What are plant extracts, actually?
Plant extracts simply explained: plant material macerated in a certain solvent (oil, water, alcohol and/or vegetable glycerine - there are others, but these are eco-friendly and easy-to-make) for a certain amount of time, in order to extract the properties of the chosen plant.
This process demands a little bit of research, as each medium extracts different properties - so you should know in advance what you are looking for. They can be used in skincare, little health problems and even in the kitchen.
Different solvents for different results
A huge part of plant constituents (like tannins, mucilages, carbohydrates, several vitamins,...) are water-soluble. As so, an herbal tea is the simplest and more affordable way to do an extract: you leave the leafs, flowers and/or roots of a plant to rest in water, strain it, and then drink it’s health benefits.
The problem with herbal teas is that they spoil quickly: you have to drink it in the next day or 2.
Alcohol and glycerin can be added to prolong the shelf-life of extracts, and also to extract more powerfully plant properties. Alcohol is actually the most powerful solvent, but it can be drying for the skin, and not adequate for children, for example. Glycerin, on the other hand, it’s a milder solvent but has a pleasant sugary-flavour and is actually a great ingredient for your skincare products. It’s a humectant, meaning it has high water absorption capabilities. In pratical terms, it helps to increase and maintain the water content of the top layers of the skin, improving skin’s flexibility.
The only “if” of glycerin is the raw material it comes from palm oil. It’s really hard to find commercially available glycerin that it is not produced from it. The best we can do is to make sure that the raw material supplier is a member of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).
Oil extracts are usually made with an inexpensive oil (sunflower, almond or olive oil), and plant material. For this purpose, you have to choose plants that have oil-soluble properties (essential oils, resins, fatty acids, oil-soluble antioxidants,...), and you leave the mixture for a couple of weeks next to a sunny window, where it can get the heating from sun rays. This heat will actually help the plant properties to be captured by the oil. You could also do it in the oven, but it’s easier and funnier to wait for summer to come...
P.S. in one of our next blog posts, coming very soon, we'll share with you how to do a very simple oil extract...