March 09, 2019

Cleopatra is said to have used honey in several different types of applications and beauty rituals. To keep her skin radiant and exfoliated, she used a combination of sea salt and olive oil.  Rose water was another of her favourite beauty secrets, that kept her skin soft and smooth. Women today follow the same rituals and  it's clear, the concept of putting fresh raw food on your face isn't a new one. We believe in fresh raw.

Commercial businesses produce extracts for use in skin care and although something like honey starts out as a beautiful raw ingredient, it ends up being far from being raw. In commercial settings many herbs and botanicals are processed with different methods into extracts.  Different types of nuts and seeds are made into butters and oils.  Herbs and botanicals are infused in a carrier oil.

We harvest our plant materials when they are their best and with the most nutritional value.  For example, only the top inch or two of the nettle plants are harvested right as soon as they pop out of the ground in the Spring.  They are immediately cleaned and processed into one of our extracts or oils, or they are dehydrated and stored, keeping their vibrant green colour true to when they were picked fresh. It is assumed that if they were being harvested for consumption, these young fresh nettles would be the first chosen. We are very careful in our harvest so as not to pick old, damaged or diseased parts. If we can't eat it, why is it on our skin? 

At home an independent can make their own extracts (tinctures in alcohol/ethanol), oils, and glycerites (also known as tinctures without ethanol).  Extracts in ethanol and glycerol produce different strengths of extracts.  There are some great advantages to producing your own extracts, be them with ethanol, glycerol or oil.

1.  You know the quality of the plant material being processed.
2.  It is cost effective.
3.  You can control the method of processing.
4.  You can create different blends using multiple herbs/botanicals.

Fresh and dried herbs and botanicals are mixed with alcohol to produce a tincture. Tinctures are also known as herbal medicines and are consumed for various reasons. We produce and use consumable grade tinctures in our skin care products  If you are concerned about the alcohol, be rest assured our resulting extract contains low alcohol through process. A low percentage of alcohol in a skin care product is perfectly fine and is often added to enhance skin absorption of the great actives we use. Plant material you wish to tincture (leaves, flower roots, bark or berries) can be dried or fresh when extracting with either ethanol or vegetable glycerol. We prefer fresh picked in the growing season, but we use our own organically grown, harvested and dehydrated plant material in the winter. 
Depending on the plant material being used, a ratio of ethanol and water are placed in a jar with the plant material.  The process will take several days to weeks until maturity. Created properly, the results are clearly outstanding. Pictured is a nettle tincture.  

Glycerol (which is also technically an alcohol) will extract the same plant material as ethanol. These are made by using water and glycerin and adding the herbs or botanicals of your choice to the mixture. Consumable glycerites have to be made with food grade vegetable glycerin rather than cosmetic grade which is what is used in skin care products. Although at Soap Works we use many types of leaves and flowers in all of our processed extracts, our favourite part of a plant to extract from is fruit.  Pictured here are two raw fresh fruit glycerites. The first is made from raspberries, blackberries, kiwi and blueberries which produces an extract that has a beautiful fruit filled aroma and the colour is gorgeous. It is very easy to see by the colour that the glycerin has indeed extracted valuable constituents. In the second we've used our organically grown oranges from our citrus greenhouse.  Again, the scent of the liquid is intoxicating and the colour is divine. Isn't it amazing that these can be found in our skin care products? 


Some points about extracts in glycerol:

1.  Glycerol doesn't preserve as well as ethanol does.
2.  Glycerol doesn't have the same power to extract as does ethanol, producing a weaker extract.
3.  It's an alternative to using an alcohol based extract, for those who feel alcohol is not safe.
4.  Glycerol remains stable even when heated.
5.  Natural and environmentally friendly.

Macerates are plant materials infused into a carrier oil to produce an oil with some of the benefits of the plant material being infused. The choice of carrier oil is determined by the intent of use. There are various processes using heat or sun and these processes take different amounts of time to mature. Dried eaves and flowers can be infused in different types of carrier oils like sunflower seed oil, olive oil or almond oil, to produce and infused oil. An infused oil like calendula oil or evening primrose oil would be produced this way. This is not a method we use with fresh fruit or vegetables.

Some of the dried plant material commonly used for all of these processes are: rosemary leaves, lavender buds, comfrey roots and leaves, chamomile flowers, mint leaves, lemon balm, calendula petals, thyme leaves, mullein leaves and nettle.  There are many other plants that can be used but be careful to choose consumable plants if you are creating a tincture as a medicine.  There are many plants that are toxic if ingested, so study carefully before you make your choice.

There are lots of information websites on extract production procedures.  Study before you begin. Practice good manufacturing procedures, work with sanitized equipment and choose your ingredients with knowledge of what they contain.

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