Mullica Lake in October 2022

Developer Diaries #1: Botanical Extracts, Foraging, and Experiments

Exploring Wharton State Forest in October

Batsto Village Trail in Wharton State ForestEarly in October, my brother Sam and I drove to Wharton State Forest to enjoy the fall foliage, hang out in Batsto Village, and walk the trails along the Mullica River. The land is flat, acidic, dry, sandy, and populated by mast-like white cedar and pitch pine forests. Recently, a forest fire took out all the trails and turned everything black and sooty, but the greenery was already emerging from the ash. I harvested biochar from the charred pitch pines. Historically, the Pine Barrens were home to the manufacture of turpentine, coal, and tar to support shipbuilding. The thick, scaled bark protects pitch pines from fire exceptionally well. I saw many pines where the flames barely penetrated the tree half an inch. Some trees released little rivers of silvery-white resin to heal the damage. 


Sam and I loved walking the sandy trails, and we located a forest loaded with redcedar. I read that the powdery bluish-green hue of the berries is a type of natural yeast that you can use to create a sourdough starter! Unfortunately, I was too chicken to try making starter this time, but there's always next year when I'm smarter, wiser, and braver! 

 Mullica River Trail Woods in October 2022

I also foraged some northern bayberries, ponderosa pine needles, and more biochar. We were on the lookout for wintergreen but had no luck. So everything was put into individual freezer-safe sandwich baggies at home and shoved into the deepest part of my freezer for a few weeks. Freezing resinous plants expands the water in the plant, causing the cell walls to "burst" or "crack" and release more fun compounds like fragrance and medicine. Cracked cell walls in ponderosa pine pollen supplements are the commonly seen application. I did find a ponderosa pine on the hike, so I will return in the Spring to see how well the pollen produces!


On Freezing Plants

Besides dehydrating and curing, freezing plants is a viable way to keep them usable for a long time. Process your harvest first (remove unwanted stems, leaves, dirt, etc.), but don't wash in water. The cold will kill any bugs. Use a thick Ziploc-type bag or a silicone bag to freeze your plants whole. You don't need a commercial deep freezer. A home freezer can typically be set at -3°F to -5°F. Make sure you spread the plant pieces out in a single layer to prevent icing and squeeze out the air from the bag as much as possible (don't go crazy). Place in the deepest, coldest part of your freezer until ready to use.


Besides the redcedar, I had rosemary and chamomile from the garden. Since I am trying to learn everything I can about homemade skincare and the ingredients I grow, I have to make extracts from them all. Today, I'll cover the beginning stages of preparing the redcedar extract.


Planning Eastern Redcedar Extract

The principle behind extraction is: "like dissolves like." If I can understand the compound I'm trying to extract, I can find the appropriate solvent.


Cedar Resin Extract

Resin readily dissolves in ethanol, is insoluble in water, and melts readily at high temperatures. I decided to use 100% grape spirits (similar to this brand) for the extraction because it is stable, easy to use, creates a potent tincture, and evaporates quickly in hot water when making an emulsion, leaving behind the active compounds and fragrance. Stuble scents in skincare are less irritating than essential oils. If it smells nice, I'm more likely to use it consistently. Consistency in skincare is critical! 


Sidenote: I could never add borage seed oil to my routine because it smells like turkey grease or bad sausages. It would be a great developer's challenge to mask that scent because borage seed oil is an excellent ingredient for all skin types. It was beneficial for my skin's redness. Besides the smell, another downside is that it oxidates quickly (in about six months). I will brainstorm pre-order ideas to get the freshest product developed without wasting precious oil. Something to think about for the future!


Cedar Leaf and Berry Extract

Update: 1.4.2023 | The picture shows eastern redcedar in solvent, not White Cedar! Mislabeled before I was taught the difference!

For the redcedar leaves and berries, I made a tincture using Everclear (100-proof vodka) because it is 50% ethanol and 50% water. Everclear makes a more balanced extraction and reduces the possibility of mold or bacterial growth. In 6-8 weeks, I'll drain the tincture and do some experimental formulations with the extract. I'm thinking of a refreshing water gel for Spring and summertime. It will be suitable for holiday gifts if the scent is ideal! 


Final Thoughts (for now)

While my extracts are "baking," my next step is to explore what kind of beneficial skincare products I can create with them. Since I can't use the ingredients yet, I benefit from letting my imagination run wild, and I can plan out 2 or 3 formulas (maximum) to try. 


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