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.

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