Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Botanical soap ingredients

I talk a lot about bees and the hive products we use in our soap, but I do also get questions about the botanicals. One of the reasons I got into beekeeping (and thus soap making) in the first place was because of a natural progression from gardening, and I still spend time in my garden every day. I used to be a professional gardener, and became a Master Gardener for my county in 2007.

Whenever possible, the botanicals in Soapzilla soap are home-grown in my own garden. It's kind of the same reasoning as using my own beeswax: if I plant and tend the garden, I can be sure that the plants are totally chemical-free and of good quality. You hear so many terrible things about every kind of ingredient under the sun these days, that it just seems prudent to use what you produce yourself when you can. Plus, it's really satisfying, and I love working in the garden anyway.

So without further ado, here are some of the ways we use home-grown botanicals in our products:

The fig tree, just starting to leaf out. 
Figs! Our figs are white Marseilles figs (as best we can determine; the tree is probably older than we are) and are very sweet, which adds sugar to the soap, increasing lather. We put the figs in a food processor and use them in cold-process soap. Fruit in general makes for an interesting texture, but figs are great because the seeds are a great, gentle exfoliant. The most popular soap using this ingredient is Brown Sugar Fig, which we generally make in autumn.

Strawberries have a similar effect, but with fewer seeds and lower sugar content. But they really have a unique effect on the texture of the soap.

Roses are my first gardening love. The first plant I learned to take care of was a red rosebush I found growing in my jungly backyard when I bought my house over ten years ago. Since then I've learned to prune and fertilize (no chemicals, don't worry), hybridize and start cuttings, transplant and trellis. So I love using them in soap- the dried petals as an added touch on the surface of soap that's scented with rose oil, and rose hips in lots of ways. They can be used the same way as the petals, or ground up as a beneficial exfoliant throughout the soap, or rose hip tea or rose hip-infused oils can be used in the soapmaking process.

Hops, drying.
Hops are a fun one for me. My husband and I are home brewers (he makes the beer, while I focus on wine and mead), so we grow several varieties of hops for beer-making purposes, but hops are also fantastic for your skin. I use them in beer soaps for the fragrance and exfoliating properties and the skin benefits, and have had some recent requests for shampoo bars with hops, because they're good for hair as well. Hop tea and hop-infused oils can be used too.

Herbs are versatile as soap ingredients, too. We grow lots of them anyway, because we love them, but you can use them in tons and tons of different soap styles and combinations. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, sage, basil, parsley, a billion kinds of mint (more or less)... yum!

Lavender is one of those plants that I used to dismiss as grandmotherly and useless- you can't eat it, right? I don't feel like making sachets and doilies, people! But two things changed my mind and turned me into a lavender addict. One: I was given a facial as a gift, and the... technician? facialist? what do you call those people? Anyway, she used lavender oil and massaged my face and scalp and it was one of the better tactile experiences I've ever had in my life. Two: my favorite little French restaurant has homemade ice cream, and they have a honey & lavender flavor. I'm a sucker for anything honey, so I tried it, and now I can't smell lavender at all without my mouth watering (or walk past that restaurant without getting some of that ice cream). So lavender in soap became irresistible, and I use lavender flowers from the garden to make a french milled soap with lavender essential oil. It's a glorious bar of soap for a bubble bath or for washing one's face.
A baby artichoke!

We're always trying new things, so you never know what else we'll figure out is great in soap. We grow lots more fun things- artichokes, asparagus, grapes, tomatoes, Italian stone pine, various plants with useful flowers (like violets or echinacea) or leaves (like tea camellia or bay laurel), et cetera. If you can eat it, odds are that eventually I'll put it in some soap!

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