Star Harvest Farm

~Hand made soaps for the soul~

Leave a comment

Soap, the Hurricane and My Mother-in-law

Hurricanes are not fun…well, maybe a teensy bit of fun, if it’s a Cat I hurricane you’re dealing with, and it causes nothing more sinister than a small craft advisory. But in the present case scenario, Hurricane Sandy is/was not fun. The sustained high-velocity winds and the uncharacteristic cold and ice, made it a miserable storm.

As the wind howled, and the disenfranchised leaves smacked the side of my house, I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to make soap? I could call it Hurricane Soap, or Soap Storm…something weather-related for sure!”

Ideas began to take shape in my head, and I quickly gathered ingredients, all the while looking anxiously out the window. Time was an issue, since I knew that we would lose electric power at any time. I really only needed enough time to heat my oils. Everything else required mere brain power, timing, and finesse.

I worked swiftly, now committed to the soap I had created in my mind. My Mother-in-law, (who was staying with us for the duration of the storm), watched me working, and shook her head at least once. “The power is going to go out, and you’re going to be stuck with a pot of oil,” she said. I shushed her (politely, of course), and continued to work. I hovered over the oils as they warmed, and pre-measured everything else. It was now a race against Mother Nature. Would the storm cut my power prematurely? Would I be stuck with a pot of oil? Would there be soap? Would my Mother-in-law finally realize that her son had not married a goose-brained girl? Only time would tell…

…and there was soap. The oils warmed, and melted. The mixing progressed without mishap, and I successfully poured my soap…just as the electricity finally cut out.  The timing was poetic. I managed to look smug, as I sat down with my Mother-in-law that evening. We sipped Cabernet, and watched the storm raging outside in the intensifying twilight. “What are you going to call your soap?” She asked. “I haven’t decided.” I said. “I want to name it something weather-related.”  “Oh,” she said. “How about Rain Soap?”   I looked at her balefully. “No. That’s not going to adequately describe my soap,” I said. “Naming Soap is an art. I take it quite seriously. You’ll have to just wait and see what the soap’s name will be.” Now it was my Mother-in-law’s turn to look at me balefully. “It’s just soap, Sarah.” [Oh, the humanity!] “Thank you for pointing that out,” I said. “I’ll keep that fact in mind.”

Now sometimes, when I make soap, I try to begin with an inspiration or a theme. In this case, the hurricane was my impetus. In fact, as I mentioned above, I considered calling it hurricane soap. But, as I put the finishing decorative touches on the top of the soap, I realized that I was also thinking about winter, and Christmas. So, after choosing and discarding several names I chose a rather simple name, but I believe it eloquently describes my soap…

And so, drum roll (rimshot) please…I give you Snow & Ice Soap.

Snow & Ice Soap

For the record, my Mother-in-law loved the soap, and I promised her some, once it had cured. She kept picking it up so that she could inhale the fragrances I had added to the soap, and said, “This reminds me of snow and ice and Christmas!”


I accepted my accolades with equanimity, and waved good-bye cheerfully, as my Mother-in-law left for her home on the water’s edge.

Thank goodness for soap, and Mothers-in-law and stormy nights. And thank goodness for snow and ice, the dawning of clearer days, and waving good-bye…





No Lye. No Soap.

Handcrafted soap

We were selling our soaps, lotions, etc., at a fall festival recently, and a well-meaning lady (at least, I *think* she was well-meaning; let’s give her the benefit of the doubt, shall we?), announced to me that she made all her own soaps, and she was only interested in 100% organic soaps! She picked up one of my soaps, and began reading the ingredients on the label.

She read the list for a few seconds, and said, “I have a problem with the sodium hydroxide you’ve listed in your ingredients.” I politely told her that in soapmaking, there is sodium hydroxide (lye) at the beginning of the process, but there is no lye in the finished product. She shoved the bar in my face, and pointed to the words, “Sodium Hydroxide.”  “It’s on your label, see?” I smiled and tried to explain the process of saponification to her (the chemical reaction that occurs between lye and oils, resulting in soap).  She shook her head, and said, (again) “I only use 100% organic soaps; no lye; and I make all my own organic soaps, too.”  I smiled again, and said, “Oh, are you speaking about soap bases?”  She shook her head, and said, “Are you telling me you make your own soap bases?”

