Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Survival series: making soap without lye

Peak Oil CampWhile 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.

Bouncing Bet, aka soapwortThe 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.

21 comments:

sherrieg said...

I make soap regularly, and have had all of the same thoughts about making it without lye. So I planted some soapwort in my kitchen garden last summer, and can't wait to try it out this fall. Also, Soap Nuts (http://www.laundrytree.com/) contain the same plant-based saponins, and are used for washing laundry. I haven't tried them, but I'm curious!

KristaR said...

Soap Nuts work great for laundry. I have used this kind for about a year: http://www.ecoideas.ca/product_environmental_soapnuts.htm

I use about 9 nuts each load - the same 9 nine nuts can be used twice. Once used, I keep them until I have a few handfuls and then boil them in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes, let steep another 20 and then strain and use as dishsoap. I haven't used it on my hair yet but I hear it can also be used as shampoo.

(In)Disposable said...

Great post! I will keep this in mind when it comes time for planting this year.

jewishfarmer said...

I tried making soap out of bouncing bet a couple of years ago, and didn't find that it got things real clean - I ended up washing them several times. It sudsed nicely, but the cleaning power seemed low.

I have meant to make another batch and add a little borax or something to maybe increase the cleansing power, but haven't tried it. May also have been my plants - it was a very wet year, and lots of water can dilute the properties of many herbs - I don't know if that applies to soapwort, but could be.

Sharon

Hippie Dippy Designs said...

Great post! That is so awesome that soap can be made without dye. We love your blog. = )

Theresa said...

Thanks for this handy tip, Crunchy. I've been leery of working with lye.

I've tried the soapnuts and they seemed to work very well, but were very non-local so I stopped buying them. Growing this plant myself could be just the ticket!

thetinfoilhatsociety.com said...

Lye is easy to make. Here's how: Basically we mix ashes with water. Run it through straw for filtering and then boil this down until an egg floats in it. We melt our fats. Mix a cup of the concentrated lye solution with 3 cups of cold rain water and mix this with the fats (10 cups). We stir until the mixture gets thick (to trace) and pour it in a mold.

This is via Linda from forum I subscribe to, but it is practice tested. The next time I make soap I plan to use this method as my neighbor has a woodstove and I have access to all the ash I will ever need.

--Susan

Sharlene said...

I learned something new today. I had no idea you could make soap fro plants. It makes alot of sense. I just never really thought about it....

Kristijoy said...

If you need to though, you can make your own lye: http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_ashlye.html
Unless you run out of plants to burn, this should keep you in bronw soap as long as you need.
It's also in Foxfire 1, I think.

mudnessa said...

Well if this is not good timing I don't know what is, I was looking into soap making last night and pretty much said never mind because I did not want to work with lye. Thanks for the info.

curiousalexa said...

A-ha! I've been looking for a laundry detergent alternative. I ordered a sample of the soap nuts, and if that works, I'll probably just buy a kilo bag of them.

http://www.maggiespureland.com/shop.html

Farmer's Daughter said...

I'll file this away in my brain. If it only keeps a week, I can't commit to making it all the time. Honestly, we don't use that much hand soap...

Terraphany said...

Wow, that's fascinating. *Adds soapwort to garden wishlist*

Robj98168 said...

Pffffft! There you go again trying to be all Little Home on the prairie.Go take a bath in Walnut Creek. And watch out for the crawdaddys. Well-Ma Ingalls is hawking stuff on TV for older folks. Just saw the commercial- It was a shick to s3ee that she got... more mature. I wouldn't have recognised here

Crunchy Chicken said...

Farmer's Daughter - You can add a preservative to the solution make it last longer than a week.

Regarding the soap nuts - I don't know where they are grown, but they don't seem all that worthwhile in the scenario where you would bother with the soapwort, unless you can grow the tree in your area.

Robj98168 said...

I bought some soap nuts last year - wasn't impressed with the washing power myself... but then I didn't try them for hand soap or bath soap- I bought them online and in the ad if you found a hard marble like nut in your soap nuts you were lucky because that was a seed so I am assuming you could probably plant a tree. It is a Chinese Soapberry tree

Robj98168 said...

Not to be a comment whore, but I found a site that has recipes for using soapnuts- making your own shampoo and shaving cream, hand soap liqiud laundry soap from soapnuts

Tara said...

We just put in a wood stove and were contemplating what to do with all the ash we generate. Looks like we'll probably make some lye.

We are not afraid. :)

iaminchennai said...

My mom always used to wash my hair with an extract of soapnuts. We call them soap nuts have to get a botanical name from dad :-)
The remaining pulp was used to clean brassware.
The nuts can be dried and made into powder. its a very good exfoliant when used for skin. ofcourse it stings the eyes very badly.
By the way i am from India.. so things might be different.

Jason said...

A common soapy plant is young birch leaves. You can steep young birch leaves which contain saponin in hot water. I put the leaves in a plastic bag and pour in hot water, shake the bag and you'll see soapy bubbles forming. Birch leaf tea has a pleasant fresh smell and leaves you squeaky clean. Also birch can be found just about anywhere, this is one of many uses of the birch tree.

vermont bookworm said...

Newbie here, great website!! I'd love to know where I can buy soapwort or soap nut seeds.

LinkWithin