While I may not be as fervent in the belief that the world as we know it is coming to an end, I am interested in topics along the self-sufficiency and survival route. As such, I often think about how much we rely on outside sources for everyday goods.
One of the things I like making myself is cold-process soap. The whole process fascinates me since it's a mixture of chemistry and craft. But the way I know how to make it relies not only on hard to find oils (coconut oils, olive oils, etc.) but also on equally hard to find lye. It's not too hard to imagine using animal fats if access to other types of oils becomes scarce, but what about the lye? There are two options to overcome this: using soapy plants or making lye from ashes.
First off, let me state that lye is not something to work with lightly and can be quite dangerous as well as corrosive. So, if you have access to soapy plants, that's probably your easiest bet to getting around to staying clean without bars of commercial or even handmade soap. So, what plants can you use that are naturally "soapy"?
There are a number of plants that are high in saponin, or the component that makes them good cleansers. Many grow in California or in arid areas, but there is one that grows throughout the U.S. and can be grown in most climates.
The plant I'm referring to is Bouncing Bet, otherwise known as soapwort or Saponaria officinalis. It's a very pretty, perennial plant and is worth planting for it's beauty as well as to have on hand, just in case. Plus, the flowers smell like cloves, if that's something that appeals to you.
Once established, the plant can be invasive, so you'll want to keep an eye on it. Basically, you harvest soapwort in the late summer to fall to be used fresh or dried for later "soapmaking".
You can make a liquid soap out of the whole plant, particularly the root, which is high in saponins. You just add 1/2 cup of fresh leaves and/or root (or 1/4 cup dried) to 4 cups of water (preferably distilled or rain water) and simmer until it becomes sudsy, about 20 minutes.
Add some essential oils to the cooled, strained liquid soap and store in one of those foaming pump dispensers for a very gentle home-grown soap. The shelf life for this mixture is about 1 week. You can also use this as a mild shampoo, but be careful about getting it in your eyes as it can be irritating.
Soapwort has been used historically as a mild skin cleanser as well as a gentle cleanser for cleaning wool, tapestries and paintings. It is poisonous, so do not ingest.