During the holidays, I went searching to find an easy method for making herbal soaps that I could personalize to my preference in fragrance, size, and shape. I found this bit of soap-making history and method in The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices by Sarah Garland:
"The first 'soaps' were made from lye, a strong alkaline solution that often had a base of ash and animal fats, or from the roots and leaves of plants containing saponin, such as soapwort. Later the fine castile soap, with an olive-oil base, was manufactured in Spain exported all over Europe. In 16th-century Britain 'wash balls' were used in most households for cleansing the face and hands, made from shavings of castile soap, mixed herbs oils and distilled waters, spices, aromatics and a wide variety of other ingredients such as pounded almonds, raisins, brown breadcrumbs and honey. Try making a modern version as suggested below..."
HERBAL WASH BALLS
2 Bars glycerine or unscented soap, GRATED (I used a vegetable grater). 1 oz. finely chopped herbs (I used a coffee grinder to chop the herbs & oatmeal). 1 tablespoon of fine oatmeal or bran. A few drops of essential oil. 20 to 24 inches of rope (Tie end together in a knot)
Melt the ingredients gently over hot water in a double boiler. (I added 4 tablespoons of water to facilitate the melting. Pour into molds lined with waxed paper or mold into balls around the knot on a rope. When the soap is set, unfold and wrap in fresh waxed paper. Leave in a cool, dry cupboard for at least a fortnight to mature.
I used the hot water from the boiler to dissolve the soap residue from the pan. Then saved the liquid from the pan for hand soap- it softens better than store brands. I added my favorite essential oil (Patchouli) to personalize the soap and used Kirk's Original Coco Castile Sop for the base. Best of all, the house smells heavenly after whipping up a batch and I didn't have to work hard to get the benefits of a personalized beauty product.
These handmade rope soaps are handy around the potting shed and outdoor faucets. They're the perfect gift for gardeners and herbalists. In the shower these soaps conveniently hang from the faucet and tend to dry quickly thereby avoiding mess and waste.
One of the secrets to living well is the ability to find avenues of creativity that you enjoy.