This botanical soap is handcrafted with nettle (Urtica dioica), an herb that provides an array of vitamins & minerals and is an excellent tonic for the whole body, including the skin.
One study found that nettle has anti-aging effects due to antioxidants and other constituents that help inhibit damage leading to wrinkles and loss of tone.
The addition of mineral rich green clay soothes, exfoliates, and helps remove impurities from the skin.
A blend of beneficial oils & fats moisturizes lends a nice creamy lather that leaves skin feeling soft.
Nourishing and deeply moisturizing tallow and lard have been used topically by traditional cultures for thousands of years. Today, modern science backs this ancestral knowledge.
Studies have found that like our cell membranes, tallow fat is typically 50-55% saturated, which makes it particularly beneficial for our skin.
Tallow and lard contain vitamins A, D, & E, which are crucial for skin health. These essential vitamins help to boost collagen production and protect skin from UV and other environmental damage.
Tallow is rich in Vitamin K, which is important for proper skin healing. Lard provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial to the appearance and function of the skin.
This soap is intentionally unscented, so that it is extra soothing and gentle. Fragrances — even natural essential oils — can be irritating to sensitive skin.
To make this nourishing soap, you will need:
- 3.6 oz lye
- 10.5 oz nettle infusion (tea)
Oils & Butters
- 1 oz castor oil
- 5 oz lard
- 10 oz sunflower oil
- 12 oz goat tallow*
- 2 tsp green clay
- 4 tsp water
This recipe makes 28 oz of soap or 11 individual bars (about 3.3 oz each).
*Note: I used tallow I rendered from fat from our friends’ goats. You can substitute beef tallow if its more easily accessible to you. Learn how to make your own tallow in my post.
First, gather and prep all of your ingredients. Review the recipe and make sure you have everything needed on hand.
To make the nettle tea: Place the about 2 Tbsp dried nettle or approximately 1/3 cup of fresh nettle in a heat proof vessel. Bring water to a boil and pour it over the nettle (use about 12oz of water, as you will lose a little in the process, particularly if you use dried nettle). Cover the container & let the tea steep overnight to extract all the vitamins and minerals. If you don’t want to wait that long, do make sure the tea has cooled completely before starting the soap making process.
Mix the clay & water together in a small bowl and set aside for later.
Next, prepare your workspace. The area should be well-ventilated, as you will be working with lye. Set out the soap molds you’ll be using nearby, so they are easily accessible when you’re ready for them. Be sure to have a few rags on hand to wipe up any spills or splashes.
To begin, weigh out the tea in a heat proof pitcher. Put on your safety goggles and gloves. Remember to keep your protective gear on while working with the lye solution and raw soap batter!
Using your specified lye cup, measure the lye. Firmly re-cap your lye container before proceeding. Next, slowly sprinkle the lye into the liquid, while stirring gently. Avoid breathing in the strong fumes that are produced immediately when the lye begins to react with the liquid.
Set the lye solution aside to cool a bit. Be sure to put it somewhere well out of reach of pets and children.
Gently rinse the spoon and lye cup with cold water and set them aside. Remember to keep them separate from utensils used for cooking or serving food! Throughly wipe the area where you were working in case any lye spilled.
Let the lye cool for about 30 minutes. While you wait, begin to prepare the oils & butters.
Weigh the castor oil, sunflower oil, and lard. I do this directly in my soaping pot. Then weigh out the tallow and heat it in small saucepan til its melted. Mix it in with the liquid oils.
Check the temperatures of your lye solution and oils mix. They should both be around 90-115 degrees F (32-46 degrees C). Heat the oils mixture, if necessary, to bring it within 20 degrees of the temperature of the lye solution.
Now you can add the lye solution into your soaping pot. Rinse the container you mixed the lye solution with cold water and set it aside.
Fully submerge your immersion blender into the soap pot and tilt it slightly (this helps prevent splattering).
Turn the blender on and gently stir for 30 seconds or so. Then turn it off and continue stirring for 30 seconds or so. Continue stirring, alternating with the blender on and off until the batter begins to thicken slightly. This could happen quickly or take up to 10 minutes or so.
Check for trace by lifting the blender out of the soap batter and drizzling it over itself. If the batter leaves a pattern before sinking back into itself, stop stirring. Let the soap batter sit for a minute and then use the method described above to check for trace again.
This process looks for a “false trace” — when the soap batter thins out again after appearing to have traced. If the batter still “traces,” you can move on to the next step. Otherwise, blend more until trace is reached.
Once your soap batter has traced, you’ll stir in the the clay-water mixture you prepared earlier. Keep in mind that extras like clay can cause the soap batter to thicken very quickly, making it difficult to pour, so you’ll want to work fast after this step.
Pour the batter into the molds you prepared earlier. Smooth the tops of your soaps with a spoon or spatula. Place the spoon/spatula back into your soaping pot and set it aside. You can cover your soap with plastic or wax paper to help prevent soda ash, but I admittedly usually skip this step.
Throughly wipe up your work space to clean up any spills. I put all soap covered pots, containers, and utensils aside and let them sit overnight and then soak, rinse, and put everything away the following day.
Leave the soap to set in the mold 24-48 hours. If it’s too soft to remove from the mold, let it set for another day or so.
Then, gently remove the hardened soap from the molds. If you made soap loaves, you can cut them into bars immediately or let the loaf firm up for a few more days and then slice it.
Set soap on a plastic or coated metal rack (or on sheets of wax paper) to cure for 4-6 weeks minimum before using. While it can be hard to wait for your soaps to fully harden before using, it is worth it, as properly cured soaps will last much longer.
You can tell your soap is cured and ready to use when it’s nice and firm. Check for firmness by gently pressing your finger into the bar, if the bar gives, let it cure longer. If it’s nice & hard and it’s been at least 4-6 weeks, it’s ready to go.
Handmade soaps are a great swap for conventional hand & body soaps, which often contain toxic additives. This nourishing soap is a also a great gift and is well suited to all skin types — as it is unscented, emollient, and gentle.
Nettle lovers may also want to check out this post: Sourdough Nettle Crackers.
Angelo, G. Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. (2012). Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University.
Bourgeois, C., Leclerc, E.A., Corbin, C., Doussot, J., Serrano, V., Vanier, J.R. … Hano, C. (2016). Nettle (Urtica dioica L.) as a source of antioxidant and anti-aging phytochemicals for cosmetic applications. Comptes Rendus Chimie, 19(9), 1090-1100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crci.2016.03.019.
Bowman, J. and Cherney, K. The 4 Best Vitamins for Your Skin. (2016). Healthline.
Bradley, S. Lard: Your Grandmother’s Secret to Better Skin, Naturally. Off the Grid News.
Gore, L. Hello Tallow. (2017). Wise Traditions Podcast, episode 97. Weston A. Price Foundation.
Whelan, C. What’s Good About Sunflower Oil for Skin. (2019). Healthline.