Simple soap making

Making a quick soap from Horse chestnut leaves by crushing them in water is most likely not new to bush crafters who know this tree. The chemical aesculin (a saponin) is responsible for the frothy lather that results from mashing the leaves in water and is pretty effective at getting hands clean after mooching about in the woods.

Most people have at some point seen (perhaps without noting the relevance) frothy puddles in towns and cities where conkers and their shells fall by the road side, get covered by a puddle and are then crushed by passing traffic again releasing a mass of white soapy foam due to the same chemicals.

The soap made from conkers has a very gentle action compared to some modern day soaps which largely contain very caustic additives. Their use historically, other than a rough woodland soap, was for cleaning delicate fabrics such as old tapestries. We recently put this soap to the test on our Woodland Wayer program and the results were pretty good.

We used two panels of cotton with muddy boot prints to test the soap.

9Chopped conkers mashed in hot water.

soapFoamy hot water to treat muddy fabric

11The results!

With a little bit of elbow grease we managed to remove all but the faintest stains of mud from the cotton. One student’s suggestion was to test the soap again using a scrubbing board as just dunking and wringing in soapy water is only going to lift surface dirt rather than dislodge ingrained dirt within the fibers of the material – a future test no doubt!

Adam Logan.


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