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Join Jo: How to Use Plant Infusions in Soapmaking

Great, now I have jars full of pretty plant infusions – exactly what do I do with them? I use them, that’s what!

I love clear bright colors in soap. I used to use mica many moons ago, and I really wanted to have those colors again, but this time I wanted to use plants. Weavers use plants all the time to get bright colors, I was sure there had to be a way for soapers to do the same.

A variety of Jo's beautiful soaps colored ONLY with natural colorants!
A variety of Jo’s beautiful soaps colored ONLY with natural colorants!

A lot of research, time and ingredients later, I can share with you some ways that I have used to achieve similar colors by using plant infusions in soapmaking.

Testing How to Use Plant Infusions in Soapmaking
Testing Natural Colorants: Raw Soap
Testing How to Use Plant Infusions in Soapmaking
Testing Natural Colorants: Soap in Gel
Testing How to Use Plant Infusions in Soapmaking
Testing Natural Colorants: Keeping Track!

Alright, grab your alkanet jar, and lets try it out! (Don’t have one yet?! Get to making one with my guide on how to make infusions!)

How to Use Plant Infusions

When my infusion is ready (either 8 weeks for cold infusion or completely cold for heat infusion), I replace a percentage of my base oils in my recipe with the infused oil. Remember, I infused into an oil (olive oil pomace) that I used in my soap recipe. Well, this is why!

Lets use our infused Alkanet, as the example. Alkanet for me gives a lovely rich shade of purple. My infusion starts out a lovely rich shade of red!

Alkanet Infused Oil is a lovely shade of red!
Alkanet Infused Oil is a lovely shade of red!

To achieve purple, I replace 15% of the olive oil component in my recipe with my alkanet infusion – yes, that red will give me purple, I promise.

If I use 1000 grams of olive oil in by base oils, I want to replace 15% (150 grams) with 150 grams of my alkanet infusion. My olive oil amount would now be 850 grams plain olive oil and 150 grams of alkanet infused olive oil, to make up my original total 1000 grams of olive oil in my recipe.

I pour the infusion straight out of the jar, and straight into the base oils bucket. No straining needed. The powder has settled at the bottom of the jar, and after I pour 150 grams out, I still have enough left in my jar for two more rich purple batches!

Adding the alkanet infused oil into the rest of the base oils
Adding the alkanet infused oil into the rest of the base oils

Now I follow my normal recipe and procedure to make my soap. I don’t change anything else. As you can see from the photo below, the lye solution has been added and a small change is already occurring from the red to a purple grey color.

The alkanet infused oil begins to change color due to the high pH of lye solution being added.
The alkanet infused oil begins to change color due to the high pH of lye solution being added.

Just before pouring into my mold , you can still see the red from the original infusion alongside the color of the new soap batter. I love this bit of magic!

A little bit of alkanet's magic on display!
A little bit of alkanet’s magic on display!

In the photo below, a blue/grey top and edges around this bar of soap can be seen. I have found this to be really common with my plant infusions, so don’t be worried if this happens to you. Once the soap is completely removed from the mold, the centre of the soap will start to become the same as the top and sides.

Alkanet colored soap in the mold
Alkanet colored soap in the mold

Alkanet can look very grey and you may feel disheartened when you first see it. Don’t be, slowly this grey will change to purple – it can take 7 days and for some people, slightly longer.

Fresh alkanet soap may seem like a disappointment, just give it time!
Fresh alkanet soap may seem like a disappointment, just give it time!

After 7 days, if you have remembered to use the whitest base oils you can, soaped fairly cool, and you have gelled your soap, you should be looking at purple soap! How amazing is that! Red becomes grey becomes purple! Magic!

The final result of using 15% of Alkanet infused oils - beautiful purple!
The final result of using 15% of Alkanet infused oils – beautiful purple!

Other plants that you can infuse in the same way as alkanet include (however, in my experience, they all need to be gelled to achieve their full depth of color):

  • Woad – blue
  • Turmeric – orange
  • Paprika – orange
  • Yellowdock – pink
  • Rhubarb – pink
  • Annatto – yellow
  • Saffron – yellow
  • Gromwell – purple
  • Ratanjot – purple
  • Nettle – green
  • Comfrey – green

Join me next time in the series as I share how I use natural colorants in my lye solution to produce even more beautiful naturally colored soap!

Did you miss the first post in the Coloring Soap Naturally series? You can find it here!

