Alchemy is one of Skyrim’s three main crafting mechanics, alongside Smithing and Enchanting. Using an Alchemy Lab, you can combine a huge assortment of ingredients into usable potions and poisons. However, the system has one key difference to Smithing and Enchanting; players automatically know Smithing recipes, and Enchantments can be discovered by dismantling items with that enchantment. However, to discover Skyrim alchemy recipes, you need to actually find the recipe in the world. Otherwise, you must discover it through trial and error.
Skyrim Alchemy Ingredients
There are plenty of different potions and poisons scattered around Skyrim. However, you can create far more flexible and specific ones if you create your own, so you should take every opportunity to gather ingredients. You can discover the effects of Skyrim alchemy ingredients by eating them, reading written recipes, or making a potion with them. Note that you can make your alchemical tastebuds more efficient with certain Perks. The Green Thumb perk makes ingredient-collecting much more efficient, but unfortunately, you won’t be able to get it straight away; it’s one of the higher-tier Skyrim Alchemy Perks.
Note that certain alchemical vendors around the world will actually allow you to take ingredients for free from their stores if you complete a particular quest for them; these free ingredients are refreshed after around 10 days in-game. If you want a reliable source of a particular ingredient, the best thing to do is to acquire a home. Then, you can plant and harvest your own supply.
Unfortunately, the easiest way to acquire ingredients in Skyrim is actually based on a glitch. If you buy from a merchant, save the game, then kill that merchant and reload the save; their inventory and gold will be restocked. If you don’t want to rely on a glitch, then vendors typically take 48 hours to restock normally.
The Skyrim Alchemy Formula
When a player creates a potion, the effects of the potion are determined by a particular complex formula. That formula takes the base ingredient effects and multiplies it by a number determined by a variety of effects; the player’s rank in the Alchemy skill, their Alchemist, Benefactor, Physician, and Poisoner Perk bonuses, the enchantments on any items they are wearing, and then any miscellaneous bonuses. To make the best potions, you should put as many ranks as possible in the relevant Perks, increase the Alchemy skill, and if you can; create a set of gear which boosts Alchemy as much as possible. If your Enchantment skill isn’t high; the dragon priest mask Krosis offers a 20% bonus to created potions, making it one of the best alchemy items in Skyrim.
Note that Bosmer, Bretons, Dunmer, and Khajiit all start with a +5 bonus to the Alchemy skill. If you want to train it quickly; look for Lami in Morthal, Arcadia in Whiterun, Milore Ienth in Raven Rock, or Babette in the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary. These individuals can all train the Alchemy skill. You can also get a +1 free bonus to Alchemy for completing the quests Dungeon Delving (Caves), Finn’s Flute, and Rare Gifts. Plus, of course, you can get a +5 bonus when you read the Oghma Infinium. The skill books De Rerum Dirennis, A Game at Dinner, Herbalist’s Guide to Skyrim, Mannimarco King of Worms, and Song of the Alchemists all boost the Alchemy skill as well.