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Facial and body soap

It is no coincidence that the same companies that sell you soap, sell you moisturiser. When you use soap, you strip away much of the goodness and moisture as well as what we think of as ‘dirt’. The result being that we then become dependent on the same companies that sold us this moisture-robbing agent in the first place to put the moisture back in. They get to sell us two products when none were needed in the first place.

There is absolutely no need for soap, and the rest of the animal kingdom would attest to this. People who don’t wash their hair for a few months are regularly quoted as saying their hair starts to clean itself. The same is true for skin. When I gave up soap many years ago, I’ll admit it felt a little strange at first. I really wanted to just lather myself up in the shower. But after a week or two that craving faded. My skin is thankful for it too, as it is healthier than ever, and no longer addicted to something that it never needed in the first place to stay clean.

That said, the main reason I can live without soap is that I generally eat a very healthy diet: wholegrains, fruits, nuts, vegetables and clean fresh water, the odd herb tea and little else. All organic and fresh. If you put good stuff in, what comes out will smell fine. If you put junk in, what comes out will smell like junk. It’s that simple.

If you drink a lot of coffee or fizzy drinks, smoke a lot of tobacco, or regularly eat processed food, then unfortunately you may need something more than water to stay smelling fresh and clean. I’d recommend using soapwort (Saponaria officinalis). It contains saponins, and it causes solutions that contain it to lather up, in a similar way to conventional modern soap. If you’re of a foraging persuasion and know your local history, you may find this plant still growing wild near the sites of old Roman baths. When you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense to grow your soap right next to where you’ll need it. Today we call this Permaculture; back then they called it common sense. The problem is that we don’t think like our forebears any more, as we can easily pick up something flavoured with the essence of jojoba and raw cocoa instead.

Failing having an old Roman bath nearby, you can also find soapwort close to streams and in damp woods and hedgerows. It’s an easy plant to grow – it’s a perennial, pest and disease free, likes rich soil but it can cope with dry and generally poor soil, and is very easy to look after. Keep a little eye on it however, as it can spread quickly in richer soils.

Soapwort can be used for all skin types (it’s pH balanced for skin and hair, it’s mild and has a refreshing feel about it). To turn your plant into a wonderfully mild facial and body soap, I’d recommend the following method:

• Chop 1 cup worth of fresh soapwort leaves, stems and root (if you have already dried and ground the root for winter use, use two tablespoons of it in two cups of water instead).

• Chop up about 5-7 tablespoons of fresh herbs, depending on how strong you want it. You can add other herbs to the mix, depending on your skin type. For dryish to normal skin, use lady’s mantle. If your skin can be slightly oily, lemon balm and rosemary should do the trick. For very oily skin, yarrow, mint and sage work well. Regardless of what your skin is like, you can add lemon verbena, nettles, comfrey, chamomile or elderflower. Add this to the soapwort and soak in 1 pint of water overnight.

• It is common practice to then boil this mixture the next day, which is what I have done in the past. However, herbalist and author Jekka McVicar(189) recommends not boiling it as it can decompose the active ingredient. Therefore heat it up very well until it suds up a little (because it thankfully doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulphate, it won’t have the level of suds you normally expect in soap – a very good thing).

• Once it has cooled, strain the liquid using muslin, and bottle it. It should keep in a cold place for up to about a week.

• Never take internally as it is mildly poisonous.

This recipe is also the second best makeup remover I know of. Realising that you’re absolutely beautiful just the way you are tops the list. Soapwort can also help heal mild acne, especially if you add some marigold to it. If you really want to cure acne for good, I would highly recommend finding a Chinese herbalist in your local Freeconomy group. I tried every conventional facewash as a child, but it wasn’t until I took Chinese herbs for it that I finally got rid of it. Considering that your skin is your body’s biggest organ, it goes without saying that eating fresh organic fruit and vegetables (something I never did as a child) will help keep your skin healthy also.

Hand soap

Wood ash and water is an old tried and trusted method. Again, it’s counter-intuitive to us today, but it works. Don’t leave it on too long though as it will make your hands dry, and remember to rinse quickly. If you don’t have that at hand, I’d chop the leaves of either New Jersey Tea or Mock Orange(190) (two shrubs that I’d recommend for your forest garden) and soaking them for a few hours.


Personally, I like the natural smell of people. Deodorant is used to mask the symptoms of an unhealthy diet. If you do want a moneyless deodorant, however, you can grow bay leaves and hyssop, make a herbal infusion out of them and smear it over your filthy body until your heart is content. I’d prefer to smell you though.

Moisturisers and toners

Aloe vera juice and gel, which naturally contains salicylic acid, is great both as a toner and a moisturiser, and is renowned for its uses in dealing with sunburn. Aloe plants grow fine indoors in the UK, and my advice is to keep as many plants as you can fit on your windowsill. Always harvest the biggest leaves first. There really is no need to fork out for expensive aloe vera based moisturisers from your pharmacy or health food shop.

Bums and toilet paper

The first question you should ask yourself is – do you need it? I’ve no doubt that almost everyone will say yes! But many cultures use water to clean their bums, and considering we use water for all other parts of our body, there would seem to be a lot of logic in that. If you do prefer to have a wipe, then there are a number of options.

First, you can approach your local newsagents and ask them if they’re happy for you to take a couple of copies of the previous day’s papers that they have to normally throw out. For bum wiping, I’d recommend the broadsheets as you get a long strip out of them, or ironically, last week’s Trade-it magazine, partially for the beautiful irony, partially because it’s full of shit anyway, but mainly because the paper they use just feels nice.

If that’s all a little too industrial for you, then there are methods that were normal and worked well for thousands of years. Similarly to your dishes, pine cones (choose the softer, decomposing ones from the forest floor) and big clumps of grass work well. Anything broadleaved is good, though take care not to use any leaves that are toxic or poisonous to humans; a dock leaf will suffice, its anti-inflammatory qualities are particularly soothing if you’ve been on the curry the night before. If you are striving for Enlightenment and want to transcend the mundane material world, then use a bunch of stinging nettles and that will test your mettle. Surprisingly, smooth rocks with no sharp edges also work well, and the more porous the better. If you’re lucky enough to have moss at hand in an emergency situation, go for that. If it’s winter and all of the above are covered in a icy white blanket, then I’d advice using that blanket. Snow certainly isn’t the most appealing option at 6am on a winter’s morning, but that’s sometimes what living ecologically means, so man-up and deal with it!

I’ve no doubt some of you will feel horrified about some of these options – I did to begin with – but that’s more of a reflection of our odd culture than the methods themselves. Remember one thing: it’s only poo, and it came from you in the first place!