Did you miss the second post in the Coloring Soap Naturally series about how to make infusions? Find that one right over here!

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45 Responses

  1. Hi Jo!!
    Thank you so much for this great series on color infusions. As I mentioned in my FB comment, I’m a very new soaper (can I call myself a soaper even though I’ve only made 3 batches so far… and not very good ones either *sigh*). You’ve given me new inspiration and excitement to try again!! I’m wondering, however, how this would work with HP?? Also, would the Alkanet infusion work with pure olive oil (it’s yellow not green like EVOO)?

    1. Hi Monica,
      I am still waiting for my HP star to let me know how you would do this with HP. I will post the response here when I receive it. You are definitely a soaper!

      The infusion should work with pure olive oil yes. Green EVOO just changes the colour but if the oil you have is yellow/gold it will be fine!

      Please share your soap when you make it. I would love to see it

      1. Hey Jo! Just wondering if this method would work with HP soaping. I see that the Alkanet works, but wondering about the other colourants as well. Thanks.

  2. I love how the soap looks and it’s a lovely bit of chemistry to watch it change during the make and over the first week. Thank you for sharing your experimentation with natural colours. These look so amazing.

  3. Hi Jo! Thank you so much for sharing all your hard work and knowledge. As a new soaper (4 batches under my belt and counting) I am wondering what you did to get the swirl of white and purple? Was the infusion mixed with the entire recipe?

    Thanks again!
    Maria

    1. Hi Maria,
      Yes the infusion was mixed with the entire base oils so the soap was all purple. I added some titanium dioxide to get the white part of the swirl and I also added some charcoal to the purple to get the dark contrast colour 🙂

  4. Hi Jo,
    I am loving your series, the colours you create are amazing, just one question for you – would you recommend grinding annatto seeds down to get a stronger or quicker response to an oil infusion, or does it work just as well with the seeds (or whatever they are called). Thanks and cant wait to make some wonderful naturally coloured soaps!!

    1. Angela thank you for the compliment! I have never ground annatto seeds down. I haven’t ever needed to the seeds are very good at releasing their colour and I would think you would be making more more for yourself than you need to.

      Just put an ounce of the seeds into the jar and fill it up to the top with oil. Heat it if you want to use it quickly or leave it for 6 – 8 weeks shaking it up occasionally and the colour will be fabulous.

      If you look at the infusion post – Part 2 there is a jar lying on its side and that has the seeds in it. You will see the colour of the oil is divine

  5. OMGosh, I LURVE infusions~ I always have jars full of crap in OO~ This is RIGHT up my alley~ Thanks Jo! You’re always such an inspiration and wonderful teacher.

  6. Hi Jo,
    So great to see another Aussie soap maker. Just wondering, how did you use Rhubarb in your infusion. Were the stems cooked down first? Thanks Mandy

      1. I would like to try the rhubarb to make a powder for color in my soaps, what part of the rhubarb plant do you use to make the powder? The stalk or root? Do you have a book that gives all this wonderful information?

  7. Hi Jo,

    I have been reading avidly and I’m almost ready to join the dark side,just wondering where to start, I will have to look at my usual suppliers to see what they have.

    I’m already loving this and haven’t made my first batch yet with this method.

    Thank you
    Kerrie

    1. Kerrie!
      GeokTeng is where I would start – Four Elements on Facebook.

      Soapers Resource also on Facebook has a co op at least once a year and usually offers most if not all the colorants that I have mentioned in the articles.

      Thank you so much for your comment, yes, come on over, you will love plant colorants 🙂

      jo

  8. Hi Jo,
    I really appreciate your posts. I have been wanting to try infusions for a while but wasn’t exactly sure of how to go about it. Your instructions are clear and easy to understand. I am starting an infusion with alkanet root today!
    Thanks so much,
    Debra

  9. Hi Jo – i saw in one of your photos that you had hibiscus in one of your tests – how did that work out? I have some hibiscus powder infusing in oil but am now fearful it will turn my soap black if i use it. I do HP so I can add it to lye, at trace or after the cook. Thanks so much for this wonderful post series!

    1. Hi Molly,
      In my testing my hibiscus powder did nothing 🙁 When I did use it in a batch the colour was brown! I only used my infusion in cp soap. I am going to try and use the infusion in a body butter, because I am determined to get hibiscus to work somewhere for me!

