Are you curious about the transition between natural dyeing and herbalism? Well, soap making is a fantastic bridge between the two crafts.
Imagine infusing colorful, healing botanicals (and colored clay!) into your soap so your body absorbs the goodness.
Did you know that there are many dye plants that contain soap colorants? Madder, indigo and woad are just a few!
I talked to Tanya Anderson of Lovely Greens about using natural colorants in soaps and how to infuse herbal ingredients into oil. I am happy to share the interview at once. Keep reading until the end where Tanya shares her special recipe for Calendula Bath Truffles!
E-books for beginners
You can learn how to make your own cold pressed soap A guide to making Beautiful Greens Natural Soap.This is an e-book and you can download it immediately.
*this blog post contains affiliate links.
Picture above. From top to bottom, soap colors: carrot root, honey, calendula, mineral powder, alkane and oatmeal.
He also wrote another e-book called Tanya Calendula: A Guide to Growing and Using it in Skin Care.
These are incredible introductory guides to making your own soaps and skin care products. Tanya’s writing is so clear and accessible and I think you’ll love them as much as I do!
At the end of this blog post is a bonus calendula recipe that I think you’ll love — this is an excerpt from the calendula e-book. Homemade bath truffles would make such special gifts.
Well, let’s get to the interview…
hello Tanya. It’s great talking to you today. Can you tell us how you started making soap?
I had just signed up for my first share and started a little blog sharing what I was doing on the plot. That’s when my interest in growing plants for food and skin care began, and I’m always looking for ways to use what I grow in projects.
I discovered the world of artisan soap making online. Beautiful soaps, mostly from America, that people create and sell at farmers markets. They were works of art in themselves, and I was mesmerized by the stunning colors and sometimes botanical decorations. I also loved how helpful they were! Everyone uses some kind of soap.
That’s why I started teaching myself how to make cold soap from my small rented kitchen. There were some initial setbacks, but I persevered and was hooked! The next year I had my own farmers market!
What are your favorite types of colored clay to add to soap?
Clay is an amazing natural soap dye. They come in a variety of pastel, natural and neutral shades, and the colors they produce in the soap do not change or fade over time. French pink and French green clays are my favorites and I also love Cambrian blue clay.
I would also like to work with Brazilian purple clay, but it has been difficult to find a supplier in the UK. I’ve seen photos of soap made with it and can’t wait to see what it looks like in real life.
You grow your own calendula, which you use to color your soaps and add to other home cosmetics. What do you especially love about calendula?
I love how versatile and versatile calendula is! It is an edible flower, a medicinal plant and a natural dye. (See Tanya An e-book on everything about growing and using calendula in skin care.)
Different species also have different colors, including yellow, orange, and pinkish-yellow.
Most importantly for soap making, it is a reliable colorant and decoration! Unlike most flowers, calendula petals retain their color in the high pH of natural soap. While the lavender and rose petals turn a rusty brown, the calendula remains vibrant and beautiful and makes a great botanical decoration.
I use calendula flowers to decorate the tops of the sticks and mix them into the soap batter to leave little flecks of color.
When making dyes for fabric or ink, we usually extract the dye in water (although sometimes alcohol). However, you often extract dyes from oil to make soaps and cosmetics. Can you tell us a little bit about this process and what plants do best in oil?
Plants are unique little creatures with a variety of components that secrete into various solvents, including water and oil. Some may do well with both, while others prefer only one.
The main ingredient in soap is oil, so it makes sense to extract the plant material into the oil.
The three dye plants I most often extract in oil for soap making are carrot, calendula, and alkanate. (Alcanna tinctoria).
Above: Alkanate oil combined with regular olive oil. Above right: Alkanet colored soap.
While you can use water infusions (or other infusion methods) for each, the colors you get in soap are less vibrant than extracting them into a liquid carrier oil. For example, if you infuse a root herb in oil, you can get a nice shade of true pink, but when you add powdered root herb or root juice infusion to a soap recipe, the color you get is pale.
To infuse an herb into oil, you usually dry it first. Oils exposed to moisture for long periods of time can spoil prematurely, and that’s terrible news in soap making. Fragrant oils can spoil your soap, causing it to smell strange and oxidize and spoil. Fresh plant material can also rot on the surface of the oil.
