Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lavender and Sage Infused Soap

Talking about herbal hair rinses last week got me to thinking about how much soap we have on hand at the moment. To tell you the truth, we are still using up the small array of homemade soaps from last year, botched attempts or otherwise. We haven't bought soap in this time at all, which I find amazing considering it is such a popular commodity in our home!

Homemade soaps are not hard at all to make but certain safety precautions need to be in place such as eyewear, ventilation and skin coverings. I am still a little jittery when it comes to dealing with caustic soda solutions but have come to the conclusion that if I want natural, homemade soaps for the family to use then I will just have to overcome this hurdle! I do ensure the room (kitchen) is well ventilated and that I am adequately covered - long pants, shoes, long sleeve top and rubber gloves. I even wear eye protection, much to the 9yo's amusement who thinks I go from being mum to "The Mad Scientist". I don't mind the teasing though, if it came down to a splash of caustic in my eyes or wearing eye goggles, I'll choose the latter, thankyou very much!

I hope this doesn't put you off making your own soaps at home if you have been considering it. It is very straightforward and I highly recommend obtaining a copy of The Soapmakers Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch, even if borrowed from the library for a short while to get you started on the right track. Rhonda at Down to Earth  also has a fabulous tutorial for making cold pressed soaps here.

Another site I recommend is in the useful links in my sidebar: The Sage soap calculator. Here, aside from having access to further advice and recipes, you will be able to run your ingredients/oils through the online calculator and have it total up how much lye (caustic) is needed for your soap batch. Very important as if too much lye is used it will not saponify with the oils and could result in a bar that is irritating and possibly even harmful to the skin. So the key advice is to go in with eyes wide open, research well, be cautious but have fun! There is nothing like using your own homemade soaps as they are particularly gentle on the skin, retaining glycerine which is a natural by-product of the soapmaking process which is often removed in commercial bars for separate sale!

I know! What a scam!!

To cut my blabbering short, I got to making some soap this week and took a few snaps of the process to share. As I had a sizeable bunch of dried sage from summer prunings hanging in the kitchen (along with some lavender), I decided to put these to use in the soap...

Dried sage from the garden, ready to be ground in a coffee grinder
I wanted to use some infused oil for the soap so pulled out the ancient crockpot set aside for such purposes and placed a good amount of the dried sage into a colander. This was placed into the crockpot and covered in olive oil and left to heat for around 4 hours on low.
Infusing dried herbs into oil in a crockpot
After this time, I removed the sage and added a bunch of dried lavender and left it be for another few hours. It was turned off before I went to bed and left to cool overnight.

The next day some leftover dried sage was ground up finely in the coffee grinder. About a quarter of a cup all up, which was going to be added to the soap in it's final stages to remain in the bars for texture and appearance.

Finely ground homegrown and dried sage
The lye (caustic soda) granules were slowly added to the water and stirred well. This was then left to cool down to around 110f, which took about an hour or so.

At the same time my soft oils were mixed and the coconut oil was melted and allowed to cool. Once the lye had cooled down enough, the oils were mixed together (and reheated slightly as the coconut oil had started to solidify) and then carefully mixed with the lye, avoiding any splashes. It was at this stage I pulled out the stick blender to hop into action. Below is the colour of the mix when the lye and oils were first mixed together:

Mixing the lye and oils together
And here is the colour of the mix as it is whizzed and mixed to a trace (thickened/setting point). Mixing with a stick blender substantially cuts short the amount of time needed for the mixture to come to trace, 10 minutes with the stick blender compared to several hours with a free-standing mixer (mixmaster), trust me, this I know!
Light trace - when ripples sit on top of the surface
I am still a little nervous about overmixing my soap so prefer to pour it into the mold at a light trace rather than wait for it to thicken up and be rushing to get it in there in time before it starts to set. At this light trace I added the ground sage and also some lavender essential oil. After I was satisfied that these were incorporated into the mix, it was then poured into the mold, a rectangular container lined with plastic wrap with a snap-on lid.

Once in the mold, some extra ground sage was sprinkled on the surface and then the lid placed on. The container was then insulated by wrapping in a large beach towel and placed in a warm spot (next to the fire) to be left undisturbed for 24 hours. During this time the soap heats up as the saponification process occurs and then cools down slowly. It is a marvelous occurrence to witness!

The following day the lid was removed to reveal a solid lump of soap that was easily removed from the container with the aid of the plastic wrap.
Set soap, ready to be removed from mold and cut

The block of soap, in one hefty lump!
After cutting (which was like sliding a knife through butter), the batch of soap yielded 20 x 110g bars. These were placed onto a metal rack to air dry/cure for 5-6 weeks before being wrapped in paper for storage.
Lavender and Sage soap, curing
Waiting for the soap to cure is the hardest part of all but it must be done! The oils and lye are still forming 'soap' and will take a bit more time for the lye to neutralise. The wait is definitely worth it!

Lavender and Sage Soap

975g herb infused olive oil, strained (65%)
450g coconut oil (copha) (30%)
75g apricot kernal oil (5%)

Total oils: 1500g

212g lye/caustic
500ml water

Oils and lye mixed at 100F.

At trace: added 1/4 cup dried sage and 30mls lavender essential oil.
Insulated for 24 hours then cut and allowed to cure.

24 comments:

  1. I'm going to be making more soap these holidays. My ex-husband's nephew is keen to see how it's done, (does this make him my ex-nephew?) so he's popping over in a couple of weeks to watch and learn.

