How to make an effective alcohol extract of herbs and plants?

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Alcohol extraction is a basic guideline for cosmetics. Sometimes you need to use herbal extractions for cosmetics. Alcohol is not my favourite ingredient in cosmetics for many different reasons. Sometimes, however, it is needed to prepare a strong alcohol extract of the herb. Here’s a basic guide for you on how to make a traditional alcohol extract.

Alcohol extraction is a powerful plant extract

Alcohol extracts are commonly used in herbal medicine. Alcohol is really good for extraction. If you have 40% clear alcohol (vodka) then 60% is water. Thus, it is possible to recover all water-soluble plant chemicals even when alcohol is used. In addition, you recover other substances from the plant material that are not so soluble in water.

Of course, the alcohol extract should not be heated like a water infusion. Hot water will destroy many sensitive plant chemicals of the extract.

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Plants suitable for alcohol extraction

All plants are not suitable for alcohol extraction. If the intention is to extract only water-soluble substances from plants, I definitely recommend using a conventional water infusion -method.

Use alcohol extract to extract roots and woody plants

Hard plant parts are tricky to use in cosmetics. When extracted into water, you may not get enough of the active ingredients from the plant.

Rare plants should be extracted into alcohol

If you have managed to find some rarer plant that is difficult to obtain more, alcohol extraction is the right option. When extracted into alcohol, the active ingredients in the plant will be preserved for years. Whenever you want, you can add a few drops of strong alcohol extract to your recipes.

The roots are particularly well suited for alcohol extractions

However, roots found in Finnish nature are rarely used in cosmetics. We do not have enough experience with domestic plants. In addition, we need a permission of the landowner to collect any roots.

Conifers are popularly used in alcoholic extracts

Personally, I have made alcohol extract from spruce tips and white cedars. Conifer resins are soluble in alcohol but not in water. The resins are also soluble in oil. However, if you want to make fat-free products from spruce tips, you may want to try alcohol extraction.

Bark from willow and many deciduous trees are suitable for making cosmetics

You should make an alcohol extract from them. The bark of the trees is antibacterial and astringent. Under no circumstances the bark can be removed from any tree without the permission of the landowner. Trees will be damaged if bark is removed. I have taken the bark of trees only from fallen trees or in the spring in connection with pruning a branch.

Be reasonable

It is advisable to prepare an alcoholic extract from plants that are only available in very small quantities. I often get the seeds of special plants and grow them in a pot. In the fall, I cut the crop and store it in alcohol.

It is worth to make an alcohol extract from all the very traditional cosmetic plants if you use them for non-fat products. A couple drops of alcohol extract in the toner does not dry out the skin yet.

Selection of alcohol suitable for extraction

When choosing the right alcohol, pay attention to the alcohol content. The high alcohol content ensures the extraction of active ingredients from hard plant parts. The soft parts of the plant are extracted with even a mild alcohol. It is not worth diluting the alcohol due to shelf-life problems.

Get as strong alcohol as you can

You can always dilute too strong alcohol with water. Professionals use a strong spirit for their alcohol extracts (alcohol 96% proof). An ordinary home cosmetics maker cannot buy such a strong alcohol and it is not good for the skin either.

There is up to 60% proof vodka available in shops, which is very suitable for roots, conifers and other hard plant parts. For soft leaves and flowers, you can use 40% proof or even 20% proof alcohol.

Dilute strong alcohol to suit soft parts of the plant. Do not use unnecessarily strong alcohol for extractions. Strong alcohol is not good for the skin.

In alcoholic extracts, the alcohol should always be clear. Unflavoured vodka is the best.  Coloured spirits smell strong. The scent is also clear and disturbing in the final product. In addition, coloured alcohols may contain flavours and dyes that you would not want into the final product.

Preparation of the alcohol extract

  • Pick the herbs you need for the extract in the morning, after the morning dew is gone. Then they richest in active ingredients. Only collect clean herbs from clean places. Read the herbal collection instructions here.
  • You can use either fresh or dried herbs.
  • Clean the herbs by wiping the leaves with a dry cloth or paper. Do not wash plants with water, alcohol will kill the harmful germs.
  • Remove impurities
  • If you only want flowers or leaves in the extract, separate them from the rest of the plant
  • If necessary, chop the plant. If you use only small, delicate flowers, they do not need to be chopped. Chop roots, branches and conifers into very thin pieces. This makes the extract stronger.
  • Fill a small glass jar with a lid (baby food jar) with chopped herbs. However, do not stuff the plants tightly in the jar.
  • Pour on enough alcohol to cover the plants.
  • Close the lid and put the jar in the light to pretend for 1-4 weeks. Shake the jar if necessary. The plant mass must remain below the surface of liquid throughout the extraction.
  • When the extraction is complete, strain it using clean gauze.
  • Pack the extract in a glass bottle, preferably with a pipette or drip function.
  • Label the bottle with at least the date, the extracted plant / plant part and the extraction time
  • How long time does it take to finalize the alcohol extraction?
  • Factors affecting the extraction time
  • Plant itself and/or part of a plant, whether it is a tree-like stem, a coniferous plant, a piece of root or flowers and leaves
  • Desired strength, i.e., the phytochemical content of the extract. If you want a very strong extraction, extract for a longer time. Strong alcohol extraction is recommended in cosmetics. Then all you need is a drop or two alcoholic extracts to be added. Weak extraction is needed more than just a drop. Then the final product also gets a lot of alcohol and it is not desirable.

How is alcohol extraction used?

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Alcohol extraction is very easy to use. If you packed the extract in a dropper glass or pipette bottle, it is also easy to dispense.

Alcohol extracts are suitable for creams as well as serums containing water. Alcohol extracts cannot be used on completely anhydrous products as they contain water.

Generally, a few drops of extract is sufficient amount to enhance the effect of the ointment or serum.

Many people want to add essential oils to their toner. Try to partially replace the essential oils with alcohol extract. A couple drops of alcohol extract from some astringent plant raises your toner to a whole new level. If the extract is strong enough, i.e., rich in plant chemicals, you don’t need to use it much. A couple of drops per 100 ml of liquid is enough. The alcohol content thus remains negligible.

Now just try making an alcohol extract. Have you already picked the wild herbs?

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