Guide to Using Herbs and Flowers in Soap Recipes
Tips on which herbs and flowers are best in handmade soap & ways to use fresh and dried plant material in your recipes.
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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.
Best Herbs for Handmade Soap
You can use ordinary culinary herbs to make handmade soap. Dried rosemary can create dark speckles, pureed spinach or parsley makes a vibrant green soap (at least initially), 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:
- Lemon balm
The Best Flowers for Soap Making
Using flower petals in soap can be a little tricky. Most 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. Orange calendula flower petals also infuse well into liquid oils which is how I achieved the buttery yellow color of the below soap. Very few flower petals will keep their vibrant color in soap but calendula is one of them. Blue cornflowers are another, although they’ll lose their color if mixed into the soap batter.
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 places like Florida and India encountering it though. Some of the best flowers to use in your homemade soap recipes include:
Adding Dried Herbs to Soap Recipes
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.
Adding Fresh Herbs to Soap Recipes
Adding fresh plant material to soap recipes runs the risk of ick and mold in your finished bars. Although it’s much more of an issue if you’re trying to add large chunks or pieces than if the material is thin, small, or pureed. That’s because the smaller the pieces are, the more likely the soap’s high pH being able to penetrate the material and stop microbes from growing.
Many soapmakers will be familiar with pureeing some vegetables, such as pumpkin to make pumpkin soap, but you could also puree fresh herbs if you wish. Do keep in mind that green herbal puree in soap recipes will turn tan to brown over time, though. It may also add a fibrous texture that you may or may not want.
But what about chopped herbs? Some are relatively dry and can be added fresh without worry of the soap spoiling. Rosemary, lavender leaves, and thyme can all be chopped and added fresh at 1-2 tsp per pound of oils in your soap recipe. Do practice caution when adding wetter herbs in this manner though. Unless chopped very finely or pureed, herbs such as basil and parsley can leave your soap bars mucky and spoiled.
Using Dried Flowers in Soap Recipes
In your soapmaking journey you will likely come across the purist soapmaking police. I just made that term up but I think you’ll understand what I mean. Many soapmakers stick to a certain ethos (or lack of one) and will try to convince you against doing things like decorating soap with dried flowers. You’ll hear all kinds of things as to why, but the most common one is that botanical decorations turn brown. There is an element of truth to this but it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be. I’ve also found that the color transition doesn’t usually happen immediately if you follow certain precautions.
Because of the water that’s in wet soap, many botanicals can absorb a small amount of high pH moisture. The type of flower or herb, the amount of moisture absorbed, and the age of the soap bar, are the main factors in whether decorations will brown. In my experience, rose petals as topper decorations tend to darken but stay similar to their original color for many months. The same goes for lavender. So if you’d like to decorate your soap batches with dried flowers, go for it! Just be aware that the color of the botanicals will fade over time, so try to make your soap to be used within about six months. Fading is also the case with many natural soap colorants.
Avoiding Brown Flowers
Many dried flowers such as cornflowers, chamomile, and rose petals will keep their color (for several months at least) if sprinkled as decorations on the tops of soap. There are some tips that I’d like to share if you’d like to keep the original color of dried flowers lasting for longer. First of all, unless it’s calendula flowers, don’t mix the flowers into the soap batter. If this happens, then they can go brown in a flash, and it can be quite unfortunate. For example, the beautiful purple color of lavender buds quickly changes to a medium to dark brown. And what also is that color and shape? If you’ve ever had mice in your home, you’ll understand immediately.
For most dried flowers, that means leaving them for decorating the tops of bars and soap loaves. When you do decorate, use a light hand and try not to push the decorations into the batter. The deeper the petals or flowers are, the more moisture they can pick up from the wet soap. If your soap recipe stays relatively soft after you unmold and cut it, you could wait a few days before pushing larger dried flowers, such as dried rose buds, into bars. It’s not a fail safe, since some recipes can take longer to saponify than others, but many will finish saponifying after two days. Waiting until the pH drops a bit and the soap dries, can help preserve the color of botanicals.
Another tip I have is to not insulate the soap after you decorate the tops of loaves. I used to think that it was the heat from this action that could turn the flower petals brown. I’m now more convinced that it’s because insulating locks alkaline moisture into them. I’ve seen soap decorated with rose petals turn instantly rusty colored after being insulated.
Add Dried Flowers to Cured Soap
There are two other tricks I have for you to ensure that dried botanicals stay true to their original color. Add them after your soap has fully cured. There are a few ways to do this, including simply tying dried flowers on with a ribbon or lace. You could also scatter dried flowers (and herbs!) on soap bars while packaging them up in translucent, or semi-translucent paper.
There’s also a way to get dried flowers to stick to cured soap. Spray the soap with witch hazel or isopropyl alcohol and place the flower petals on top. Leave them to dry completely and you’ll find the flowers stuck on by the end. Not as firmly as they were embedded in the soap, but it works, especially with smaller or thinner flowers. Though I’ve not tried it yet, it just occurred to me that pressed flowers could be attached this way too. Now that could be a beautiful decoration for perfectly flat bars of soap.
Mixing Flowers into Soap Recipes
We’ve already gone over how mixing dried flowers into soap batter can turn the petals brown. The same can go for infusions (tea) made with flowers. Sadly, this is the case for most flowers including rose petals and lavender. An exception to the rule is calendula. It holds its sunny yellow or orange color indefinitely.
It, and a few other types of dried flowers, can be infused into a carrier oil to naturally color 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.
Using Fresh Flowers in Soap Recipes
You treat fresh flowers much the same as you would any wet plant material in soap — with caution. If you wish to use fresh flowers in soap, you should opt for pureeing them or using them in a water infusion. That way you can avoid any issues with spoilage, if not with discoloration. With a puree, it’s probably best add it after trace but an infusion can replace the water called for when making the lye solution. You can leave the petals in the infusion if you wish, too. Both the lye and the action of the immersion blender will pulverize the petals into small pieces.
Just keep in mind that most 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.
Grow Herbs and Flowers for Soap Making
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!
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. 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.
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?
Peppermint will eventually always turn golden brown in handmade soap. Nothing you can do about it!
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
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.
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
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 :)
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?
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.
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
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.
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!!
No need to wash your herbs if they are from your garden and you know them to be clean :)
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?
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.
I have put dried flowers in my glycerine soap but after few days it stained the soap by leaving colours. Plz help
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 :)
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?
Hi Seyed — you should begin with my free 4-part series on natural cold-process soapmaking. It will answer all of these questions and more.
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!
Check out my goat milk recipe for an easy way to use milk in soap. You could infuse the milk with rose petals if you wanted to before: https://lovelygreens.com/how-to-make-natural-goat-milk-soap/
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
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 :)
Thank you! I will have to get brave and have a go!! Will let you know the result!
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!
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.
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
Thank you for the kind comment Lillian :) Glad to have you on board the new Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/lovelygreens/
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.
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?
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.
Oh I want to grow more flowers (also for my bees!)
This is the missing link for me to use my community gard3n plot to its best. Thanks for 5he great information
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!