S...is for

Following on again with Toni's A-Z "a...is for" meme, this week's letter is S

S...is for.....
Soap. And Soapwort. and Soap making.

(Disclaimer: A lot of what you are about to read is taken from the wikipedia pages and other googled sources).

Soap making history goes back many thousands of years. The most basic supplies for soap making were those taken from animal and nature; many people made soap by mixing animal fats with lye. 

Today soap is produced from fats and an alkali. The cold process method is the most popular soap making process today, while some manufacturers still use the historical hot process.
There are many tutorials and classes available these days for people wishing to learn to make their own soap, either for their own home use, or to start a small business.
They are quite popular with those wishing to use a more natural product free from modern chemicals and artificial fragrances. 

Soap and Soapwort
Saponaria is a genus of about 20 species of flowering plants in the family Caryophyllaceae, native to southern Europe and southwest Asia and commonly known as soapworts. They are herbaceous perennials and annuals, some with woody bases.
Soapwort plant, mixed and agitated with water, gave early civilization its first cleaning agents.

Saponaria Officianalis

I first came across references to Soapwort in the fictional novel "The Clan of the Cave Bear".
(following slightly edited passage taken from the book)

"Iza dug up the red-rooted pigweed.......and soaproot."

"Finding a round stone she could easily hold in her hand, Iza pounded the soaproot with water in a saucer-like depression of a large flattish rock near the stream. The root sudsed into a rich, saponin-filled lather."

"Ayla was delighted when Iza took her hand and led her into the stream. She loved the water. But after a thorough wetting, the woman picked her up, sat her on the rock and lathered her from head to foot, including her stringy, matted hair."

"After a second rinsing in the cold stream, Iza crushed the pigweed roots together with its leaves and lathered it into her hair. A final dunking followed, then Iza performed the same ablutions on herself."

The history of soap reaches the most distant reaches of our modern civilization and the shiny example of such a long journey is Aleppo Soap, a true relic of an ancient time that bridged millenias and traditions, and provided a solid foundation for the creation of all modern soaps.

Aleppo Soap originated from the Syrian city of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Formula and manufacturing process for this highly prized soap has not changed over time and it is still today pre-formed in its original form, from olive oil, sweet bay oil and water mixed with sodium hydroxide (lye), heated and then left to cool. 
Soap is cut from the form, then left to age in the shade for a minimum of seven months, during which time it will change its colour from green to its trademark brown.
The exact origin of Aleppo soap is lost in time, with the earliest written mentions coming from the 8th century AD.

The first recorded evidence of the manufacture of soap-like material dates back to around 2800BC in Ancient Babylon. 
The Babylonians discovered the basic method of making soap: -fats boiled with ashes and water.

From the 16th century, finer soaps were produced in Europe using vegetable oils as opposed to animal fats. 

Due to a better understanding of the role of hygiene and the promotion of popular awareness of the relationship between cleanliness and health, industrially manufactured bar soaps became available in the 18th century.

Andrew Pears began manufacturing a high quality transparent soap in 1789 in London, which is still available today.

Another well known soaping centre was the Castille region of Spain, responsible for making the first, hard, white, bars of Olive Oil soap. 
Castille Soap is still available today.

Castile soap

Many soaps of modern times are made following a basic recipe, with different manufactuers adding their own touches with oils, colours and fragrances.

 this one looks like it would be strawberry scented, or perhaps rose.

Other soaps now available are liquid detergents for dishwashing,  and liquids and powders for laundering clothes.

dish detergents
laundry powders

laundry liquids

and let's not forget shampoos

the choice (as with all choices) is overwhelming, with many brands claiming different effects, yet when you read the labels they're mostly the same product with different fragrance additions....in spite of that they do seem to work differently for different people.
My daughter K uses whatever shampoo is on special and always has the softest, shiniest hair I've ever seen.
If I use any-old-brand, I get a head full of straw.

We've certainly come a long, long way from bashing a wet plant against a rock to get lather.



  1. Funnily, the other day I was surprised to see that transparent Pears soap is still available. I think my father used to use it to wash his hair. Did it smell funny?

  2. At least it didn't come in a plastic bottle that ends up in the dump.

  3. My great grandmother and her bathroom always smelled like Sweetheart Soap. I wonder if it's still manufactured.

  4. River that is such an interesting post and thank you for the story of soap.
    I remember Lifebuoy soap and Pears was also a favourite too.
    My skin specialist told me years ago not to use too much soap on my face or body as water is the best cleanser.

  5. Andrew; yes it does smell funny. I used it for a while on my youngest but couldn't stand the smell so switched.

    Delores; way too much stuff comes in plastic bottles. I think bar soaps are just about the only soaps that don't. And laundry powder.

    Joanne Noragon; Google it and find out. I've never heard of it.

    Mimsie; I remember Lifebuoy soap too. I didn't like it much, nor Pears. I prefer a Castile style soap, which I get from a soap and gifts shop. It comes without any packaging and a per bar price so you buy how many you want.


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