Monday, December 31, 2012

The 14th Century and The FOUR THIEVES That You'll Gladly Welcome Into Your Home

It's the plague. I'm sure of it.

Everyone I know is sick, getting over being sick, or coming down with some form of sickness.
Hacking, coughing, sneezing, snotting, fever...the pox is upon us!

When this happens, I always want to scour every surface, crack, crevice, and dirty little hand within my sight. And don't even get me started on contamination and the spread of nasty little germs, or this post will turn into a novel. Instead, let me share with you a soap recipe and a bit o' 14th century history...

In the 14th Century, at the height of the Black Plague in Europe, people were trying to find ways to avoid contamination. At the time, most common folk, and even the physicians of the time, had no idea how illness and diseases were spread. The concept of microscopic wee little buggers wasn't completely conceptualized yet. Illness was either thought to be brought about by the wrath of some God, who was, of course, exacting his punishment upon you, or by an imbalance of one of the four "humors" of Hippocratic medicine: black bile, yellow bile, blood, or phlegm (mmm, now there's a nice thought for ya!). Humorism, as it is known, or The Four Temperaments, is an interesting concept all on it's own...but I digress.

The Bubonic Plague, or The Great Pestilence or The Black Death as it was commonly known, wiped out an extraordinary amount of people during it's pandemic reign which peaked in Europe between 1348 and 1350. It is estimated that between 75 million and 200 million people lost their lives to this painful and fatal illness that is now thought to have been spread by rodents. 

Now those of you that know me can see why I hate rodents! 
Snakes? No problem. Spiders? Ok. Rodents? ACK! I barely survived my younger son owning Robo-Hamsters, who were cuter than I expected, alas, they are still "rodents". I'm convinced that just holding that tiny ball of fur in my hands for two seconds caused long term heart arrythmias. Just the thought makes me want to go wash my hands (with my Four Thieves soap) right back...
As the tales go, in the midst of such miasma, and of course necessity being the mother of invention, thieves were believed to brew an herbal vinegar-concoction to ward off the plague so that they could scavenge the corpses and properties of plague victims without contracting the illness themselves. Another version of the tale surrounding "Thieves Vinegar" is that the thieves, in punishment for previous crimes, were dispatched to collect and bury the bodies of plague victims, and in order to avoid contracting the disease, brewed this herbal concoction. The actual recipes were clandestine, and only revealed as a bartering tool against punishment when the thief got caught. The ingredients varied, but most included mint, along with either rosemary, sage, rue, wormwood, or thyme, and of course, garlic.The ingredients varied, but the purpose was the same: Avoid the illness that killed half the population.

In modern times, through the wonders of science, we have found the herbs used in Four Thieves recipes do indeed contain chemical constituents that act as antivirals, antibacterials, antifungals, antiparasitics, and antiseptics. It is with this in mind that I formulated my own "Four Thieves" concoction, and translated it into a cold process soap recipe. I am not the first to do this, nor the last...and you may very well be the next to attempt the process after reading this post!

So without further adieu...


I will give this recipe in percentages, instead of actual amounts, so that you can calculate oz/grams/lbs to accomodate your mold or batch size. I also gel all of my Cold Process soaps, but that is just my personal preference. This recipe will work with a gelled or ungelled soap, but will be easier to unmold sooner if you allow it to gel due to the high Olive Oil content. I allow all of my Cold Process soaps to cure for 6 weeks prior to use or sale, and encourage you to use a 4-6 week cure period.

Please make sure to use proper WEIGHT measurements, even for essential oils (not fluid measurements) and run your recipe through a lye calculator, such as the one at

I used Aloe Vera Juice for my entire liquid amount with a 30% Water:Oil ratio and a 5% lye discount/superfat, but you can use whatever ratios you are comfortable with. 

45% Olive Oil (infused with Nettle, Dandelion, Comfrey, Rosemary, or any herbs of your choosing based on their beneficial properties)

30% Coconut Oil

20% Sustainable Palm Oil (or Tallow if you prefer Animal Fats over Palm Oil, considering the ecological controversy)

5% Castor Oil 

ADDITIVES - Total Essential Oil Rate of 5% of Base Oils Weight:
Essential Oils of:
Peppermint  1%
Tea Tree  2%
Eucalyptus  1%
Rosemary  1% (You could use Lemon Myrtle in place of the Rosemary)

For Example: 
If you are making a 100 oz batch of the above base oils, use 5 oz TOTAL essential oils in the percentages mentioned above.
For 100 oz batch, you would use 1 oz Peppermint, 2 oz Tea Tree, 1 oz Eucalyptus, and 1 oz Rosemary.

