Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How soap works

It almost is magic that humans figured out thousands of years ago to mix ash from their fires with oils from their animals to get an agent that could clean so well.

Although the idea of lye in soap gives some people pause, the lye is completely nutrilized in properly made soap, leaving the fat the moisturize your skin.

In my experience, the most ancient of chemical combinations (lye with solid and liquid fats) create the most cleansing soaps.  The current glycerine based chemical soaps do not have the same properties of bonding with the oil based particles.  This explains it pretty well:

How does Soap Work?

Nearly all compounds fall into one of two categories: hydrophilic ('water-loving') and hydrophobic ('water-hating'). Water and anything that will mix with water are hydrophilic. Oil and anything that will mix with oil are hydrophobic. When water and oil are mixed they separate. Hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds just don't mix.

The cleansing action of soap is determined by its polar and non-polar structures in conjunction with an application of solubility principles. The long hydrocarbon chain is non-polar and hydrophobic (repelled by water). The "salt" end of the soap molecule is ionic and hydrophilic (water soluble).

When grease or oil (non-polar hydrocarbons) are mixed with a soap-water solution, the soap molecules work as a bridge between polar water molecules and non-polar oil molecules. Since soap molecules have both properties of non-polar and polar molecules the soap can act as an emulsifier. An emulsifier is capable of dispersing one liquid into another immiscible liquid. This means that while oil (which attracts dirt) doesn't naturally mix with water, soap can suspend oil/dirt in such a way that it can be removed. The soap will form micelles (see below) and trap the fats within the micelle. Since the micelle is soluble in water, it can easily be washed away.

from the website: Edinformatics.com

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soap making is full swing

After combining all the ingredients (I use an electronic scale to measure everything to make sure the proportions are exact), stirring until trace is achieved (a soft pudding consistency) I pour the soap into a mold.  It cures for two days, then this happens:

I am peeling the paper lining to the mold off of the soft soap.
Then slicing the bar.  I love this stage, the soap is still soft enough to mold just a bit.

After two months (!) of curing, all the water is removed, and the hard bar is ready to use.  Since our climate is so very dry here, the cured soap is magically hard -- and therefore it lasts such a long time.
If you keep it well drained after every use, it can last 6 months or more.

These batches will be in my Etsy shop starting November 1st.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Verbena Hastata vs. Verbena Officianalis

I am a vervain lover.

I discovered it's uses 30 years ago while an exchange student in the South of France. Every cafe there would serve an Infusion De Verveine when asked, and I asked often.
The medicinal effects were undeniable -- it gave me a relaxed gentle feeling, not sleepy at all, just pleasant.  It also helped my digestion tremendously.
No wonder this plant has been used since ancient times, both Egyptians and Greeks noted it in their writings. The Druids used it, as well as Dr. Bach, who included it in his 38 original Bach Flower Remedies.

But we have a problem, currently, with the labeling of Vervain. There is a plant that is native to the Old World, and that is Verbena Officianalis, and there is a similar cousin from the new world, Verbena Hastata. Both of them are often labeled Vervain.

I have tried both as teas, and the Hastata plant does not have the same medicinal qualities or flavor as the Officianalis plant. Sadly, here in the US, there is no distinction between them.

Another layer of confusion is sometimes Vervain is mislabeled as Lemon Verbena. My goal is to correct this misinformation.

If you want to try some soap, this can be your first introduction to Verbena Officianalis, or True Vervain. I will be planting a crop of Vervain for the 2014-2015 season, and if the harvest is enough, I will be able to offer tea leaves in early Summer of 2015.  Let's hope our Colorado High Mountain Climate and sunny Summers will produce abundance of this magical plant.

"To those interested in magic and religion, there is no herb in the garden more worthy of attention, for this simple plant without fragrance, without an outer look of power, without a flower of significance, was singled out from among all other plants and herbs as the most sacred of the growing things of earth between the Pillars of Hercules and the roots of the Caucasus." 
--Henry Beston, 1935

Friday, September 12, 2014

How I came to be a soap maker.

