by erin stewart -1059

Behind the Scenes of Making a New Herbal Product: Two Approaches to Recipe Development

When I sit down to formulate a new product, whether it be for my own apothecary or for the blog or magazine, I tend to approach new recipes one of two ways. I either sit down to brainstorm with an issue that I’d like to address in mind or a plant that I’d like to work with in mind. I have some recipe writing to do this week, so I thought I’d give you a bit of a behind the scenes glimpse at my process.

Approach One: Blending with a Plant in Mind

Most of the time when I sit down to develop a recipe that is centered around a plant, it’s because that plant is currently at peak harvest season in my garden or in the wild areas around me.
Examples: violets and dandelions blooming abundantly in early spring or my peppermint and tulsi plants over-achieving in summertime.

Things I Consider When Blending with a Plant in Mind

  • Is the plant (or plant part) edible or is it better suited to topical blends?
  • Do I want to make something for internal use or for use on the skin? Which application best suits the abilities of the plant?
  • What are the plant’s dominant constituents and what kind of therapeutic benefits do they bring to the table?
  • What does the plant taste like? Will it need to be paired with mild-flavored or sweet-flavored herbs to make it more palatable for internal use?
  • How has the plant traditionally been used?
  • Does the plant shine on its own or will it be more effective when paired with a complementary plant?
  • How do I think the finished product will best be used? What effect(s) do I think it will have on body or mind?
  • Is there anything I’d like to experiment with when it comes to using this plant?

Once I’ve thought about these things, I’ll harvest the plant and process it right away. If I’m focusing on getting to know the plant better by using it many ways, I might toss some edible leaves into my salad, brew a few leaves into a fresh tea, and prepare a small-batch vinegar infusion or tincture before drying a portion of my harvest for later use in infused oils, salves and teas.

If I’ve developed a specific idea after brainstorming, I’ll process the herb as needed to prepare the recipe I’ve chosen to make. Once I’ve made the recipe, I’ll test the product for a few weeks to see if it works the way I thought it would and adjust ingredients as needed until the recipe is perfect. Sometimes I’ll have friends or family test the recipe alongside me and journal their feedback.

Approach Two: Blending with an End Goal in Mind

Sometimes I sit down knowing exactly what I want to make and why, but haven’t yet figured out which ingredients I want to use. I might sit down knowing that I need to create something that will be effective when I burn myself in the kitchen or get a splinter in the garden, for example. Or I might know that I want to make a tea blend that will help me to feel more relaxed when I’m feeling stressed.

Things I Consider When Blending with an End Goal in Mind

  • What kind of application do I want to focus on? i.e. tea, salve, vinegar infusion, tincture, etc.
  • What is the purpose of the blend? i.e. Do I want it to help stop bleeding? Do I want it to soothe irritated skin? Do I want it to taste warm and spicy and make everything feel autumn-cozy?
  • Which herbs or spices will help me to achieve my goal? Are there herbs that are especially suited for helping to stop bleeding? Herbs that are renowned for their ability to rejuvenate the skin? Spices that will give me just the flavor I’m looking for?
  • Are there other herbs that will complement or balance out the main herb(s) that I know I want to use?
  • Are there carrier oils that will contribute synergistically to the purpose of the blend?
  • Are there essential oils that could effectively enhance the purpose of the blend?
  • How do I think my finished blend will work to accomplish the purpose of the blend?

All of the answers to these questions help me to focus in on what I’d like to make and what I’d like to include in it. I’ll write a recipe, make an initial batch, then test the product to see if it works the way I hoped it would or if I need to make further changes. Sometimes a ratio is a bit off and needs to be adjusted or another herb comes to mind that needs to be added to the second test batch.

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Testing and Perfecting the Recipe

Whichever approach I’ve used to develop my recipe, I’ve found that friends and family members who are willing to think objectively and be honest with their feedback can be really helpful product testers. I’ll provide a product sample with specific instructions for use in exchange for honest feedback after a week or two of using the product (longer, if necessary) and wait to hear back about whether the product was effective for my testers. At that point, I can adjust the recipe as needed and move on to round two of testing.

Once I’ve settled on a formula that is effective, I’ll name my product and add the recipe to my recipe book. I’ll spend more time with it over the next few months to see if the recipe is a keeper or if I want to make any more changes to the blend and I might even give a few more samples to testers who are willing to provide me with thorough feedback. Testing the product with a wide variety of people helps me to determine how effective it is and if it’s more effective with certain people than others.

If the formula turns out to be a winner, I’ll share it with you or save it for a bigger project that I’m working on and if it ends up not being as effective for others as I thought it was, I’ll scrap it, adjust it, or go back to the drawing board.

How about you? What does your recipe development process usually look like? Do you tend to lean toward one of these approaches more than the other?

Much love,

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Erin Stewart is an herbalist, NAHA certified aromatherapist, organic gardener and urban homesteader. She grows over 150 kinds of aromatic and medicinal plants for her own apothecary and distills essential oils and hydrosols in her PNW garden. Erin is the founder of Floranella and of AromaCulture’s herbalism + aromatherapy magazine.

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2 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes of Making a New Herbal Product: Two Approaches to Recipe Development”

  1. I tend to lean towards the end goal of achieving a certain effect for the skin when I formulate a product, in other words to treat a skin issue, be it treating dehydration, eczema, dandruff etc. Sometimes I do focus on a plant and find ways in which I could use it therapeutically.

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