Guide to using Herbs and Flowers in Soap Recipes

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Tips on which herbs and flowers are best in handmade soap & ways to use fresh and dried plant material in your recipes.

I use a lot of homegrown herbs and flowers in soap, lotions, balms, and other skincare recipes. There’s a reason for using each plant though, and choosing the right ones for the correct purpose is part of making good soap. In natural soap making, herbs and flowers are mainly used to add texture, color, and decoration. Dried rose petals decorating the tops of your bars can smell rosy and a sprinkle of poppy seeds can add exfoliation. Some flowers can tint the entire batch of soap a natural color, or add flecks of visual interest, as in the case with finely ground peppermint or lemon balm.

There are other questions to ask yourself about using plants in soapmaking. Is it skin-safe? Does it have potential therapeutic benefits? Can we use supermarket flowers? This piece helps to answer questions on how and when to use herbs and flowers in your soap recipes. There are also links to floral and herb-based soap recipes peppered throughout the text.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap #soapmaking #soap #herbs #naturalsoap
A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Both fresh and dried herbs can be used to make handmade soap

Best herbs for handmade soap

You can use ordinary culinary herbs to make handmade soap. Dried rosemary can create dark speckles, pureed parsley makes a vibrant green soap, and dried peppermint straight out of a teabag can be sprinkled on the tops of bars as a decoration. Though they won’t leave too much of a scent, whole herbs create interesting colors and effects in your soap batches. Some of the best dried herbs that you can use include:

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Peppermint, dried rose petals, and rosemary

The best flowers for soap making

Using flower petals in soap can be a little tricky. Some of them turn brown if you try to stir them into your soap batter. Others might not be suitable for skincare recipes so please research a plant and its flower before using it. If a flower is edible, then it’s a safe bet for using in making handmade soap. If it is not, or is known to be toxic if eaten, then don’t use it in skincare.

When using flower petals, you have the option to use them as a puree to tint your soap, as in the case of goldenrod. You can also sprinkle dried flowers onto the tops of your soap and in some cases, such as in calendula, you can stir petals whole into the batter. Very few flower petals will keep their vibrant color in soap but calendula is one of them and blue cornflowers are another.

Be aware though, that using fresh or dried flowers and herbs in or to decorate soap can be problematic in humid climates. The moisture in the air gets into the plant material and causes it to discolor or mold. I don’t live in a humid climate and have never had this happen to me. I have heard of soapmakers in Florida and India encountering it though.

Lovely Greens Guide to Natural Soapmaking

Some of the best flowers to use in your homemade soap recipes include:

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Lemon balm (Melissa balm) used to tint this soap a warm tan-green with dark specks

Adding dried herbs to soap

Dried herbs are easy to use in soap making. You can use them to infuse into your soaping oils or water, or you can sprinkle them into your soap batter or on the tops of your bars. Most dried herbs added whole will look dark in your finished bars. Think little dark brown and black speckles. Parsley flakes can hold their vibrant green a bit better and sage keeps a dark green tint.

For a speckled effect, use dried herbs that are finely pulsed — think of the consistency of ground coffee. Add about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried herbs to every pound (454g) of soap in your recipe. Sprinkle it on your soap at ‘Trace’ and then stir it in. Pure, dried herbs can bleed a little into your soap as it cures, leaving a warm halo effect around each speckle.

Whole dried herb leaves can also be used to decorate the tops. Theoretically, they can be used in the soap batter too but be aware that they will re-hydrate after you start using the soap. Imagine full-sized, and potentially slimy, peppermint leaves in your soap. Dried herbs can also be infused into oil or water and then used in your soap recipes. The scent probably won’t hold but infusing herbs give color and possibly therapeutic value.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Fresh herbs and flowers can be infused in water for soap recipes

Adding fresh herbs to soap

Adding fresh plant material to soap can cause issues including your soap growing mold. This happens when microorganisms begin growing in the water still inside the plant material and it occurs more often with whole plant material added fresh. When a herb is pureed, you can add it in small quantities to your soap batter at ‘Trace’. As the water content evaporates out of your soap during the curing process, so does the water content of the herb. Large pieces of fresh or cooked plant material, such as leaves, petals, vegetables, or fruit, can spoil your soap.

However, some culinary herbs are relatively dry and can be added fresh. Rosemary, lavender leaves, and thyme can be chopped up and added fresh at 1-2 tsp per pound of oils in your soap recipe. I’d advise caution when adding wetter herbs in this manner though. Unless pureed, wet herbs such as basil and parsley can leave your soap bars mucky and spoiled.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Dried lavender used to decorate the tops of these Lavender & Honey soaps

Using dried flowers in soap

Adding flowers to any natural soap recipe can transform an ordinary bar into a botanical treasure. Take for example my lavender & honey soap recipe. The bars in themselves are great for your skin and beautifully scented but it’s the dried lavender on top that makes them special.