If you are using the Cold Process Method, you can add the Essential Oils to your base oils prior to mixing them with your lye solution or at trace. If you are using the Hot Process Method, you should add them at the end of the cook. 

Peppermint Essential Oil is used in Aromatherapy for relief from inflammation, nausea, indigestion, fever, headaches, and is a stimulant with antiseptic properties.

Tea Tree Essential Oil is used in Aromatherapy as an Antiviral, Antifungal, and Antibacterial. It provides relief from colds, influenza, and inflammation.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil is used in Aromatherapy  as an Antiseptic and Antiinflammatory and provides relief from sore throats, cough, sinusitis, and bronchitis.

Rosemary Essential Oil is used in Aromatherapy for relief of headaches, fatigue, rheumatism, and muscle aches and pains. It is a stimulant, an analgesic, a decongestant, and antiseptic.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Allison the Meep: Alchemy & Ashes

Allison the Meep: Alchemy & Ashes: My fantastically cool cousin, Shawnee, started her own soap company. It's called Alchemy & Ashes, and she has a shop on etsy , as well as s...


By Shawnee Kircher

When I explain that my handmade soap is made using lye, people get a little crazy.
"Isn't that caustic?!" Lye? Yes. My soap? No.

"Won't that burn your skin?" Lye? Yes. My soap? No.
"I would never use a chemical on my skin!" This one cracks me up!
No, I don't plan on using lye to dissolve a body. No, I don't cook meth. Yes, I know it can be used as a drain cleaner.

And so on, and so forth... 
So let me dispel a few myths, and give you some information to ponder. Make yourself a nice cup of (herbal) tea, a strong cup of coffee, or a glass of cheap wine and pull up a chair.


Cake is a good metaphor for the saponification process (and is good with the aforementioned tea or coffee. Hell, cake's even good with wine!). When you mix  flour, sugar, oil, and egg and bake it, the result is known as "cake". It is no longer four separate ingredients, but one transformed outcome. We don't refer to it as "Birthday Flour-Sugar-Oil-Egg", it is now "Birthday Cake". You don't taste the egg or oil separately anymore, because they are not separate. They are one. They are cake. And you should eat it. 

”Sodium ___ate” indicates saponification of that oil utilizing sodium hydroxide (lye)
For example:
Sodium Tallowate = Beef/Sheep Fat processed with Lye (Sodium Hydroxide NaOH)
Sodium Lardate = Pork Fat processed with Lye (Sodium Hydroxide NaOH)
Sodium Cocoate = Coconut Oil processed with Lye (Sodium Hydroxide NaOH)
Sodium Palmate/Palm Kernelate = Palm/Palm Kernel Oil processed with Lye (Sodium Hydroxide NaOH)

Lye has gotten a bad rap. Throughout history, lye was derived from hardwood ashes that were leached with rain water. The result was potash, or potassium hydroxide. Without the proper measurements and no PH scale, the results were inconsistent, which in turn produced "lye-heavy" soaps, that were softer in texture than the bar soaps we use today and were certainly caustic on the skin. Modern lye is created by a chemical reaction between soda, or sodium carbonate, and calcium hydroxide, or lime. The result is a chemical that can be accurately measured with consistent results. So technically speaking, lye is a synthetic chemical.

Glycerin is a byproduct of the soap making process. Large commercial companies usually extract the glycerin to either sell separately or to use in other products. Glycerin is a humectant, meaning it attracts moisture. Hand made soap retains its natural glycerin.

3. NATURAL DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN "SAFE" (poison ivy, arsenic, snake venom), JUST AS SYNTHETIC DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN "UNSAFE" (some preservatives and compounds - even plastics! - have saved our lives).

The term "Natural" is not regulated by the FDA, nor is there an industry standard concerning "natural products".

EXAMPLE: Suave NATURALS Creamy Milk & Honey Body Wash - Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (Synthetic Surfactant), Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Synthetic Surfactant), Cocamide MEA (Synthetic Surfactant), Fragrance (Most Likely Synthetic), Hydrolyzed Milk Protein, Honey Extract, Glycol Stearate, Glycerin, PPG-9 (Synthetic Conditioner), Stearamide AMP (Emulsifyer), Ammonium Chloride (Inorganic Compound Thickening Agent), Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA (Petroleum Based Preservative), Methylchloroisothiazolinone (Synthetic Preservative), Methylisothiazolinone (Synthetic Preservative), Red 33 (Petroleum Based Dye), Yellow 5 (Petroleum Based Dye).

