[Herbalist] Soap- How would they Have created Lye?

Kathleen Keeler kkeeler at unlserve.unl.edu
Sun Feb 1 14:37:58 PST 2004

On Saturday, January 31, 2004, at 03:03 AM, LadyPDC at aol.com wrote:

> bjofnz at yahoo.co.nz writes:
> How would they of created lye?
Lady Constance replied
>  <>Lye came from wood ash.  <>, they would clean the ash out of the 
> oven and place it in a kind of a sieve (in some cases the sieve was 
> lined with broadcloth or cheesecloth, others made no mention of any 
> lining.  This sieve was then placed over a bucket or barrel.  Often 
> this container is just left out to wait for the next good rain or even 
> place under a roof eve to facilitate the projection of rainwater into 
> the container.  In some cases, there are records of a weekly drenching 
> of the ashes with water.
> The resultant liquid formed by running water through the clean and 
> quite burned (temps in a baking oven get quite high) wood ashes give 
> the lye component that was used in soap making. 

I made soap at the Lilies War twice, by collecting ash from campfires, 
and pouring water through it.  The water dissolves the right salts from 
the ash to make lye.  You concentrate the lye by evaporating off the 

Good strong lye is coffee-colored.

For soap,  you add a fat to that, heat and stir.  It saponifies.

I used bacon fat from the weeks' breakfasts.   1 TBSP fat or less to 
(memory inexact) a quart (gallon?) of lye.  So a lot of ashes makes a 
bucket of lye water  which simmers down to a quart.  Add a little fat.  
Heat over the fire for hours until the water is far enough gone that it 

When I added salt (as instructed by HL Annalies who is Calontir's major 
soapmaker) I got a more or less solid product, without the salt it 
stayed very soft.

And, my yield was less than a half cup of slightly-bacon-smelling soap, 
but it was soap.

I actually started out planning to make soap to clean the camping 
dishes.  In fact, you can clean dishes just fine with sand and water 
(if you don't have germ theory).  Its tricky to make this soap have 
enough fat to appeal for washing hands...mostly it had too high a lye 
content.  But what I think would have made it worth while to go to all 
this effort in early Period was to clean textiles.

Mag Mor Calontir
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