St. John’s Wort

What is it? St. John’s Wort is a flowering plant with a long history of use for treating depression as well as topical use for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
INCI Hypericum Perforatum (the part of the plant used and format is also noted, i.e. flower/stem/root, extract/macerated oil/distillate, etc.)
Appearance The plant has small, star-shaped yellow blossoms. An infused oil should be a deep red colour, indicating high hypericin content.
Usage rate This varies with the format (macerated oil, powdered extract, hydrosol, etc.). Check with your supplier.
Scent Herbal/botanical
Solubility This depends on the format. The petals themselves are insoluble, but you can also purchase calendula hydrosol (water soluble) and calendula extracts (oil or water soluble).
Why do we use it in recipes? We use extracts of St. John’s Wort in our skin care products to harness its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. These properties make it especially useful in salves and balms.
Do you need it? No
Refined or unrefined? Either—both the dried plant matter and more refined extracts have their uses. I have both the dried petals and a water soluble extract and both are useful in different projects.
Strengths A good botanical source of anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
Weaknesses As with all botanicals, allergic reactions are a possibility.
Alternatives & Substitutions A different herb (or blend of herbs) with anti-inflammatory/antimicrobial properties (chamomile, calendula) would be a good place to start.
How to Work with It This varies with the format; check with your supplier.

Generally speaking, extracts go in the cool down phase of recipes. Check the solubility of whatever you have to ensure it is miscible with the formula.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, the dried plant matter will last approximately two years. Check with your supplier for specific extracts and infusions as there is quite a lot of variety.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks St. John’s Wort is poisonous to livestock.

Taking St. John’s Wort internally can conflict with many medicines, including antidepressants. Be sure to check with your physician before taking St. John’s Wort.

Recommended starter amount 50–100g (1.76–3.3oz) for the dry herb. 30mL (1fl oz) for the liquid extract. 250mL (8fl oz) for a pre-made infused oil.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use St. John’s Wort

Witch Hazel

What is it? Witch hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana) is a small deciduous tree native to eastern North America. Extracts made from its stems have been used as an anti-inflammatory and astringent for hundreds of years. These days the most common format of witch hazel is witch hazel distillate, which can be purchased with or without added alcohol.
INCI Hamamelis Virginiana
Appearance The distillate is a clear, watery liquid
Usage rate Up to 100%
Texture Smooth, watery liquid
Scent Musty/funky
Solubility The distillate is water soluble. The plant itself is insoluble, but can be used to create infusions.
Why do we use it in recipes? The distillate tends to be most commonly used for its astringent properties, often in facial toners. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can be beneficial. The scent isn’t great, though, so it is usually blended with other ingredients like hydrosols to weaken/mask the smell.
Do you need it? No
Strengths Inexpensive, natural astringent.
Weaknesses It doesn’t smell great.
Alternatives & Substitutions Aloe vera is similarly anti-inflammatory.
How to Work with It Include it in the water phase of your recipes; it can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, witch hazel distillate should last about three years. I store mine in the fridge. Double check with your supplier as there is likely to be some variation depending on format and/or added alcohol content.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Many things sold as “witch hazel” contain other ingredients, like aloe vera or rose water. Be sure to read the ingredient label!
Recommended starter amount 250mL (8fl oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier. Look for an alcohol-free version.

Some Recipes that Use Witch Hazel

Calendula

What is it? Calendula is a cheery yellow flower; the petals are often made into infusions and extracts for use in skin care products.
INCI Calendula Officinalis (format is also noted if it is an extract, distillate, etc.)
Appearance The flower petals are long and narrow with a lovely soft yellow colour.
Usage rate This varies with the format (liquid extract, powdered extract, hydrosol, etc.). Check with your supplier.
Scent Mild, herbaceous.
Solubility This depends on the format. The petals themselves are insoluble, but you can also purchase calendula hydrosol (water soluble) and calendula extracts (oil or water soluble).
Why do we use it in recipes? Calendula has a long history of use in treating skin conditions like eczema, burns, and rashes. It has anti-inflammatory, soothing properties, and it helps speed healing. It is rich in antioxidants and can help reduce swelling and moisturize the skin.
Do you need it? I highly recommend it; I have found a water soluble extract to be the easiest way to work with it, while the dried petals are inexpensive and often available in the bulk section at your local health food store.
Refined or unrefined? Either—both the petals and more refined extracts have their uses. I have both the dried petals and a water soluble extract and both are useful in different projects.
Strengths Calendula is a well-studied and safe skin care herb with a long history of use. It’s fairly inexpensive, widely available, and has great label appeal.
Weaknesses As with all botanicals, allergic reactions are a possibility.
Alternatives & Substitutions A different herb (or blend of herbs) with soothing/healing properties (chamomile, comfrey) would be a good place to start.
How to Work with It This varies with the format; check with your supplier.