Once dry, add it to a jar of liquid oil, such as olive oil, and leave to infuse for several weeks to months. The ratio of plant material to oil varies from botanical to botanical and from plant parts to other plant parts. For some seeds like annatto, you would use a teaspoon or two of oil. With dried calendula flowers, I fill the jars halfway and then fill the whole thing with oil.
The soap undergoes a process of saponification, which can change the color of the soap. What are the most surprising color changes you’ve seen?
Alkanet root is dramatic because the infused oil you create with it turns a beautiful ruby red. Then when you start making soap, it turns from gray to blue! By simply gelling the soap and allowing it to cure for a few days to a week, the soap can turn a beautiful soft purple color.
Another almost shocking transformation is the soap you can make with Himalayan rhubarb. The infused oil is a bright yellow color, but when you make soap with it, the batter turns a vibrant red-magenta color!
Do you have a favorite botanical to add to your soap that offers color and healing benefits for the skin?
The most healing properties that soap can give your skin are the conditioning nutrients from the super oil—the extra oil in the recipe—that stays loose in the bars and doesn’t turn into soap.
Rich mango butter and cocoa butter are my favorite super fats, but you can also use liquid oils. If you infuse these super oils with herbal ingredients, such as calendula, then it is possible for the healing properties of calendula to remain on your skin after washing.
Also, essential oils can remain on your skin after using the soap – you can smell them! Essential oils are highly concentrated natural plant chemicals with healing benefits, and some (such as citronella and can vary) can even dye your soap a light yellow color.
You can even add ingredients that add color and offer abrasive properties. What are your favorites?
Any small particles you work into your soap bars have the potential to add color and etching. Poppy seeds add a nice black stain to soap and can be very abrasive.
My favorite natural color-come exfoliant should be dry and mint. Think of the same texture as a mint in a tea bag. If you add a spoonful to a batch of soap, the small green pieces will turn greenish-brown and a golden halo will brew around each piece. You can also feel the dry mint while using the soap and it exfoliates very lightly and comfortably.
Thanks so much for the chat, Tanya!
Now let’s take a look…
Calendula Bath Truffle Recipe
Bath truffles are a more luxurious version of the bath bomb. They look almost edible and are packed with rich fats like shea and cocoa butters. These oils melt into a lighter lather in the bath and breathe new life into dry, tired skin. They also look amazing as a set and make a great gift. Recipe makes 8 truffles.
- 128 g (4.5 oz / ~ 1/2 cup) Citric acid
- 370 g (13 oz / 1-1/3 cups) Bicarbonate of soda (Baking soda)
- 14 g (0.49 oz) Shea butter
- 14 g (0.49 oz) cocoa butter*
- 1 teaspoon of calendula-infused liquid oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Ylang Ylang essential oil (optional)
- 8 dried calendula flowers
* This is a solid fat used in chocolate production. This is not the “Cocoa Butter” skin care lotion you may be more familiar with.
- Digital kitchen scale
- Silicone mold with small 1″ gaps
- Two stainless steel pans (or double boilers), one smaller than the other
- Rubber spatula
1. The heads of calendula flowers that decorate these truffles are dried in a special way. I put them face down in the food dehydrator so they dried completely open but flat.
2. Place the dried calendula flower heads face down in the bottom of each mold cavity.
3. Measure the citric acid and bicarbonate (baking soda) into a mixing bowl.
4. Fill most of the pans halfway with water and bring to a boil.
5. Measure the shea and cocoa butters into a small pan and drop them into the pot of boiling water. Stir gently and when completely melted, remove the bowl from the water and place it on a pot holder on the kitchen counter.
6. Mix liquid oil infused with calendula. If you notice the oils are a little cloudy, return them to the pan of boiling water briefly to remelt them.
7. Slowly drizzle the melted butter over the dry ingredients while mixing. Use a spatula to get every last drop of oil out of the pan and into the bowl. If you want a nice floral scent, mix it with an essential oil.
8. Pack the mixture firmly into the mold cavities and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. After that, take them out and let them come to room temperature. Store them in an airtight container for up to a year.
9. Break them open to use or pour them into the bath and watch them fizz and melt. These can make your tub very slippery, so be careful.
You can find Tanya’s eBooks here:
Also, you’ll love Tanya’s printed book Women’s garden.
Visit Tanya You Tube channel here.