I recently learned (reading wikipedia about soap making) that Marseilles, starting in the 15th Century, was the leading soap manufacturer for all of France.
This makes sense to me, because back in 1982, when I was an exchange student in Aix-en-Provence, I discovered that the big fat bars of unscented Marseilles soap, sold in the farmer's market, was the best thing I'd ever used on my skin.

Here is how it happened:

My story starts, like many, once upon a time in a land far away. I was an exchange student in France, living in Provence, loving the local market produce, the bread, the shops, the way of life that included slow meals and lots of walking. I lived with a family with 6 boys (not so strange for me since I have 3 brothers) and I got to immerse myself in the language and culture, and endure some amount of daily challenge. One challenge was the food - I always have to watch what I eat very carefully, and I just could not resist the bread. There is just nothing in the world like a crisp crunchy French Baguette.

Here I must digress a bit - I have Celiac disease, allergy to wheat gluten. At that time, I did not know it. So here I was, a stranger in a strange land, eating what was poison to my body unknowingly.

So we come to skin. 

Celiac disease often expresses itself in skin problems. I could not get rid of persistent itchy rashes, Wandering in the market in Aix-en-Provence, I found wonderful large blocks of "Marseilles" soap - which by French law must be a minimum of 72% vegetable oils and have no fragrance or color. These bars are made with ancient recipes, cooked for days, and poured directly into molds in the concrete floors, before being lifted and and chopped into chunky bars.  My skin LOVED this pure, natural soap. I bought what I thought was a huge supply when I left (3 large chunky bars or so) but never have found it here in the U.S.

Another amazing health-saving product I discovered while in Aix-en-Provence was Vervain. Even though I am a true coffee addict, I found a digestive infusion/tea that was served in all the cafes was very helpful for my symptoms. I replaced my coffee addiction with the vervain addiction, and it soothed my Celiac symptoms and was very helpful.

Vervain is a member of the Verbena family that is grown in the Mediterranean, used by Druids and Romans as a sacred herb, and one of the original Bach Flower remedies. Vervain is closely related to the new world Lemon Verbena, but the latin names are different and the healing properties of the plants are slightly different. Vervain was another product I never could find here in the states. Our life paths have a funny magical sort of way of unfolding, and I found myself in very dry Colorado 30 years later with a greenhouse, a burning desire to grow Vervain, and the urge to finally make myself some soap that my skin would love. My experiments resulted in these bars. Super moisturizing, full of olive oils and shea butter, no fragrance or dye or any drying chemical additives which commercial soap is made of,  I finally can hold that ancient wisdom of Provence that heals right in my hand in a bar of soap.

Starting in November - look for this year's batch in my ETSY shop.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What can verveine do for you?

Verveine has been used since Egyptian times for a variety of symptoms, and in modern South of France, almost every traditional cafe offers une infusion de verveine as a relaxing drink.

From http://www.herbs-info.com/vervain.html:

"Brewed as a mild tisane via infusion (in this case, dried leaves are employed), it makes for a perfect relaxing drink as well as a general tonic said to strengthen the immune system. Despite having a somewhat inferior aroma to its relative lemon verbena, vervain possesses some, if not all of the medicinal properties of the former. When used in combination with mint or dill, it makes for a perfect pick-me-up, especially during, and after suffering from a bout of flu. Its expectorant properties make it useful for individuals who experience whooping or wheezing coughs, while moderate consumption of vervain tisanes help to settle the stomach and soothe frayed or overstressed nerves."

English spelling is typically vervain, but I choose the French way of spelling: verveine.
Either way is grammatically correct.

Here you can see the verveine bits added to the soap for the healing properties, the fragrance, and the scrubby-dubby exfoliation action:

Starting in November, I will have soap from this year's batch available in my Etsy Shop.

Lemon Verveine Soap for the holidays

I have started production for the holidays of my lemon verveine soap.
The studio is now filled with the fragrance of verveine, lemon, olive and avocado oils, and shea butter.
As I test each batch, I wash my hands with the sample end, and my hands are becoming magically soft and healthy with the rich shea butter-infused soap.  In this dry Colorado climate, moisturizing is so essential, this soap does it best for me.

Someone told me it looks good enough to eat!
I agree:

This soap will be available in my Etsy Shop starting in November.