It’s actually pretty easy and doesn’t require any special skills or hard-to-obtain ingredients, which I’m going to elaborate on in just a moment.
The thing which always amazed me is how people tend to think in a very linear way, simplifying things to a degree when the constructs no longer correspond with external reality. For instance – we know for sure that starting from the Middle Ages and on to the Renaissance, Baroque and Enlightenment and in most areas even until the first half of 20th century the hygiene of a regular person was in a truly horrible state. Thus most assume that since it was so and got significantly better just recently, then it must have been the worse the further back in time you went.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The word soap itself comes from Celtic/Germanic word sopa, which meant a cleaning/washing mixture. Celtic, Germanic and most probably all European tribes used natural soap and other means of personal hygiene before the coming of “civilization”, “high society” and other great things. And I’m going to show you the perfect example of how our European ancestors, in this case in ancient Scandinavia, managed to find ways to make their soap and keep themselves clean. They even astonish the Christian chroniclers of England, from whose accounts we know of the Vikings’ practices, with their above average hygiene.
In order to make your own Viking soap, all you need is some conkers. They don’t have to be fresh, so you can gather (or alternatively purchase from a gourmet nut store) more and store them for later use throughout the year, as they are only available in autumn. We managed to gather around 15 kilos (~30 pounds) in just two short strolls, which should be enough to last for a couple of months or more.
When you feel like you’ve gathered enough, take a portion that will fit in a glass jar (no point in preparing more as it will spoil easier in this form), peel it (but keep the peeled skins as I’m going to tell you what to do with them in another post) and then grate it finely. It shouldn’t take you more than about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your jar.
There you go. It’s all done. What you get is actually something in between a peeling and a soap. It works splendidly, although you couldn’t use it for shaving and such.
To make you own shaving lotion, you’d have to squeeze the grated conkers firmly in a cheesecloth to obtain as much juice as possible – although there won’t be that much of it. You can leave the conker pieces and still use them as your soap and peeling. Then mix the juice with some water and a spoon of Vegetable Glycerine. Experiment with the proportions in order to achieve the desired density.
The conker juice is also one of the best natural laundry liquids that can be used on all kinds of fabric and is hypoallergenic. It’s a very good substitute to the detergents sold nowadays. Certainly worth considering especially if you have kids, who tend to get allergies and skin irritation from regular laundry powders and liquids.
Important note: esculin as well as saponin and glycoside contituents that can be found in horse chestnuts (i.e. conkers) are toxic and should not be ingested. Remember to wash off all excess soap after use.