An Accidental Soap Maker
Over the past week I have been outdoors harvesting lots of flowers and herbs of the healing sort. I have also been at work indoors, creating jars of skin balm and botanical soap bars. While seemingly disparate pastimes, in practice these activities go hand in hand. Without the flowers and leaves that I delight in calmly gathering, there would be no point in making soap. You see, I didn't set out to be a soap maker. I wasn’t exactly brainstorming new avenues to go down. But I was trying to imagine up ways to bring more plants into my daily life and self care.
To create the skin balms I started making almost thirty years ago, I infuse organic olive oil with my chosen flowers, herbs, leaves, buds and mushrooms that I gather by hand. I could harvest more quickly than I do. I could breeze through my harvest sessions grabbing everything in sight. However, that isn’t me. Instead, I pick each leaf, bud or flower individually, thinking it through one at a time, taking only what I consider to be at the peak, and never taking more than I think should be my share. I can’t help my method. As I mentioned a moment ago, this is just the way I am wired.
Many years ago, while apprenticing with a local midwife in the Okanagan, I took a side job where my task was to gather Ponderosa pinecones from the ground. My manager provided me with strict guidelines as to the quality required from each of the pinecones that were destined for a craft supply store. I lasted only four days before I was fired. I was far too slow and I left way too many useable pinecones behind. He had to bring in someone else to repick the site after me. His idea of the quality he requested, and my eye for detail, were entirely at odds. I was hopeless. I was way too picky. I know the same goes for the plants I harvest for my own products. No one could afford to pay me. I would lose this job, too, if I wasn’t working for myself!
For my classic Many Plants Healing Blend, the botanicals stay in the olive oil for a minimum of six weeks. In this way, the oils absorb as much of the goodness as the plants have to impart. This is what makes the skin balms therapeutic. I know how to put all the plants together, but it is the plants that are doing all the work. It is the plants that make the magic happen! Even though experience has shown me the degree of healing the plants in my skin balms are capable of, I am still repeatedly surprised at what they accomplish. I love hearing all your stories. Plants blow my mind.
Since first discovering handmade and natural soap bars, not long after I first moved out on my own as a young adult, I have wanted these on my counter and in my bath. But I never dreamed that I would make soap. (And that says a lot because I have a lot of dreams!) I have long loved olive oil soaps and one day it occurred to me that I could use the same botanically infused olive oils I use in skin balm to create what I thought could be amazing soap bars. This was a very exciting realization. How wonderful and luxurious would it be to bathe in Wild Rose or Balm of Gilead? Calendula? How fine would it be to wash with lavender – real lavender, with real properties, and not just lavender fragrance, artificial or otherwise?! I knew that I had to do it.
My research commenced. I became nervous. This was chemistry. The kind where you have to wear safety goggles, long sleeves and gloves. I watched a video where lye is shown eating through a chicken breast in a matter of short minutes. Turned out this soap making is serious business. I was grateful that my kids were no longer tiny. If they had been, I would have been forced to shelve all desires to make soap. Too much danger, too much risk. I also quickly realized that I would need to add another oil to the organic olive oil if I wanted to make the type of soap bar I was after. As I dove deeper into my research, I discovered the control I could have over the properties of the soap such as suds, cleansing power, moisture levels, creaminess and the hardness of the bar. But I still wanted to keep it simple. When it comes to what I put on my skin, I am a firm believer in less is more. After investigating, I decided that organic coconut oil would be the assistant to the infused olive oils that I know and love so well. And then my first soap bar recipe was born.
But, I was still nervous. I wanted to get this right the first time. I read online, I took out books and old magazines. I watched videos from the US, Australia, and from the UK, where soap making laws are strictly enforced. I made out lists of steps, revised them, made out different lists. I memorized the steps. I looked up everything I could on trouble shooting. I mustered my courage. I went for it. And I created an ugly, yet super luxurious bar of soap. I had read somewhere to put a box right over the soap but to spray the fresh bar with rubbing alcohol first and cover it with saran wrap. Seemed odd to me, but I was a newbie. I used the saran wrap once and only once. Rather than protecting the surface of the soap, it left strange prints behind. The rubbing alcohol? I sprayed it on three batches. Seems I will probably never create the problem that is supposed to fix. So I abandoned that, too. I still have an outrageously expensive bottle of rubbing alcohol, bought on Amazon during Covid, sitting in the back of the cabinet that holds my soap making supplies.
I want to say thank you to everyone who purchased those first ugly bars of soap and actually raved about them. Thank you! My son mentioned the other day that he was super excited to see my first finished soap bars (again Covid times, and this illustrates how little there was going on, that this was something for a nine year old boy to look forward to) and then I unveiled them. I am grateful now that he didn’t tell me then what he was thinking. He stated last week that the first batch of bars was a disappointment – not the pretty stuff he was imagining. Far from it. He still remembers!
I sincerely discovered a passion for soap making. I have continued experimenting with all sorts of technical details that only a soap maker would be excited by. I hope that I never stop trying new ways and pushing my own boundaries of the recipes and routines I have put in place as my own “best practices”. Boundaries that seem miniscule to those on the outside looking in, are still boundaries. Play is still play. I want to keep pushing the envelope of great small batch soap production. I am so happy that I accidentally stumbled upon soap making. To have another great love. I know I have many more soap making days ahead of me. I want to say thank for encouraging me on this journey. I have already thanked the early adopters – you know who you are! – but still, thank you again, and thank you to all who have since jumped aboard my botanical soap making journey. There would be no reason to do this without you.
I would like to change the subject slightly now and include more about what I love doing. Two other passions that you know I possess are writing and creating from dried flowers. I wish to keep doing more of both and to continue to put both my writing and my flowers out into the world. To achieve both these desires, I have created an offer and I am requesting awkwardly and with gratitude that you share this offer with others in your life. I sincerely hope that you take enough pleasure in what I do that you will feel comfortable doing so.
Over half of my newsletter subscribers do not live in the small town where I reside. This offer is meant to go far and wide. Because shipping is easy. And because there are only around one thousand permanent residents where I live. I want to keep growing and blooming!
Here is the link to my offer of 15% off of a Made to Order Dried Flower Wreath with a new sign up to my newsletter. This link cannot be found on my website, so it needs to be sent directly from you! https://www.slowbotanicals.com/lead-collection and a shorter, not as pretty, one-step-only link https://mailchi.mp/f69630e351d7/signup-discount-flower-wreath
Thank you so much!
Enjoy your week ahead,
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