In last week’s blog on Oil Macerations we learned how to infuse botanicals into oils for various uses. But you might not always want an oil as the base of your botanical extract; sometimes a water base is preferable. So let’s learn all about water based botanical extracts.
A water based botanical extract is the same as a botanical infusion in water, just preserved for longevity. Water based extracts are wonderful because they are so easy to use in a multitude of projects. You can simply substitute some or all of the water content in a formula for the water based extract!
Water based botanical infusions, like oil macerations, are incredibly simple to make and the options are almost endless. However they tend not to be as strong as other types of extractions simply because water is a relatively weak solvent. But this makes them suitable for all skin types as they are so gentle.
My favourite way to use water based botanical extracts is in my shampoo (recipes over here: DIY Shampoo Recipes). This way I can get all the amazing benefits from botanicals onto my hair. Plus it makes the shampoo completely customisable to particular hair needs.
A note on hydrosols:
Hydrosols, although also making use of a water base, are not quite the same as botanical infusions. Hydrosols are a by-product of the essential oil making process. They tend to be rather limited (the essential oil manufacturer decides which ones are worth making) and you will most likely only find rose water, geranium, tea tree, orange and a couple of others available for purchase.
Water based botanical extracts are basically glorified cups of tea. The most important part when making them though, is to correctly preserve them, otherwise they may introduce bacteria into your formulations. Make sure you use the correct amount of preservative and that it is fully incorporated.
Like with oil macerations, I recommend only using dried botanicals to make your water based extracts. Fresh botanicals and fruits in water simply introduce too many microbiological species for my liking and will make proper preservation hard. Unless you are using them up within 2-3 days this may ruin your products.
When making a herbal water based infusion, aim for a ratio of 1:5 botanicals to water. Choose a combination of one or more botanicals and then mix equal parts of each together in a sterilized beaker. Cover with freshly boiled, slightly cooled water. The filtered water should be boiled but not boiling, as this may ‘cook’ the delicate herbs, so let it sit for 3-5 minutes after boiling to cool a little. Please use only filtered or distilled water as tap water is full of bacteria. Let the herbs brew in the water for at least 30 minutes or even overnight to make a strong infusion, then strain and make sure all plant matter is filtered out. Blend in a preservative at 1-2% to give your infusion a shelf life and bottle up. Store in cool conditions out of light and direct sunlight.
A note on preservation and shelf life:
I know many will be thinking, what is the shelf life of a water based botanical infusion? Without having your infusion tested against standards in a lab you can’t actually know for sure. Shelf life depends on many factors, including how sterile your instruments were, storage conditions, etc. But personally I have never had an issue with spoilage in my botanical extracts. I have incorporated them into skincare products, shampoos, toners and other products and they have all lasted me a good couple of months until I used the products up. As long as you are using the correct amount of preservative your extracts should be ok.
Your options are almost endless when it comes to making botanical extracts! You can also make blends to really boost your formulas. Here are some ideas:
For use in a mozzie lotion: peppermint infusion - insects don’t like it!
2 T rosehips
1 cup boiled and slightly cooled filtered water
3ml Geogard 221
Filter paper or other fine strainer
Sterilise all your utensils then add the rosehips and rose petals to the beaker. Mix them up and pour over the water, giving a good stir. Leave to infuse for at least one hour but it can be left longer, stirring occasionally. Once you are happy with the strength of your infusion, strain thoroughly and blend in the preservative. Bottle up and use in your skincare products or even directly on your skin as a toner.
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