In India and Africa, neem has long been renowned for its cleansing properties. This recipe uses antiseptic propolis, which is used by bees to protect their hives, as well as soothing lavender and tea tree essential oils. If you want, add some lavender flowers to this neem cleansing soap when it is semi-set for decoration.
- 11⁄4 cups inexpensive olive oil,
- 3⁄4 cup coconut oil,
- 1⁄2 cup cooled, boiled, or distilled water,
- 2oz (60g) caustic soda (lye crystals),
- 1 tsp neem oil,
- 5 drops propolis tincture,
- 40 drops lavender essential oil,
- 30 drops tea tree essential oil.
Makes 16 bars
- Blend the olive and coconut oils together in a saucepan and put the pan over low heat. Heat the mix, whisking, until the temperature reaches 140°F (60°C).
- To make the lye mixture, pour the water into a glass or stainless steel bowl, then put the bowl in a sink in case the contents froth over when the caustic soda is added. Put on protective goggles, gloves, and an apron, then mix the caustic soda into the water using a wooden spoon until the crystals dissolve completely (always add the caustic soda to the water rather than the other way around). Allow to cool.
- Add the cooled lye mixture to the hot oils in the saucepan and mix with a wooden spoon thoroughly. Then beat with a metal whisk for about 20 seconds. You should get the consistency similar to that of thick custard so that a line is visible if drawn on its surface. Mix in the neem oil, propolis tincture, and essential oils to fragrance the soap. Pour the mixture into a 6in (15cm) square stainless steel dish that is at least 2in (5cm) deep and greased with olive oil, cover with a cloth, and leave to harden for 24 hours.
- While still soft enough to cut, remove the soap wearing plastic gloves and cut into bars with a knife. Arrange the bars on trays and allow to dry out fully and harden; this will take a couple of weeks. During this time the pH value of the soap will drop, becoming more neutral and therefore milder.
NOTE: You can find that a whitish residue appears on the surface; this can be scraped off if you want. The soap will continue to dry out for a few months depending on the weather, but the pH value will decrease slowly and stay stable after a couple of weeks. Check the pH of the finished soap before using (it should be about 10–10.5).