Decorating the tops of soap batches with dried flowers is very popular in the soap making lessons I give on the Isle of Man. Many dried flowers such as cornflowers, chamomile, and rose petals will keep their color (for several months at least) if sprinkled on the tops of soap. The key tip is to not insulate the soap after since this extra heat can turn the flower petals brown. Another tip to keep flowers from turning brown is to add them after the soap is fully cured. Spray the soap with witch hazel or isopropyl alcohol and scatter the flower petals on top. They’ll stick to the soap after it’s dry.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Dried rose petals and lavender work beautifully in decorating soap

Mixing flowers into soap

Mixing dried flowers into soap batter will often turn the flower petals brown. This is sadly the case for flowers such as rose petals and lavender but an exception to the rule is calendula. It holds its sunny yellow or orange color indefinitely. Instead of using flower petals whole, some people also use dried flowers to make a tea that is used in place of the water in a soap recipe. Most of the time the color of flower petal infusions won’t hold up in soap recipes but sometimes it does, as in the case of goldenrod. Floral teas usually don’t have much scent, and you cannot rely on them to add scent to your soap.

Some dried flowers can be infused into a carrier oil to naturally color your soap. Calendula flowers come in both yellow and orange and I find the orange petals infuse beautifully into olive pomace oil and other light-colored oils. Infusing St Johns Wort flowers into light-colored carrier oil tints it into a deep red, which is useful in creating pink to coral colored soap. When using infused colored oil, you replace part or all of an un-infused oil, such as olive oil, with your infusion.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Fresh flower petals can be pureed with water for soap recipes

Using fresh flowers in soap

You treat fresh flowers much the same as you would wet plant material in soap — with caution. Large pieces of fresh plant material can grow bacteria and mold if they don’t dry out quickly enough. If you’re going to use fresh flowers in soap, you should opt for pureeing them or using them in a water infusion. With a water infusion, a tea, you strain the petals out or you pour them in with your lye. Both the lye and the action of the immersion blender will pulverize the petals into small pieces.

Many flower petals will turn your soap brown if you use them in a pureed form. Exceptions include calendula, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), goldenrod, and daffodils. These golden petaled flowers will all tint your soap buttery hues of yellow to orange. To make a puree, blend your fresh flower petals with enough water to make a thick soup. Use this puree to replace up to half of the water content of your soap recipe. You can also use fresh flowers in a water infusion, basically a tea.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap
Learn to grow your own skin herbs and flowers

Growing your own herbs and flowers

The herbs and flowers that you use to make handmade soap can come from a farmer’s market, a herbalist’s shop, or your own garden. Please be careful with flowers from supermarkets though, as many roses and other bouquet flowers are sprayed with pesticides and fungicides. Homegrown is best, and I think that using herbs and flowers from your garden in soap adds a special story to your handmade products. Just imagine soap decorated with your own rose petals or cornflowers!

You can grow some skincare plants in pots and containers but others will prefer growing in a border. On Lovely Greens, you can find a lot of tips for growing herbs and flowers for skincare recipes but one of the best resources for growing useful plants is my book, A Woman’s Garden Grow Beautiful Plants and Make Useful Things. Skincare plants feature in chapter four, but you’ll also learn about plants to grow for the kitchen, home cleaning, natural dyeing, and herbal medicine.

On the website, begin with growing and harvest lavender, then move on to learn more about calendula. It’s probably the most versatile skin herb that you can grow and I have a specialized ebook detailing how to use calendula in skincare.

A guide to using herbs and flowers in soap recipes. Tips on which herbs and flowers are best & using fresh and dried plant material in soap

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  1. Susan Atkins says:

    If I steep my peppermint, rinse, then dry… THEN use in my cold process soap for texture and interest, will it still turn brown or will it stay green?

    1. Peppermint will eventually always turn golden brown in handmade soap. Nothing you can do about it!

  2. Hi Tanya,
    I was wondering if you could answer to my questions. will I get different results if I use the same soap recipe with different additives like different kinds of herbs or vegetables in cold process soap making? I mean in terms of bubbling, being creamy, conditioning and specially in cleansing. Do the properties of herbs change the properties of soap? And I have to make a soap recipe based on the characteristics of each herb?
    What part of the soap recipe should be changed to be suitable for dry skin, normal skin or oily skin? Should I just reduce the amount of supper fat or change the amount of cleansing?
    Thank you so much

    1. Hi Mohammad, the herbs and flowers that you add to soap recipes will likely not change the base characteristics of the soap. Some people claim that their herbal infusions do, but honestly, on a chemical level, it’s down to base oils you use and the lye discount. Your question about making soap recipes for oily, normal, and dry skin is an advanced one and again has to do with the oils you use and the amount of lye.

  3. Hello, thank you very much for being there!
    I am the beginner and would like to know: 1. can I use lilac flowers (I plan just to sprinkle them on the top of the soap) – they are not toxic, aren’t they? 2. I also have salvia and chrysanthemum petals from my garden – can I use them as the decoration on the top of the soap? I am concerned whether these plants are toxic in any way, unfortunately, I cannot find an info on internet. Your help will be very much appreciated. Kind regards. Yulia

    1. Hi Yulia, dried lilac and chrysanthemum are fine, as is any other edible flower. There are many types of salvia, including sage, but again I’d stick with only using types that are known to be edible. If you can eat a flower safely, it’s fine to use as soap decorations :)

  4. Beverly Gatewood says:

    Was wondering would making a slurry with ground herbs protect properties, or would that create problems of re-hydrating the herbs that may cause issues?

