and botanical extracts? While I’ve already gone into some detail why you might want to use raw, whole herbs and spices, but I haven’t discussed exactly why extracts can be so amazing.

Differentiate yourself from the competition

While you can formulate a body butter with just butter, oil and a few essential oils, adding some suitable botanical extracts can help you create a product that is extremely high performance, filled with wonderful benefits that will rival store-bought alternatives.

It’s also a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition. While your basic recipe may include all the same ingredients as your competitor, or the store-bought product you usually use, by adding a few botanical extracts your product can go above and beyond, offering either more benefits or bolstering your product into a more powerful version of what you’d otherwise have.

Customize it

Furthermore, it can help tailor a product for your unique skin. If you know you have dry skin, you could add botanical extracts that will help alleviate that problem. In other words, they can take a generic product and turn it into a unique or even bespoke product.

Botanical extracts are also very susceptible to trends. Just switch your TV on and actually watch the commercials… I know, stay with me here. When you see a skin or hair care commercial, there’s always a botanical extract they use to advertise their product. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice many of these commercials will talk about the same ingredients over and over. This is what you’d call a ‘trend’.

While this trend-spotting can help you compete with the big players in skincare, at the very least it will let you know the different botanical ingredients the manufacturers, and in turn, customers are talking about. Even if you don’t plan to sell your products, these ingredients are talked about for a reason, so it might be worth exploiting this for your gain in a bespoke skincare regime just for you.

Organic Herbs & Spices

adding whole botanicals

I’ve already spoken of raw organic herbs and spices, such as what they are and how we can make use of them, so I’ll keep this short so you can get on and read about the others.

Raw herbs and spices that can be used in your diy cosmetics and homemade soaps are aesthetic flourishes. However, they can have some physical benefits as well. They are also useful for creating many of the different extracts you’ll read about below.

It’s very important to be mindful when making use of these. You cannot simply throw them into your cosmetics and hope for the best. If not used appropriately, you may find them a detriment to your cosmetics.

Buying Organic Herbs & Spices On Amazon

It’s possible to source most organic herbs and spice you need on Amazon, but its important to buy from established suppliers on there. Some of the best Amazon storefronts include the Frontier Co-Op, McCormick Gourmet, Starwest Botanicals and Simply Organic.

Tinctures

What Are They?

Tinctures are herbal extracts comprised of alcohol and natural ingredients. Tinctures are made by macerating the botanicals in alcohol for many weeks.

This process softens the botanical, breaking down their harder, fibrous structures. By doing this, the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals we’re looking for seep out and infuse with the alcohol.

When are they useful?

I rarely use tinctures, for good reason. Alcohol can be particularly drying for the skin. As I have dry, mature skin myself, I find they have a detrimental impact on my complexion.

However, for those of you with oily skin, you could potentially find decent benefits in a tincture. Nevertheless, I still recommend to use it with caution.

As tinctures are water-soluble, they can be used in water-based cosmetics, as well as in the water part of any emulsions.

Why Can’t I Buy Them?

Well, you can really, but they’re not as easy to source as some of the other botanical extracts on the list below. The ones you buy are also rarely true tinctures, as they do not contain alcohol. I have asked myself why they are more difficult to source, and the only reason I can think of is that their uses are more limited.

Originally, tinctures were usually for internal use as part of herbal medicine. But with modern medicine and their limited use externally, they have fallen out of favor. Nevertheless, you may find some good use for tinctures, and so I encourage you to make them yourself if needed.

Take some strong, high percentage, grain alcohol and macerate your chosen botanical for several weeks. While making your own tincture may seem like a long time to wait, as tinctures are less useful you are not all that likely to be doing this often. You can also make large batches, as tinctures have excellent shelf lives.

You’ll also find that very few of my recipes will contain tinctures, as I’m sure by now you know I’m not fond of them. Nevertheless, if any of my recipes do contain them, the exact process in which to make them will be included within my post. Otherwise, this section of this guide is for education purposes, to expand your knowledge and encourage experimentation.

Macerated/Infused Oils

What are they?