      Please let me know how you go with HP and your infusion. Will you add it as 100% oils at the start of the cook?

      jo

  10. Is there any chance you can note/label what mixes of infused oils or natural colorants you used to create each of the soaps in the soap rainbow picture you have at the beginning of the post? I’m obsessed! Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Anne-Marie,
      Thank you so much! Plant colorants are such fun to use and even though they can be challenging at times, they are so beautiful to look at when they play nicely 🙂

      jo

  11. Thanks so much for the lesson in oil infusion. I just received a sample kit of colorants and can’t wait to see if I have any of the ones you talked about in their. I was wondering if you could give a list of oils that are clear enough to use in making the bars pictured. I am new to this and I don’t want to waste money buying oils that are so dark they will discolor the soap.

    1. Hi Sharon,
      I am a big believer in infusing for soap making into an oil that you use in your recipe. For me that is olive oil, babassu or castor oil. Castor is a little on the yellow side for my liking but you could use olive oil (light golden colour), babassu, coconut oil, grape seed, apricot, macadamia etc. I am not sure what other oils you use in your recipe but anything that is golden, white or clear would be great.

      Thanks so much for your question 🙂

  12. Thank you so much for explaining and sharing this! I fail miserably at plant based coloring (it’s the only coloring I do because I want as natural sourced soap as possible. I’m a hobbiest and only make it for myself and friends). Sometimes it looks nice and other times it’s a complete train wreck. I’m looking forward to trying your infusion method and am mixing up a batch of green today (this batch of olive oil is really yellow so why fight it). Do you have any insight into how much dried plant powder to use per ounce/grams of oil? Thank again!

    1. HI Linda!
      Thanks for your question.

      I use 1oz of plant colorant powder and approx 15oz of an oil that I am going to use in my soap. Usually that oil is olive for me but it doesnt have to be olive. If you are going to use olive though use the most golden light coloured one you can find. Green will mess with your colour and give you well something you definitely didn’t expect!

      Also I have found for me palm has been an issue and messed around with my colorants and made them look more muddy than clear. Not sure if you use palm but that has been my experience your experience could be completely different with your recipe!

      The fact that we get a great colour and then a train wreck is the bit that I love the most! hahaha it used to drive me mad trying to work out where I went wrong, so I kept really good notes in the hope of being able to repeat the colour when it was a good one and not repeat it if it was really ugly!

      I use a 16oz mason jar for my infusions by the way

      Let me know how you get on!

      jo

  13. Hi – I purchased your ebook on natural colorants and you mentioned olive pumice oil. Is there another oil I can substitute?

    1. Hi – I am not Jo, but she replied to another person a few comments up as to what different oils one can use. The idea is that the oil one uses not have a lot of its own color so not to interfere with the plant colors added.

  14. I love these beautiful soaps and have some infusions ready to go. But how did you get the other colors tgat show in the finished bars if the infusion is added to the base oils? Apologies if there is an obvious answer but I’m fairly new at soaping and just starting to use color. Thank you for your generosity in sharing great tips!!

    1. Hi Caroline, welcome to the addiction!

      When you have the batter at trace you can split the batter into parts and either lighten or darken the parts as you want.

      For the first few times I would suggest you get the colour you want from your infusion by either increasing or decreasing the amount of infusion that you use. Once you have that right you can add a whitener or darken your split batter and be confident that the base colour will still be the one you want.

      I hope that helps?
      jo

  15. Great article by the way. I really enjoyed it. Just left wondering a few things.

    It is recommended in this article to use 15% infused olive oil in place of your oils for color. Is this the recommended rate for all infused oils? Also, what is the recipe to make infusion oil. How much plant powder to olive oil do you use when making an infusion? and is it the same for all infusions?
    I am trying to use paprika powder. I’m afraid I am going to use to much and get red or to little and get a washed out yellow. Any guidelines for its use would be great. I cant seem to find recommended amounts for infusions online. Any guidance would be great.

  16. Hi, thank you so much for the awesome info. About the natural colorants… I’m about to start my journey on soap making, and I want to use only natural colorants…. I have a question…. can I infuse in oils that I can use only as super fats at trace? And if I use Pomace olive oil in the infusion and I use 15% of it to color, can the 85% be a different (like extra Virgen organic) olive oil? Hope I’m not confusing you, I have not heard good things about Pomace oil, and since my soaps would be for personal use… I want the best …. I was also thinking on using something like hazlenut for my infusions and use only a tablespoon at trace. Hope I’m not confusing you. Thanks for your kindness.😇

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