Generally speaking, extracts go in the cool down phase of recipes. Check the solubility of whatever you have to ensure it is miscible with the formula.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, the dried petals will last approximately two years. Check with your supplier for specific extracts and infusions as there is quite a lot of variety.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Calendula petals are one of very few botanicals that maintain their colour through saponification, making the m a popular ingredient in soap making.
Recommended starter amount 50–100g (1.76–3.3oz) for the dry herb. 30mL (1fl oz) for the liquid extract. 250mL (8fl oz) for a pre-made infused oil.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Calendula

Aloe Vera

What is it? In cosmetics and skin care aloe vera is typically some refined form of the gooey substance found in the fleshy leaves of the aloe vera plant. The most common formats are extracts, concentrated powders, and the water-like juice. The concentrated powders are sold with the concentration noted so you can hydrate them with the correct amount of water.

At drug stores, aloe vera is typically a bright green gel. This is not what you want for making skin care products with. Store bought aloe vera gels also contain fragrances, gelling agents, pigments, and other ingredients—we want just aloe vera.

INCI Aloe Barbadensis
Appearance Depends on the format purchased. The juice is typically a clear, watery liquid.
Usage rate This also depends on the format purchased; refer to your supplier for guidance. I typically use the re-hydrated liquid at up to 50%.
Texture Water-like.
Scent Low; lightly herbal.
pH 4–6.5
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in recipes? Aloe vera is an excellent skin-soothing and moisturizing ingredient. It has been found to boost healing, collagen production, and hyaluronic acid production in the skin. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antiseptic effects (source).
Do you need it? I’d highly recommend it.
Strengths Excellent soothing, moisturizing ingredient.
Weaknesses It is high in electrolytes, so it can emulsions to thin if used in high concentrations. It is also incompatible with anything that isn’t electrolyte compatible.
Alternatives & Substitutions If you are using aloe vera for skin-soothing properties, consider a chamomile hydrosol or calendula extract.

If aloe vera is being included for moisturizing and film forming effects, consider a hydrolyzed protein like oat or silk.

How to Work with It I recommend re-hydrating the concentrated powder to create your own juice—this is typically much more economical than purchasing the juice. For a 100x concentrated powder you would mix 1% aloe vera powder, 0.5% liquid germall plus, and 98.5% distilled water to create a single-strength solution of aloe vera juice to use in your projects (for 200x you would use 50% the aloe powder, making up the difference with more water; for 50x you would use 2x the amount of concentrated powder and remove that extra amount from the water). Include it in the heated water phase of recipes, or cold process if no heat is required for the recipe.
Storage & Shelf Life It depends on the format; check with your supplier.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Aloe vera contains vitamins A, C, and E (source).
Recommended starter amount 250mL (8fl oz) for the liquid. 30g (1oz) for the concentrated powder.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Aloe Vera

Alkanet Root

What is it? Alkanet root is used as a dye, typically through infusion. It is usually sold in powdered/ground or chopped form. The colour varies with pH; it is a ruby colour around pH 6, purple around pH 9, and blue around pH 10.
INCI Alkanna Tinctona Root
Appearance Dark, slightly purple powder or small flakey chunks.
Usage rate Infuse in oil until desired colour is reached.
Scent Tangy/musty.
Solubility The colour infuses well in oil; solid matter is typically strained out before the coloured oil is used.
Why do we use it in recipes? As a colourant. In cold processed soap it lends a dusty purple hue. Infused in oils for balms and butters it gives a ruby-plum colour.
Do you need it? No
Strengths Stable in soap, beautiful botanical colourant.
Weaknesses Not particularly potent, so not very useful for coloured cosmetics.
Alternatives & Substitutions A coloured mica that is approximately the desired colour is a good alternative, though it will add shimmer. You can also look at pigments like ultramarines, which are available in purples and blues.
How to Work with It Infuse alkanet root in oil until the desired colour is reached, strain, and then use the oil. I’d start with a 1:10 to 1:20 (by weight) infusion ratio.

If you’re using the powder you can add it straight to soap batter, where it will add a bit of a dark speckle-y look and some mild exfoliation, depending on the amount used.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, alkanet root should last three years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Alkanet root shifts colour with pH, from ruby to blue as it gets more basic.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier—shops focussed on soap supplies are more likely to carry it.

Some Recipes that Use Alkanet Root

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