Fragrant, soothing, all-natural soap can make a facial or a shower feel like a trip to the spa. Why do without it? Hand-milled herbal soap is easy and fun to make, and the creative possibilities are almost endless. Dozens of herbs are fragrant, gentle on your skin, and have antimicrobial powers — use your imagination to combine essential oils, herbal flowers, and other ingredients for fragrance and beauty. Lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and citrus-scented herbal soaps are just the beginning.
Hand-milled soap (also called “rebatched soap”) is especially easy to make because you start with premade, unscented soap — no lye required. As you become more comfortable with the process of making hand-milled soap, you might want to try making soap from scratch using freshly harvested and dried herbs.
Basic Soap-Making Technique
You can use this basic method for making many other kinds of herbal soaps. Calendula, used in this recipe, has cleansing and anti-inflammatory properties and is a favorite for treating skin problems. For gift giving, wrap several soaps in a washcloth and tie with a ribbon.
½ cup dried calendula petals, divided
16 ounces unscented castile bar soap, grated
¼ cup finely ground rolled oats
1 teaspoon calendula essential oil
1. To give this soap a pale yellow color, bring 1½ cups of water to a boil in a small pot over high heat, then infuse ¼ cup of the calendula petals in the hot water. Remove from the heat and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature. Strain, discard the petals, and reserve the liquid.
2. In a heavy pot over low heat, combine the grated soap and the calendula water. Slowly heat the mixture, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Be sure the soap does not boil or stick to the bottom of the pot. It will take about 30 minutes for the soap to melt completely.
3. When the soap has completely melted and blended with the liquid, stir in the remaining ¼ cup of calendula petals and the oatmeal. The mix should have the consistency of a thick dough. Turn off the heat and stir in the essential oil. Mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides.
4. Make a test ball. Scoop out a small amount of the soap and put it on a plate to cool. When you are able to hold it, use your hand to squeeze the soap into a ball. If it is too sticky to roll into a ball, you’ll need to add a bit more oatmeal to the pot; if it won’t hold together, you’ll need more water. Return the soap to the pot, place the pot over low heat, and adjust as needed, until the squeeze test shows it’s reached the right consistency.
5. Shape the soap. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, shape the soap into 2½-inch-diameter balls by rolling it firmly between the palms of your hands.
6. Line a tray with waxed paper, place the soap balls on the tray, and cure the soap for 3 to 6 weeks. Turn the balls every few days so that they dry evenly. The longer the curing period, the longer the soap will last when you use it. When the soaps have finished curing, they’re ready to use — or to give as gifts.
Pamper yourself and your family with hand-milled soaps made with skin-soothing herbs.
Nature’s Body Wash
Some plants contain compounds known as saponins — these are a type of glycoside that can be irritating or even toxic if ingested, but which form a soapy froth when shaken in water. Long ago, people recognized the value of this froth for cleaning their bodies as well as objects they used, such as clothing or cooking implements.
Some Native American people used the fresh or dried flowers and fruits of species in the genus Ceonanthus, a group of small trees and shrubs in the buckthorn family, for washing and as a detergent. Another important cleaning plant in North America was the genus Yucca, the root of which was collected and pounded for use in bathing, shampooing, and washing clothes. In Europe, soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), so named for its use for washing, was a common cleanser. A diluted extract of soapwort root, produced by boiling it in water, was used for cleaning delicate textiles.
My favorite saponin-rich plant is the shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet), found in many areas of the tropics. I first saw it on Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia, where it is called oanginpele. People squeeze the slimy sap from the shiny red inflorescences and rub it into their hair as a shampoo and conditioner, which is then washed out with water. It’s easy to use and produces immediate results!
Zesty Peppermint Rosemary Soap
Wake up to the stimulating scents of peppermint and rosemary! Both are also excellent cleansers with antiseptic properties. And because both are astringent, this recipe is especially good for oily skin.
16 ounces unscented castile bar soap, grated
¼ cup dried rosemary leaves
¼ cup dried peppermint leaves
1 teaspoon peppermint essential oil
In a heavy pot over low heat, combine the grated soap with 1½ cups of water. Melt the soap, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. After about 30 minutes, when the soap has completely melted to a uniform consistency, stir in the rosemary and peppermint. Turn off the heat and stir in the oil. Finish by following steps 4 through 6 of “Basic Soap-Making Technique”.