Macerated oils, also known as infused oils, are unique among the botanical extracts as they are 100% oil-based and thus are oil soluble.

They are called ‘macerated oils’ due to the process in which they are manufactured. Like tinctures, they are left to macerate for many weeks, however, they are often subjected to heat first to speed up this process.

The resulting botanical extract can then be added to a variety of oil-based cosmetics, as well as various emulsions.

When are they useful?

As macerated oils are the only botanical extracts that are completely oil-soluble, they can be added to a variety of cosmetics that are all oil-based. For instance, they are the only botanical extract that can be added to body butters, anhydrous creams, and oil-based serums.

They can also take some of the place of carrier oils in emulsions. Be cautious about how much you use though, as not all macerated oils can be used freely without worrying about dosage. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines to be sure.

Another reason I would not completely replace carrier oils with a botanical extract is because macerated oils are usually comprised of a base of sunflower oil. You would get much more benefit from using just 10% macerated oil, combined with different carrier oils with a variety of benefits for our skin.

Buying Infused Oils On Amazon

Aloe Vera Oil

You are probably well acquainted with the soothing properties of aloe vera, especially in the case of burns. Nevertheless, it has an excellent ability to moisturize the skin, as well as possessing some anti-aging benefits. Aloe Vera Gel

Arnica Oil

A wonderful ingredient with amazing powers to soothe muscle pain due to its ability to reduce inflammation in the muscles. Unfortunately, it has little use in cosmetics on its own. I’ll use it in massage oils, along with other ingredients to improve the aesthetic quality of the skin. Arnica Oil

Carrot Infused Oil

This oil has been infused with carrots, usually in sunflower or vegetable oil and should not be confused with carrot seed essential oil. It does possess many of the same benefits, only less potent. It’s wonderful at balancing skin tone, as well as reducing the visible signs of hyperpigmentation. I’ve also used it to balance the reddish tone of fresh scar tissue. Carrot Infused Oil

Comfrey Infused Oil

Due to its diverse chemical compounds, comfrey infused oil has been used for centuries for its healing properties. It is so powerful in fact that it is often still used today in sports medicine. Nevertheless, it is also extremely useful to help soften and reduce the visible signs of scar tissue. Comfrey Infused Oil

Calendula Infused Oil

The most gentle of all the macerated/infused oil, calendula is known for it’s soothing and regenerative properties. It is excellent for mature skin types. Calendula Infused Oil

St. Johns Wort Oil

This oil has long been used for its extensive healing properties. Nevertheless, it has many benefits in skincare. It can help clarify and tone the skin, offering a balanced, clear complexion. St. Johns Wort Oil

Glycerites

What are they?

Glycerites also referred to as glycerols, are botanical extracts that are suspended within glycerine. Glycerine is an excellent medium for carrying botanical extracts, although not all botanicals can be extracted in this method, namely saponins.

Glycerites are water-based, much like glycerine itself. The process in which glycerites are made often comprises a heated phase, followed by many weeks of macerating. However, many of the manufacturing processes used in industry are proprietary, and so it’s unlikely that a homemade variant will be as strong as the one you can buy. Industrially manufactured glycerites, for instance, can usually be used in quantities of no higher than 2%.

Glycerites, along with herbal infusions and tinctures, are botanical extracts that can be consumed. Nevertheless, as I have no experience with this I cannot offer further advice. It is recommended you seek the advice of a trained homeopath, with sufficient training in human anatomy.

botanicals including green tea extract

When are they useful

As glycerites are glycerine based, they are completely water-soluble. They can be used in a variety of water-based cosmetics, but can also be used in emulsions. Glycerites, however, are very heat sensitive after they have been manufactured, and so should not be added to the water phase of an emulsion, and instead should be added at cooldown phase.

Glycerites have a variety of different benefits, depending on the botanical it is made from. Thus, they can be added to further tailor a skincare product to your unique skin. They can also be used in conjunction with other botanical extracts.

For example, you may wish to use both macerated oils and glycerites in a single emulsion. As an emulsion is the suspension of either water in oil or oil in water, both of these botanical extracts can happily be added at the cooldown phase. This emulsion can then be bolstered further by adding essential oils.