    At the moment I'm using up the old soap in the order that I made them in. Just about finished the oldest ones... then onto the goats milk ones!!!

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  2. I don't make soap, but can I just say, yours are superb, Chris! Love the goats milk and oatmeal one, thank you! And I'm even more grateful now I've seen the process involved!

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  4. Hi
    Could you infuse lemongrass in oil in a slow cooker? I have a big bush and I would to love to use it in my soap. Thanks for a great blog
    Nicole

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  5. I've just begun using soap from my first batch and it is wonderful. I don't think I'll ever go back to store bought soap again! You're right about the lye. I was so apprehensive about using it after reading all the precautions but I finally donned all the safety equipment and jumped in. I hope fear won't keep others from trying their hand at soap making.

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  6. they look beautiful Christine, think I'll wait till the two year old is bigger before tackling this one. She's so keen to help at the moment.

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  7. What lovely soap! I wish I could smell it.:)

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  8. thelittleblackcowblogJuly 7, 2011 at 6:12 AM

    I was so scared of the lye the first time I made soap, but it really wasn't that bad. I just had to be careful. I always make sure it is a kid free/husband free zone though.I also look a bit like a mad scientest in my safety gear!
    Love the look of the soap, can't wait to try it. One thing I had never heard of was using infused oils, that sounds like a great idea.
    kim

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  9. It's amazing how homemade soap accumulates, isn't it Frogdancer? Have fun with your nephew (not ex-neph!), this sounds like a wonderful day!

    Thankyou, Celia! I am so very pleased you like them :)

    Thanks, Tanya :)

    I appreciate your feedback Sonya, artisan soapmaker you are! If anyone isn't up to jumping in and making their own soap just yet they should pop over to Sonya's blog and have a squiz at her gorgeous Ishbarn soaps she is selling!! Just beautiful!

    I don't see why not, Nicole. I would certainly try it if I had some growing...maybe wilt it for a day or so? Good luck!

    Fantastic, Patti. It's so satisfying to produce soap in our own homes..you sound like you've had a wonderful time discovering it all!

    Yup, Kirsty...maybe when she is at Nanna's for the day or kindy.. ;)

    At the moment it's very lavender-ish, Nicole, although I expect this to fade somewhat as it cures. :)

    I love how all of the home soapmakers are coming out of the woodwork, Kim! Your soaps will be a wonderful addition to the farmstay accommodation as well as for your own family's use of course! Infusing can be done with so many herbs..sage is the one herb that I always seem to have an abundance of though... :)

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  10. In years past I have had a tradition of making soap to give away at Christmas. But last year, inspired by your blog, I made a double batch thinking I'd have some for myself as well. I knew homemade soap lasted longer but I'm astounded at how much longer. I'm still using it now, and should at this rate have enough to last out the year. And now I'm totally addicted. Homemade soap has gone from a luxury Christmas present item to a household essential!

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  11. love your post and it has inspired me to make soap again.. i used to make it from fats i collected from stock making etc..i removed any impurities by boiling it with water several times and letting it set between each boiling..i then either made the soap with all tallow, as it's called, or added other oils in differing proportions. i also experimented with various additives..once i used ground coffee which made a great abrasive soap for after gardening or as a general exfoliant..i don't know if i would bother with the tallow now although using it reduces waste and that's always a good thing..jane

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  12. Have only just discovered your blog - inspirational.

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  13. Fantastic looking soap! I love your blog so much - you are very inspiring, industrious and talented. Thank you for this tutorial - I have all the ingredients to make my first batch of soap, but I've been procrastinating :( this post is JUST what I needed to give it a go!

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  14. It makes a lovely gift, Linda..and making it for yourself feels like receiving a gift every time a new bar is pulled out :)

    Jane, this is fascinating your method of soapmaking with the stock fats. Animal fats are something I haven't ventured into with soapmaking - it would make perfect sense for the person keeping a couple of meat animals though..

    Hi Mrs Linee - lovely of you to say hello!

    Ah, good to hear you are motivated, Little Home! Once you jump in, bewarned - it can become addictive ;)

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  15. Like Little Home In the Country I've been procrastinating and looking at different methods/ingredients. The steer goes off to the butcher in a couple of weeks so there's another ingredient I could try - tallow. I'll have to ask the butcher to set aside some clean fat for me though or it will end up in the odds and sods for the farm dogs.
    The mad roses are still flowering in the middle of winter and the lemon verbena slows down but never dies off in so there's two scent options!
    Cheers,
    Robyn

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  16. Your soap looks gorgeous and very interesting to see a step-by-step tutorial.

    Blessings,
    This Good Life

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  17. thank you for sharing your recipe. i haven't been game enough to make soap yet but one day i will. it's the caustic side of it that scares me, but hubby's made bio-diesel so i'm sure he'll be able to guide me through it.

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  18. I am used to adding cups or cc.s or whatever, but don't know how many grams in a cup? Thank you

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    1. I think that is where the soap calculator mentioned in the post comes in handy. I took a soap making class a couple years ago. We had to measure all the ingredients as precisely as possible. We used scales that measured in grams. That was the hardest part of the whole process. But once you have it all measured out, easy peasy!

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  19. Thanks for sharing this. I am loving wandering through your blog :)

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Hello there, how lovely for you to stop by. I hope you enjoy your visit here as much as I have enjoyed writing about it. Apologies in advance if I do not reply, I really appreciate your time and thoughts. x

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