At this point, I realized we were speaking on different planes, and I simply took a step back, and told her that she was free to peruse my products, and I wished her well. She eventually left in a huff (I’m still not exactly sure why she was irritated with me). I sighed. It is always difficult when people have just a little information.

So, for the dear lady who insisted that she makes 100% organic soaps, without lye…and for everyone else who says to me, “Oh, my grandmother used to make LYE soap!”

Allow me to gently enlighten you…

You cannot make soap without lye. Let me say this again: You cannot make soap without lye. The soap your grandmother made, and the handcrafted soaps we make today, are basically the same chemical process.  [I believe at this point my grandmother would say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Amen Grandma.]

Soap is the result of a chemical process (reaction) between an alkali (lye, chemical name: sodium hydroxide), and fats or oils (ex: olive oil, coconut oil, etc.). The resulting chemical substance is a salt. Yes, soap is a salt. It is no longer a fat or an oil, and there is no sodium hydroxide in the soap either. It is soap. It is not lye. It is not fat or oils. It is soap. Got it?  When the lye is introduced into the oils, a chemical reaction occurs, and the oils  are stripped of their fatty acids. The fatty acids combine with the lye (sodium hydroxide, or alkali), and form a salt, which is soap. Glycerol (glycerin) is liberated from the oils, and becomes part of the final soap product. (Commercial soap companies usually remove the glycerin and sell it separately. That is part of the reason hand made soaps are so much better for your skin.)

We should also address the huffy lady’s claim, that she makes all her own soap, and,  “It’s 100% organic!” Well…not so fast.

Handmade soap that Grandma would be proud of.

The hard truth is, most soaps, and certainly the soap bases that you simply melt and pour into molds, began as…fats/oils and lye. And lye, dear readers, is an inorganic chemical. This fact renders all soaps, [whether you make them from scratch (cold/hot process), or purchase a soap base, and reform them] as less than 100% organic. In fact, even if you use oils and ingredients that are certified as 100% organic, the hard truth is that as long as you are using sodium hydroxide (lye, alkali…c’mon, you should know this by now) somewhere in the process, the soap IS NOT organic. You can say that you used 100% organic oils in the production of your soap, but it is not, by its very nature… 100% organic.

So, the next time you are purchasing handmade or handcrafted soap, remember that it IS the same chemical process that Grandma used, and that’s not a bad thing…nor is it 100% organic, either.

And if you ever encounter a manufacturer, that claims their soap is 100% organic…the chances are excellent that the manufacturer is…misinformed. (Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, shall we? 😉  )


Leave a comment

For the Love of Mint

I know it’s been a while since I wrote my last blog. We’ve been busy with Fall Festivals, and increasing our inventory for the holidays. But, things have settled down for the time being, and I have carved out a precious niche of time this bright Sunday morning, to write, drink my cinnamon-flavored coffee and absorb the ambiance of topaz-colored trees in the midst of their autumn swan songs.

Peppermint, drying.

I harvested the last of this year’s herbs yesterday…peppermint, spearmint and bayberry. I’ve already selected them, washed them, and placed them in the drying racks. Mints, are my favorite herbs.  Bayberry is a close second, but the mint family offers a wide variety of medicinal and culinary benefits, that allow me to tailor the attributes I’m looking for when I create a soap or lotion recipe.  Not to mention the unbelievably wonderful smell that wafts from the plant, even when dried.

As I plucked the leafy herbs from their stems, I was reminded once again of the fragility of peppermint.  Its delicate leaves are always a bit of a surprise to me. It’s quite diminutive next to its very sturdy cousin spearmint. Peppermint essential oil is so pungent. It just doesn’t seem to match its fragile origin.

As I worked my way to the end of the herb row, I reveled in the simplicity and timelessness of the activity…harvesting herbs. This is one of the most satisfying aspects of making my own personal care products. I love the idea and the reality of using my farm-grown, nutrient-rich herbs in my soaps and lotions. I love having control over the quality and amount that goes into my recipes, and I love the results.

And, as one might surmise, I have a significant line of mint soaps and lotions that I’ve developed. All of them pay homage, in one way or another, to one of the mints we’ve grown and harvested. In fact our signature soap, Starry Night, bears the scent of peppermint, and it’s our best seller. Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves mint.


Starry Night Soap 🙂