As you can see, "Natural" doesn't always mean what most of us believe to be "Natural". I am not implying that all of the synthetic ingredients listed above are harmful (though some are in question). What I am implying is that if you are concerned about the products that you use, you must educate yourself.  DO NOT JUST READ THE FRONT "MARKETING" LABEL. ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENTS LABEL. Most people have their own ideas and opinions concerning the terms "natural", "pure", and "organic". The best way to know if a product meets your standards is to read the ingredients list, and educate yourself as to what those ingredients are, from where do they derive, and how they are obtained. There are plenty of legitimate resources (as well as fear-mongering "facts") on the internet to explain in detail about the ingredients listed below. A legitimate resource is:


IVORY SOAP: Sodium Tallowate And/Or Sodium Palmate, Water, Sodium Cocoate And/Or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Glycerin, Sodium Chloride, Fragrance, Coconut Acid, Palm Kernel Acid, Tallow Acid, Palm Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA

DOVE SOAP: Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Palmitate, Aqua Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Parfum, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Chloride, zinc Oxide, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Alumina, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Benzyl Alcohol, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Coumarin, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool

DOVE SENSITIVE SKIN FORMULA: Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate, Water, Sodium Isethionate, Coconut Acid, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Chloride, Titanium Dioxide, Sweet Almond Oil, Rosewood Oil, Tetrasodium EDTA, Trisodium Etidronate, BHT, Cedarwood Oil, Rose Oil, Disodium Cocamido-MEA-Sulfosuccinate, Cetyl Alcohol, Tocopheryl Acetate.

IRISH SPRING DEODORANT BATH BAR WITH ALOE : Soap (Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate Types), Water, Hydrogenated Tallow Acid (Skin Conditioner), Petrolatum, Glycerin (Skin Conditioner), Coconut Acid, Sodium Chloride, Fragrance, Polyquaternium 6, Pentasodium Pentetate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Tetradibutyl Pentaerithrityl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Titanium Dioxide, Chromium Oxide Greens

DIAL ANTIBACTERIAL DEODORANT SOAP: Active Ingredients: Triclocarban 0.60% ; Inactive Ingredients: Soap (Sodium Cocoate*, Sodium Palm Kernelate*, Sodium Palmate*, Sodium Tallowate*); Water (Aqua); Talc; Coconut Acid*; Palm Acid*; Tallow Acid*; PEG-6 Methyl Ether; Fragrance (Parfum); Glycerin; Sorbitol; Sodium Chloride; Pentasodium Pentetate; Tetrasodium Editronate; Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891); *Contains One or More of These Ingredients

OLAY QUENCH: Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Paraffin, Sodium Cocoglyceryl Ether Sulfonate, Glycerin, Water, Talc, Magnesium Stearate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Magnesium Cocoate, Sodium Stearate, Coconut Acid, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Cocoate, Fragrance, Tocoherol Acetate, Panthenol, Magnesium Laurate, Lauric Acid, Titanium Dioxide, Sodium Laurate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Etidronic Acid, PEG 90M, Red 4, Yellow 10, Green 5

LUSH KARMA: Water (Aqua), Propylene Glycol, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Perfume, Glycerine, Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin), Orange Oil (Citrus dulcis), Lavendin Oil (Lavendula hybrida), Pine Oil (Pinus), Lemongrass Oil (Cymbopogan flexuosus), Elemi Oil (Canarium commune), Sodium Chloride, EDTA, Tetrasodium Editronate, Gardenia Extract (Gardenia jasminoides), *Citral, *Geraniol, *Citronellol, *Limonene, *Linalool, FD&C Red No. 4.

BATH & BODY WORKS ANTIBACTERIAL GENTLE FOAMING HANDSOAP: Active Ingredient Triclosan 0.3% Purpose Antiseptic Inactive Ingredients Water (Aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycereth-26, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Fragrance (Parfum), Propylene Glycol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), Imidazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Xantham Gum, Triethanolamine, Benzophenone-4, Tetrasodium EDTA, Yellow 5 (CI19140), Blue 1 (CI 42090)

GRANDMA'S LYE SOAP by REMWOOD PRODUCTS: Lard, Sodium Hydroxide, Mountain Spring Water