How to Make Herbal Extracts with Glycerin and Oils as Solvents

What is a herbal extract

Herbal extracts are substances extracted from the plant using different solvents that help to draw out the beneficial components in the plant. The solvents range from alcohol, glycerin, oils, vinegar, or water. The advantage of using herbal extracts over raw herb is that once the beneficial components are extracted from the plant, they are far more readily absorbable and digested easily. The liquid extracts are also easy to consume as compared to their raw form.

Herbs include crude plant materials such as leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, stem
wood, bark, roots, rhizomes, or other plant parts, which may be entire, fragmented
or powdered.

1. Harvesting the herbs

  • Firstly, research well and identify the herb beyond any doubt. Be sure that it is the right one, so as to not poison yourself.
  • The area where the plant you want is growing could be a wooded area or just a patch in your garden, but make sure it is unpolluted.
  • Herbs should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. The timing for harvesting the herb depends on the part of the plant you are harvesting and the intended use. Herbs grown for their leaves should be harvested before they flower, or else the leaf production will decline.
  • Flowers are most intense in their oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.
  • It is best to harvest plants at sunrise after the dew dries, when its potency is at its maximum.
  • Raw herbs should be inspected and sorted immediately following harvest or
  • collection

2. Preparing the Herbs

  • Wash the plant thoroughly but gently and chop them into pieces.

3. Extracting the beneficial compounds from the plant material

  • You will need a glass jar with a tight lid.
  • Put the chopped herbs in a glass jar. Don’t pack it tight. Just place it in the jar till it is 3/4th full.
  • Now add the extracting medium to the herb. The medium should cover the top of the herbs and some. You can also fill the whole jar with the medium.
  • Place the lid on the jar and secure tight. Shake the jar well. Shake the jar everyday or atleast as often as you can so that the top layer does not catch mould.
  • Label the jar and date it. It has to sit for at least 4-6 weeks, to extract all the plant chemicals into the medium.
  • After a month, filter out the solid plant material with a funnel. It is better to keep a cloth in the funnel while filtering so that the solids is completely filtered out.
  • You can now store this extract in a clean sanitised jar and use when required.

Types of herbal extracts?

You can extract the components in the herb with mediums such as alcohol, glycerite, oil, water, and vinegar. What medium you use to get the extract also depends on what you are using the extract for. The inherent qualities of each of these mediums will attract different phytochemicals in an herb.

A tincture is made using alcohol like vodka and is for internal use.
An oil-based extract is usually used to apply on the skin for external problems like a wound or rashes.
A glycerite is made using glycerine, which can be used internally and externally for cosmetic purposes.
Water-based extracts are the simplest to make and are made by infusion or decoction and are used as teas, rinses, and the base for syrups.
Vinegar-based extracts are medicinal herbs that are infused with vinegar, to create wonderful alcohol-free extracts. Dried herbs tend to produce the most effective medicinal vinegar extract.

3. How to extract herbs without alcohol

1. Glycerine Extraction

Glycerin is a sweet-tasting plant fat, which tastes sweet, but contains no sugar. It is slowly absorbed by the body. A glycerine extract, (glycerite) is very useful for people who do not consume alcohol, and children will love it. Glycerin does not extract resins, fixed oils, or volatile oils well, but extracts mucilage better than alcohol. Glycerine also acts as a preservative and has a longer shelf life than water, but shorter than alcohol.

Fresh plants are ideal for glycerites because glycerin is very good at preserving fresh plant juices. Glycerin, though may not be as effective as alcohol at drawing the phytochemicals from the cell structure of dried plants. If using dried herbs add 20% water to make it a little less viscous. Fresh flowers and aromatic herbs such as lavender, lemon balm, mint, and rose can be used to make glycerites that can be mixed into teas, juices, and desserts.

