Working with plants is one of my favorite things to do.
Gardening, cooking, making herbal tea and using them as medicine and skincare.
Even just hanging out with them brings me joy.
As an herbalist, I'm trained to use plants in various ways, like extracting compounds from plants using various mediums.
A menstruum is a medium in which you extract or remove compounds from the tissues of organisms.
In this case its plants.
Common menstruums include alcohol, water, oil, glycerin, and apple cider vinegar. Each of these methods has its term; for instance, an alcohol extraction referred to as a tincture, when water is used, we call that a tea. Other terms include infusion and decoction.
Cold-pressed oils go through a process that presses the fruit or seeds through a modern steel press, retaining all of the flavor, nutritional value, and aroma of the plant material.
Infused oils are a different method. Dried plant material is left to macerate (soak or steep) in a carrier oil for some time to extract the oil-soluble compounds.
Essential oils are the volatile oil of a plant named for the idea that they are highly concentrated components that secrete from the glands of the plant. Essential oils are a controversial subject since it takes a significant amount of plant material to produce a very small amount of essential oil. Sustainability is a very real concern, especially with the growing demand and corporate entities dominating the industry.
When using essential oils, less is more and always use with caution.
Essential oil comes from a process of steam distillation and/or C02 extraction.
A large amount of plant material, either fresh or slightly wilted, is gathered and placed in what looks like a giant steampunk pressure cooker. Plants are heated in water and steam is collected as the “tea” evaporates. The steam becomes liquid and is then called a hydrosol.
A hydrosol is a flower water that contains the water-soluble compounds as well as the essential oils of the plant. After the hydrosol has cooled and settled, the oils float to the top and are then collected.
Hydrosols are a great replacement for essential oils. They are versatile, require less raw material, and are safer to use.
Have you ever had the pleasure of sipping on a delightful herbal tea made from locally grown plants an not a teabag bought at the grocery store? Summer is in the rear-view, and the leaves start to change slightly. I am digging around the back of the closet to break out the first sweater of the season, getting a good read and giant cup of locally grown chamomile tea in my favorite mug. I may skip the book and stare out the window.
When I began formulating skincare, I knew there already were many wonderful products out there and had to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into.
The good thing was that I was aware of my passion for plants and my knowledge for working with them.
I applied my knowledge of “whole-plant” philosophy to my skincare formulations.
As herbalists, when we care for someone, we care for the whole person using the whole plant.
If a client comes in with an issue, we don’t just slap some salve on it and call it a day. We want to know EVERYTHING! We work in a way that connects and pinpoints to the root of the cause of that issue.
When we formulate medicine, we consider what plants will best support that root cause? We also consider how the plants will work together in the formula, and how they will work with this person, who is unique from everyone else.
The plants have an innate wisdom of their own and work differently for everyone. In my view, extracting separate parts of the plant for a concentrated use diminishes the wisdom of the whole plant.
In researching the plants for my skincare formulas, I was amazed by how many active compounds are available to support the skin.
I knew I wanted the formulas to be simple, effective, and work synergistically, each ingredient working together, each formula working to benefit each unique individual.
I started experimenting with different oil infusions. I monitored how each plant behaved in an oil extraction, which I must say was not a bad job at all. Messy, but not bad.
But then I dove deeper into plant compounds and how they're extracted into oils. When I was able to distinguish the difference between oil-soluble and water-soluble phytochemicals, it was a no-brainer.
What about the plants that aren’t high in volatile oil or oil-soluble compounds but extremely high in vitamins and minerals that deliver incredible nutrients to the skin?
I went back to that cup of chamomile tea.
Teas have been used both externally and internally for health benefits for a very very long time.
Hydro-infusions are a simple and effective method to consume such a full spectrum of compounds from the plants. They are also the first lesson in the school of herbalism; how to make a proper cup of tea.
We also learn how to make creams. When I first learned how to make herbal creams, it was like winning the lottery. I sourced the finest beeswax (from our front yard), hydrosols, and oils, threw it all in a blender and when I heard the “glug, glug, glug,” of the motor my heart fluttered.
My very first cream was called Rose + Vetiver.
As a budding skincare formulator, reading forums was a past-time. All the bickering back and forth about preservatives, emulsifiers, and gums, and solubi-what-its, and okay, okay, can I go back to listening to birds singing while I slather on my “all-natural” herbal cream PLEASE!
I had to face reality. I needed to learn.
I began to deconstruct ingredient lists from brands I already knew from working in an organic grocery store. I researched the ingredients, researched substitutes for ingredients, and researched ingredients of ingredients.
I knew I didn’t want any junk in my products: no harmful chemicals or synthetics. I had a vision of products that were effective, eco-conscious, and as close to nature as possible. Researching preservatives was probably the most challenging. I knew my customers had to be safe from harmful bacteria that can grow in a poorly preserved formula, but I also knew that preservatives used could cause even more harm. It took a lot of hard work and decision making.
The industry ingredients (i.e., emulsifier, gums, preservatives) had to derive from plants, have a purpose in the skincare, not just a filler, and above all else be safe. Even better, certified safe by an international cosmetic organization called ECOCERT.
So, with formulas prepared, oils ready, herbs steeping in my hydro-infusion, gums measured, emulsifier melting down, preservative ready to go, emulsion blender on, here we go!
What, huh? Why does it look like curdled cream?
Um, the oils are separating.
This serum is too runny.
And so on. I completed a course in organic skincare formulation through an award-winning school in the UK called Formula Botanica and things started clicking.
I finally made it over the formulation hurdle after a year of trial and error.
I used my knowledge of formulating from my herbal training, utilizing the many methods of working with plants, such as oil infusions, hydro-infusions, hydrosols, essential oils, and powdered herbs and extracts.
The formulas are one-hundred percent plant-based made with plant-derived ingredients, including tree gums, plant wax emulsifiers, and a broad spectrum antimicrobial preservative system that is sourced from plants.
Most importantly, my formulas contain the best of the plant world, using the whole plant and mindfulness on sourcing from small farms and trusted suppliers. Plants that are native to North America and don’t have to travel far, minimizing carbon footprints. Some of my favorites, like Nettle, Reishi, Alfalfa, Oat, Marshmallow Root, Comfrey, Lemon Balm, and many more.
I look forward to formally introducing you to these plants as we continue our journey together.
So, to recap this article we took a look at all the many ways in which we can work with plants, I gave a brief insight on how I used my herbal training to formulate skincare, and my early journey began in creating Heart + Soil Herbal Skincare.
If you already use plants in your daily life, if you love to garden, sip on herbal teas, or relax next to your favorite succulent we already have a lot in common.
If you use botanicals for skincare or make your own at home, I would love to hear your story about how you got started.
Please look for the next article as I will share more about the benefits of H+S ingredients and our skin. Some other topics will include skincare routines, tools, history of skincare, skin science, and support. I will also highlight different ingredients, sourcing, as well as ingredients that should not be in skincare. Keep an eye out for special events, promotions, new store locations, DIY’s, and subjects that I am passionate about such as environmental news.
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Heart + Soil Herbal Skincare #madewithloveandnature