    1. It depends on the herb and how small the pieces are. Generally, a puree of plant material, or small pieces, will dry out in the curing phase. Larger pieces of hydrated leaves can mold though.

  5. Hi I can never seem to avoid the brown colour from dried lavender etc in my soap making, but reading your article it seems I may live in a place too humid? Is there no way to avoid this then? Thanks in advance

    1. Wherever lavender touches the soap it will turn brown. I don’t recommend mixing it into soap batter but you can use it on the tops of soap. Over time, the lavender can discolor completely but I find that the parts that don’t directly touch the soap will stay purple for many months.

  6. If I’m adding fresh herbs from my garden (Rosemary, lavender) should I wash it first before adding? If so, is a water rinse good enough or should I use something like vinegar or rubbing alcohol? Also, your website is so useful, thank you for sharing what you know!!

    1. No need to wash your herbs if they are from your garden and you know them to be clean :)

  7. Hi, I have tried mixing dried manuka leaf into melt&pour glycerin soap with 20 drops of an essential oil, but no matter how late I add it, the manuka always floats to the surface. How can this be avoided? Also, the opposite happened with a ground up shell, which dropped to the bottom. Any tips on suspending these?

    1. Hi Chris, you need to keep the m&p in a plastic jug and stir it until it reaches about 105F/40C. It will be slightly thickened at this point and the botanicals will suspend in the soap once poured. I’d advise not using ground-up shell (nuts or otherwise) in your soap since it can cause scratches and injury.

  8. Hi,
    I have put dried flowers in my glycerine soap but after few days it stained the soap by leaving colours. Plz help

    1. I’m not sure how I can help? It’s an easy thing to add something to soap but not so easy to take it out! Try again and leave the flowers out :)

  9. hasaninejad says:

    I am Seyed Mostafa Hassani Nejad
    A few days ago, while researching soap and the use of plants in soap making, I came across your site
    I have a few questions
    First, the ratio of caustic soda to the amount of oil
    Second, if we add access, how much is needed
    Third, how to neutralize the excess?

  10. I wonder if I can make a (goat) milk infusion with wild rose (dry) petals for the liquid part when making hard bar soap? I would like to try, but I wouldn’t like to fail. Thanks in advance!

  11. Katy COWAN says:

    Hello! I am wondering if I could use gorse in soap? Do you know? I am really bad at just giving things a go and need a bit of a confidence building shove!! I know that they are edible and have, years ago made wine with the flowers – I just love the smell and colour and think it would be lovely in soap but not sure how to go about it…..any advice would be so very gratefully received – it is so beautiful and plentiful at the moment with us in Devon. Thanks for you wonderful site….my favourite place to visit! x

    1. That’s actually a flower I’ve never tried before. I don’t see why it couldn’t be used but I’m not sure if the colour will last. Experimentation is in order :)

      1. Katy Cowan says:

        Thank you! I will have to get brave and have a go!! Will let you know the result!

  12. Hi there, I wonder if you know if there is a limit on the amount of petals / herbs I use for decoration when selling soaps. (UK based) and do I have to include the decoration (salts, herbs, flowers etc) in my ingredients list.
    I find myself spending a lot of time looking for answers that never seem to appear!

    1. Yes, you’re required to list all the ingredients in your products even if they’re for decoration. As far as how much of each you are permitted to use, your safety assessment will tell you that. If it’s part of the soap then it has to fall within those guidelines. If it’s loose and only for decoration, then you can use more but they still need to adhere to ingredients you can use (defined in the safety assessment) and be listed in the ingredients list. For anyone else reading this, you aren’t permitted to sell soap or skincare to the public without a safety assessment and valid craft/beauty insurance.

  13. handcraftbarnsuk says:

    Great Information!!

  14. Greetings Tanya, thank you for allowing me to become a member. I am so grateful for all your advice, sharing recipes etc. You are a very generous lady. Lillian Flynn. Ireland

  15. hoa tang le says:

    Herbs help us improve our health every day, I love to see the herbal flowers come from nature.
    Your writing is great, I learned a lot from this.

  16. Hi there!
    Do you know how much of the herbs and flowers properties/benefits are preserved in cold processed or hot processed soaps? I can’t find any proper information about it (scientifically based). I suppose it is best to add them at trace in cold processed and after cook in hot processed?

    1. I’ve never come across a scientific piece on the topic either. Adding at Trace/after cooking would help to preserve any properties in theory — essential oils survive the process so it’s conceivable that botanicals could too.

  17. Ann Marie Allen says:

    This is the missing link for me to use my community gard3n plot to its best. Thanks for 5he great information

  18. Gary Lapsley says:

    Being new to self sufficiency via my allotment with food I’m branching out in plants and herbs I can use at home this will be a great addition!