How to Make a Glycerite

Glycerites can be made with fresh or dried herbs and flowers. The method is as follows:

  • Take a clean jar and fill it 3/4th full of if using fresh herbs or plant material, and half full if using dried herbs as the dried herb will expand as it starts absorbing the liquid.
  • Now, for fresh herbs add enough glycerine to fully cover the herb or plant material. For dried plants, dilute glycerine with water, and fill the jar to within one inch of the top. The ratio is 3 parts glycerine and 1 part water. To successfully preserve the glycerite, it should contain at least 70% glycerine.
  • Use a knife or clean stick to poke into the plant material to release air bubbles and to let it completely soak up the glycerine while adding glycerin or glycerin+water mixture.
  • Cap the jar and label it . Keep the jar in a dark place at room temperature. Let it sit for 4-6 weeks. Shake the bottle every day or or as often as you can. Top off with glycerin as necessary if plant material rises above the top of the liquid.
  • After 4-6 weeks, pour the glycerite into another jar by pouring through a strainer lined with cheesecloth or any thin and clean cloth. Squeeze the plant material well to express every drop of glycerite.
  • Bottle and label glycerite.

Glycerites have a shelf life of approximately one to two years if stored in a cool, dark place. The glycerites have a wonderful way of capturing and retaining the scent of the plant material used. Watch the video below on how to make an orange peel glycerite. You will not believe the aroma it has. It has the amazing aroma of freshly grated orange peels

You can add this glycerite in skin tonics, moisturizers, and toners to add that natural freshness. In skincare, glycerine functions as a humectant. A humectant helps draw moisture to the skin when used in the right proportion. The recommended amount is 5%-10% of the formula. At higher percentages, glycerine can do just the opposite so it is always better to stick to the right proportion while formulating skincare products.

2. Oil extraction (Infusions)

The infused oil can be made with fresh or dried herbs. You can infuse it over time or with low heat on a double boiler. Infused oils make excellent medicinal topical remedies. They can be used for the skin for eczema, wounds, and sores and for the hair. Herb-infused oil works well for psoriasis, hair loss, dandruff, and scaling on the scalp.

Oils also extract resins, essential oils, and flavonoids well. Olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame seed oil are good to use as it has a long shelf life, and are good carrier oils. You can also use jojoba oil or argan oil. Herbal oil will have a very long shelf life if you take care that no water gets into your oil. The jar should be completely dry and there should not be any moisture in the plant material. The oil should cover all of the plant material to avoid mold. You should shake the jar every day to make sure that the top layer does not get mold.

There are two ways of making infused oils. One is the hot oil infusion method and the other is the cold/solar infusion. Hot oil infusion can be done directly on very low heat or with the double boiler method. The cold-infusion method is the simplest method and takes a long time, about 6-8 weeks for all the constituents to be extracted into the oil.

Direct Method

In the direct method, you put the herbs and oil directly in the pot and heat it on very very low heat, till all the moisture is gone and all the beneficial compounds are extracted into the oil. You have to be careful not to overcook the herbs. Most of the Ayurvedic and Siddha oils are made this way.

Double Boiler Method

In the double boiler method, you do not heat the herbs directly. You use indirect heat. You can use a double boiler or use a pot filled with water, and keep another smaller pot, which fits on it filled with herbs and oils. The heat from the boiling pot of water heats up the oil above. This takes time, around 4-5 hours, depending on the amount of herbs and oil used. You usually use 1 cup of dried herbs to 2 cups of oil.

  • Once the water in the bottom pot starts boiling, turn the heat to low and let it simmer.
  • Place the herb and oil mixture on top and let it simmer.
  • It takes around 3-4 hours to infuse a cup of herbs. The lower the heat, the longer the infusion and the oil too will be of better quality.
  • Once the infusion is done, let the oil cool. Strain and bottle it. You can also label it with the date and the herb used.
  • These infused oils keep for more than a year if kept in a cool dark place.

Cold/Solar infusion method

This method is the simplest. You put the herbs in a bottle or jar, pour oil into it and Cap it, and keep it on the window sill or any place you get sunlight. For cold infusion, use dried herbs.

  • Fill a jar with herbs to about 2/3rds of the jar. Top it with oil up to just below the brim.
  • Stir it with a stick or a spoon so as to remove the air bubbles and let the oil completely cover and soak the herbs.
  • Place it in a sunny place and let it sit for 6-8 weeks. Sunlight helps the herb release its active components into the oil.
  • Shake the jar as often as you can to avoid mold formation on the top layer.
  • Once done, strain it and keep it in a cool dark place. Don’t forget to date and label it.

Some folks do not keep it in the sun, they just cap the bottle and keep it in a cupboard and shake it every day. You can let it steep for 3 months and then strain and store it.

Please take care to see that the bottle is completely dry, or else the oil will turn rancid. If the infused oil shows any change in colour, smell, or taste, please discard it.

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