Making Plant Extracts - How to Choose the Right Solvent

Pictured: organic freeze dried strawberry 'chips' with no additives. I picked these up in the health section of my local supermarket.

But we're not going to be cooking or snacking. We're going to use these to make an extract.

Which solvent is best?

There are numerous choices:
  • oil
  • water
  • vinegar
  • ethanol
  • glycerine
  • a mix of some of the above

Which would you choose? Here's a little spoiler alert: there is more than one right answer.

The Answer: It Depends

Depending on what you want to make, you could in truth use any of the above. Mind you, an oil infusion is not going to smell like strawberries, because the fragrance molecules in strawberries are not oil-soluble.

Does this mean it would be wrong to use oil? Well, only if you specifically want the scent and color of strawberries, then you would in all likelihood be disappointed if you chose oil.

To capture the scent and color of strawberries, you could choose glycerine, water, ethanol or vinegar.

For any plant you want to use in an extract, you're probably going to get the best results if you start by doing a bit of research on the plant, its constituents, and the solubility of the parts you want to extract. This doesn't have to take weeks and weeks of study, but even if it does (sometimes researching something can be a path to all kinds of happy and enlightening discoveries), you'll be better equipped to move forward.

Want to jump in and just go for it? That's OK too, but if I may be so bold as to suggest doing a few side by side comparative batches in different solvents so you can get hands on experience at what works best for your purposes.

Even if you 'get it wrong' and end up with a batch or 2 that has to be binned, you'll have learned some cool stuff.

Strawberry Vinegar

I chose vinegar for the freeze dried strawberries you see above. I was curious to see if the strawberries could overpower (or at least decide to become good friends with) the vinegar scent.

A double charge was done (that's when the strained liquid is reused in a second infusion).

Guess what?

Strawberry and vinegar really seem to like each other! The strawberry fragrance is 'boosted' by the vinegar and has a really strong and sweet fragrance with only a slight vinegary undertone.

I'm super pleased with the color as well. Check the pic below for the end result.

This tincture has been tested in a few different products and is performing quite well. Initial impressions: this is definitely not the last batch of strawberry vinegar I will be making.

Now of course, I can't help wondering if the result would have been the same with fresh strawberries.

This can only be answered by doing more batches.

Guess what just made my ever-growing to-do list?

You Can Do This Too

If you're interested in an overview of different extract making possibilities and want to try a couple of different methods, check this bundle offer in the shop.

Do Tell

Have you ever tried infusing dried strawberries in oil? How did it turn out? Please leave a comment below.

More Stuff About Strawberries and Their Constituents

Strawberry constituents, Medical News Today
Flavinoids Overview, Journal of Nutritional Science

More Stuff about Vinegar for Skincare on this Blog

Which Vinegar is best for tinctures
How to Make a Pomegranate Vinegar Tincture
Quality checking vinegar tinctures: the meaning of cloudiness
What Vinegar has to do with Cosmetics 


Unknown said…
Hi Lisa,
What type of vinegar did you use with the dried strawberries?
White, apple, wine?
Thanks for your feedback,
LisaLise said…
Hi Maya — I prefer distilled white but you can use any vinegar you like 😊
Unknown said…
Hi Lisa,
Thanks for your post. I am interested in learning more about which constituents require which solvents - do you have any recommended reading (blogs, books) that list this type of information?
Many thanks,
Darlene said…
Hi Lisa,
How will you use this tincture?
Thank you,
LisaLise said…
HI @Justina - You're going to want to look at botanical books and visit a few herbalist sources for this kind of information. :)

Hi @Darlene - I've already tested this in a few skin and hair products so far and more testing is on my to do list. :)
Amanda Wells said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon said…
Hi Lisa does vinegar and ethanol over power the scent of the strawberries?
LisaLise said…
Hi Sharon - as I wrote in the post; the vinegar did not overpower the strawberries :) I haven’t used a mix of ethanol and vinegar so can’t answer that part
priyanka surana said…
Hello Lisa

What should I dissolve my dried flowers like rose and hibiscus?

LisaLise said…
Hi Priyanka -- that depends a little on what you want to capture from the flowers. Both of these do well in vinegar, ethanal and water. :)
Jessi said…
Hi Lise! I had a curious question about solvents, would pure distilled alcohol like vodka work as a solvent? It was something I stumbled on elsewhere and thought it could be a good cost effective alternative but after I found your work I wasn’t so sure. Thanks for your help and all your works!
LisaLise said…
Hi Jessi - you can use vodka but look for 80 % (many vodkas are between 37 - 40%).
Anonymous said…
Hi jesse, I was to make the smell, but not the color. I want to put it in my dryer or make a laundry soap. Thanks.