Soap making is one of our activities here and a great outlet for creativity because there are many different ingredients that can be used. Plus, after all the fun, there is a tangible and useful item in my hot little hands. Sometimes having a short term project that yields tangible product is a nice contrast to longer term projects or work that falls in the category of regular maintenance.

Generally speaking, soap is a salt from a complex chemical reaction. Saponification is the name for the chemical reaction between an acid and a base to form this salt…or soap. When making soap using the cold process method, an oil or fat (acid) is mixed with lye (base) to form soap (salt). The second reaction that occurs is glycerol turning into beneficial glycerin. All handmade soap contains glycerin naturally. This understanding isn’t essential to actually making soap though, when I made my first batch I recognized a chemical reaction, but that was about it.


The soap featured in this post is Calendula & Tea Tree in bars. They’re actually more like slabs fitting nicely in some hands and needing to be halved for others.

Below are the ingredients in order of heaviest to lightest along with the distance they travelled to get here:

Saponified Tallow rendered from suet: 7 miles

Castor Oil (Ricinus communis): 7219 miles

Carrot (Daucus carota L. subsp. sativus): 20 miles

Tea Tree Essential Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia): 10,342 miles

Calendula(Calendula officinalis): 0 miles


The tallow is local, which is why I chose to work with it above other fats such as Coconut or Palm. Castor Oil is the compromise and makes up less than 20% of the weight of the soap and boosts lather. Tea Tree essential oil comprises about 3% of the bar. Using Calendula and Carrot, both of which are local, in addition to the Tallow makes this a mostly local bar. I intend to try Sunflower oil and Canola oil, both of which I can get from Virginia farmers, to see if either can replace Castor by contributing to a decent lather. In addition to boosting lather, Castor Oil acts as a barrier agent and protective medium against harsh conditions and extremes, it is also very soothing to the skin when included in cosmetic applications

Calendula is terrific for skin and contributes to the yellow/orange color of this bar. According to Horizon Herbs, Calendula flowers are the premier antiseptic and healing agent when made into salves. My experience of Calendula is that it is a very happy herb and as such elicits positive emotions. On the physical level, I find it to be very calming to the skin.

Carrot is also beneficial to the skin and gives the soap most of its color. This color indicates a concentration of carotenoids, pigmented compounds high in vitamin A and antioxidants.

There are many more things I could say about some of these ingredients and probably will in the future through other lenses. But for soap, the main concern is will it wash away the dirt. The second, is will it do so without being harsh. The third, and largely subjective, concern is does it lather enough.