Buying Glycerites On Amazon

Calendula Extract
Calendula extract is not only soothing for your skin, as you would probably expect, it also promotes skin tightening and wound healing. It will also help to condition the skin. Calendula Extract

Lavender Extract
Lavender extract is great for preventing dry skin, as well as possessing some powerful anti-aging properties. It also has some anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, as well as helping the skin to heal more efficiently. Lavender Extract

Horsetail Extract
Horsetail extract is one of the lesser-known extracts that you’ve just got to try. It’s packed full of anti-oxidants and collagen, making it an ideal ingredient in any anti-aging products. Horsetail Extract

Pomegranate Extract
There is evidence to suggest that pomegranate extract can help to restore elasticity to the skin. However, it is also excellent for smoothing and hydrating the skin. Pomegranate Extract

Green Tea Extract
A fantastic extract with strong anti-aging powers. It’s also full of nutrients to help your skin grow strong, allowing the skin to weather the storms of everyday life. Green Tea Extract

Herbal Infusions

What are they?

Herbal infusions are liquid botanical extracts comprised of spring or distilled water that has been infused with herb, spice, flowers or other natural whole ingredients.

Pour the liquid from your herbal infuser into a heaproof jug/beaker

They are completely water-soluble, as they essentially are themselves water, and I like to think of them as glorified cups of tea, but with many glorious benefits for our skin.

To prepare an herbal infusion, said natural ingredients are steeped in boiling water for up to an hour. While these ingredients steep, the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are otherwise locked within are released into the water. It can then be added to various cosmetics where appropriate.

Of all the botanical extracts variants, herbal infusions are perhaps the easiest to make, which is a good thing considering it is difficult to buy pre-made infusions.

When are they useful?

As herbal infusions are nearly all water, they can only be used in either water-based cosmetics or various emulsions. Nevertheless, because they are not as strong as other botanical extracts featured on this page, be mindful of where you use them.

What I like to do is use herbal infusions in place of distilled water or hydrosol. An excellent example of this practice would be to replace the water part of an emulsion, which would otherwise be ordinary distilled water, with a lovely herbal infusion I have prepared myself. You could, of course, use a hydrosol as well.

Hydrosols and herbal infusions can often be used interchangeably. While they are no more or less potent than a hydrosol, they are much easier to make, meaning you can make all sorts of weird and wonderful herbal infusion combinations at home.

Hydrosols are the byproduct of the essential oil manufacturing process, which means we are stuck with whatever hydrosols a manufacturer wishes to sell. This means some of the more obscure but wonderfully beneficial hydrosols are often very expensive or difficult to find. Herbal infusions, prepared at home, can help bridge the gap.

Pouring your hydrosols into a beaker

Buying Hydrosols On Amazon

Many varieties of hydrosol are available including, but not limited to, Rose Hydrosol, Orange Blossom, Lavender, Chamomile, Tea Tree and more!

Why can’t I buy Herbal Infusions?

Now, I’m sure you’d be expecting a lovely list of different herbal infusions and where to buy them, but unfortunately, in this case, I cannot provide one. This is because herbal infusions are very much a DIY in themselves.

Instead of looking to buy herbal infusions, just think of them as another step in the process of producing whatever cosmetics you’re looking to make. They’re easy to make, too, which helps.

However, if you were to buy anything, I would strongly suggest getting yourself some reusable nylon bags to steep with. If you’re making only a small amount of herbal infusion, you can get your hands on some organic, unbleached paper tea bags to steep your ingredients instead. Either of these would do just fine.

Now, to make your herbal infusion

Think, making a cup of tea but only more long-winded.

  1. First, fill your nylon bag or paper tea bag with your chosen ingredient.
  2. Then, immerse your bag in a suitable sized beaker of distilled water, made of heatproof glass.
  3. Place the beaker into a water bath and allow it to simmer for around 30 minutes. If your ingredient is particularly hard, such as a cinnamon stick, you might want to leave it for as long as an hour.

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