Herbs have a long tradition in the making of soaps and tonics as people were always trying to find ways to eliminate body odors and clean the skin of dirt. You cannot imagine the incredible time and effort it took to clean, fluff and maintain the huge layered and ruffled dresses, the large pontoon pants and balloon sleeved shirts. In may Castles throughout Europe it took a legion of handmaidens to wash, iron, repair and “fluff” the clothing of the period. Herbs were used for almost everything, much as they are today. They just didn’t come in a colored box with a brand name and lot of extra chemicals to extend shelf life.
If you are interested in making soaps, including Herbal soaps, I have some recipes here that will help you do that rather simply. I will give you a standard method of making basic soap and then toss in a few Herbal soap recipes for fun. Some of the more successful Herbal Soap manufacturers started as a cottage industry in someone’s kitchen. Perhaps you could do the same.
Basic Soap Recipe:
16 oz cold water
6 oz lye
16 oz olive oil
8 oz coconut oil
17½ oz vegetable shortening
Plastic Eyeglasses or Goggles
Fresh Herbs and / or Essential Oils of your choice
1. Put on protective glasses and gloves before making Soap this way. It can be very dangerous so follow instructions closely and carefully. To begin, mix the water and lye in a large glass, steel or plastic container that holds up to 32 ounces. Use only hard or thick plastic. Lye will melt the thin stuff. Once the lye and water are combined, the water gets very hot-more than 200 F. Do not put your finger in it.
2. Get a stainless steel, glass or enamel pot that will hold up to 2 gallons. Heat the oil and shortening together in this pot to 95 to 105F (this will take about 35 minutes).
3. Constantly check the temperatures of both mixtures in both pots. They should reach 95 to 105F at the same time. If necessary, cool the lye or oil by placing the container in a pan of cold water to lower the temperature to match the other pot. This is really tricky and I’ve messed it up myself several times so go slow and pay attention. Both pots must be around 100 degrees AT THE SAME TIME.
4. Once both mixtures are between 95 and 105 degrees, add the lye mix to the oil mix, stirring constantly.
5. Once the soap starts to thicken up (dragging a spoon through it produces an indentation that remains for seconds) add plant materials and/or essential oils as desired. It can take anywhere from a mere 10 minutes up to a full hour to get this thick. And make sure that the mixture holds the indentation for a few seconds and doesn’t just fade out. Once this is true, add the oils or herbs.
6. Pour the soap into molds and place the tops on. You should pour quickly before the soap mix is too thick to pour smoothly. If it gets lumpy, pat it down with a spoon until smooth. Then, cover the molds with blankets for 24 hours. Once the soap has hardened, it will pop out of the molds. It should be really easy. If it’s not, it’s not done. If it never gets hard enough then you have made an error and will have to start over! When you have hard bars that fall out of the molds, you will still have to air-dry them on a baking rack for 3 to 4 weeks.
This recipe should make about 24 bars.
Note: Sometimes a white powder forms on the soap while it is drying. You can scrape this off. If the soap doesn’t harden, reheat the mixture to 140F, then stir while it cools. It should harden. Some soap batches don’t seem to saponify properly. For this problem let the soap dry for four weeks, then mold the mixture into soap balls. Wear gloves while molding the soap.
And here are some variations on this recipe, made with special Herbs and in special shapes.
Herbal Wash Ball
2 bars of Glycerine or unscented Soap
1 oz finely chopped Herbs of your choice
a few drops of your favorite Essential Oil
1 tbsp fine Oatmeal or Bran
Grate the Soap with the cheese grater. Place the soap and all the other ingredients over hot water in the Double Boiler. When liquid, pour quickly into wax paper and wrap up in a ball. You may also pour this mixture into molds if you like.
Sweet Marjoram Soap
1 oz fresh or 1/2 oz dried Marjoram
1/3 cup of Boiling Water
2 tsp Caustic Soda
1 cup Almond Oil
1 oz Coconut Oil
1 tbsp Vegetable Glycerin
1 tsp fine Oatmeal
Plastic Soap Molds
Waxed Paper or Plastic Wrap
Non aluminum Pan
Line the Soap Molds with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Infuse the Marjoram in boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain into the glass bowl.
When slightly cooled, stir in the Caustic Soda with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Leave this until lukewarm.
Pour the Oils and Vegetable Glycerin into the non aluminum pan and gently warm over low heat to dissolve. Once warmed, carefully pour Oils and Glycerine into the bowl. Stir until the mixture thickens. This may take 20 minutes.
Stir in the Oatmeal.
Now pour the mixture into the plastic Soap Molds, cover with a thick cloth and leave in a warm place for 2 days or until firmly set. Remove the soaps from the Mold once they are firm. Wrap in wax paper if you like or just set out for use.
Lemon and Rosemary Wash Balls
5 oz bar of Castille Soap, grated
3 tbsp Lemon Juice
Large handful of Calendula Flowers
2 cups Boiling Water
1 tbsp Rosemary Leaves, pulverized
1 tsp of dried, powdered Lemon Peel
6 drops Essential Oil of Lemon
4 drops of Essential Oil of Rosemary
Put the Calendula flowers in the glass bowl and pour over the boiling water. Allow to infuse for 2 hours, until completely cool. Strain out the Flowers and set the liquid aside.
Place the grated soap, lemon juice and 4 tbsp Calendula infusion into the small saucepan and heat gently until the soap has melted, stirring with the wooden spoon.
Leave the mix to cool for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to touch, and then knead with your hands to make a smooth paste. Add the Rosemary leaves, Lemon peel and the oils. Knead some more until everything is well mixed into the paste.
Leave the paste for 10 minutes, until it has begun to dry and is malleable. Form into approximately 6 plum-sized balls. Leave in a warm place for 2 more hours, covered with a towel or plastic wrap so the outside does not crack.
After 2 hours, remove the towel and moisten your hands in the remaining Calendula infusion and smooth over the balls until shiny.
Cover with towel again and return them to a warm place to dry (approximately one day). Wrap in tissue paper or Wax Paper and store in a warm, dry place for a month before using.
Lavender Bubble Bath
1 bunch of freshly picked Lavender stalks
Clean, wide-necked Jar with Screw Lid
1 large bottle of Organic Shampoo
5 drops of Lavender Oil
Small, decorative Glass Bottle with Stopper or Cork
Place the fresh Lavender stalks downward into the wide-necked Jar. If the stalks are longer than the jar, cut them down to level with the top. Add the Shampoo and the Lavender Oil.
Screw the Lid onto the bottle and place it on a sunny windowsill. Leave in the sunlight for 2-3 weeks, checking the Glass Jar from time to time to make sure it is not too hot to touch. If it gets this hot, move it to a spot with a few hours of shade during the day. Shake the Jar often.
After 2-3 weeks, strain out the liquid and re-bottle it in the decorative glass bottle with Stopper. Stop it and keep it stored in a cool dark place for occasional use. Add 1 tsp at a time to the bath.