Using Herbs in Soapmaking
In soap, herbs add color and texture. Many soapmakers also believe that the medicinal value of herbs can come through in soaps made with them. The varying sensitivities of individual people to herbs is a major factor in whether or not the herbs have any therapeutic benefit to them.
As with other natural substances, not all herbs are beneficial to humans. There are poisonous herbs that should always be avoided. There are some herbs that, while not toxic, are dermal irritants and should not be used on the skin. Take special care when using herbs with children, the elderly, and people with special health care needs. Make sure to do your research, and be responsible and informed when deciding what to use in your soaps.
Adding Herbs to Soap
The most obvious way to add herbs to soap is to sprinkle them in the soap before you pour the soap into the mold. An addition of a small amount of a dried herb creates a delicate visual texture. Adding a larger amount of a roughly chopped herb can lend a “scrubby” texture to the soap.
In general, it is best to use dried herbs, as the water in fresh herbs can, among other problems, cause mold to grow.
Adding Herbs to Water
As discussed in the previous section, replacing the water in your soap recipe with an herbal infusion is another simple way to add herbs to soap. Make the infusion and strain out solid matter if you wish before making the lye solution. The infusion may take on a strange color and odor when the lye is added, but that will usually fade away completely in the finished soap.
Be sure that all herbs you use are nontoxic. If you are in doubt, put aside the questionable and use something you're sure about. Also, if you are pregnant, nursing, have diabetes or other health issues, be sure to consult your heal care provider about the use of herbs. Herbs are active substances that may react with medical conditions or medications.
Another way to use herbs in soap is to make a lye infusion. To do this, add ground herbs to the water as you add the lye.
The extremely rapid reaction of lye and water can release more of the properties of the herb than the relatively gentle method of making an herbal infusion. It is most likely that a great deal of the benefit of the herb will be destroyed in the reaction, but some herbs release more lasting color when added in this manner.
Herbs in Oil
Infusing liquid oils with herbs is yet another way of extracting their properties for use in soap. The most common liquid soapmaking oil is olive oil.
Making infused oils for soapmaking is easy. First warm the oil and place the plant matter in the heated oil. Then let the herbs steep in the heated oil for a number of hours or even days, depending on the herb and the strength of the infusion you desire.
You may increase the potency by straining out the herbs, rewarming the oil, and adding more herbs. Some oils can be tinted in this manner deeply enough so that the natural colorant survives the soap-making process.
Herbs in Soap Processes
In soap casting, you can add herbs in such a way that they sink to the bottom, float on the top, or are suspended throughout the bar. Through control of temperature, you can achieve whichever effect you desire. You can also add small amounts of herbal infused water or oils to the soap base.
The soapmaking method that may retain most of the herbal properties is hand milling. You can take shreds of premade cold-process or casting soap, toss them with herbs, sprinkle the mixture with herbal infusion, and create balls or other shapes by hand.
In hot process, you can add the herbs right before you pack the soap into the molds, when the soap is coolest and has the least impact on the herbs. You can stir them in or you can knead the herbs in by hand, wearing thick rubber gloves to protect your hands from the hot soap.