Why do I make conker soap?
This is a slightly different recipe than you might expect to see from me and just to clarify, this is not an edible recipe, Conkers, the nut from the horse chestnut tree are poisonous! This is a recipe for a hand soap. This conker soap recipe can also be used as a clothes detergent. I’ve always been into herbal remedies and really appreciating every last plant, even the weeds that so many strive to eradicate. In 2020 I further explored my love for nature and utilising nature along with a love for medieval history and discovered that you could make soap from conkers. The very same conkers that I have enjoyed hunting for my whole life, both as a child and with my own child.
The history of conker soap:
Conkers contain a compound called saponins. Saponins are responsible for creating the foam we expect to see when we wash our hands with any soap and helps to dislodge and remove the dirt from our skin. In ancient china, they worked out that when boiled a nut that they soon named the soap nut, it would lather into a soapy substance. The soap nut and the conker are different nuts but the idea is the same.
Where to find conkers:
It probably goes without saying that to make conker soap, you need to collect some conkers. Conkers usually fall just as autumn is starting, they grow on the horse chestnut trees protected by a tough spikey casing. As the conkers fall the case splits and out falls the conker. Look in wooded areas for conkers that have already fallen to the ground. When your looking for conkers be sure to stay mindful to the wildlife around you that need the conkers for food during the winter months. Never take too many from one spot.
How to make conker soap:
You will need about 300g of conkers to fill 2 100ml bottles. I wouldn’t recommend making any more than this at once as I have not yet found a way to lengthen the shelf life. If you don’t use this conker soap within a week it will start to go off. Thoroughly clean your conkers in warm water to remove any dirt. Chop them into 4-8 pieces depending on size and put them into a saucepan. Watch out for any bad conkers, you don’t want to include them.
Fill the saucepan with enough water to cover the conkers and heat on low for 45 minutes, giving the a stir every now and again. You will notice quite quickly that the water turns a milky shade as the inside of the conker starts to soften. Eventually, all of the white inside of the conker will have melted into the water. Depending on how thick you would like your soap to be depends on how much water you want to boil off. Keep an eye on your conker soap and take it off the heat when it looks slightly runnier than desired. I find it thickens slightly as it cools. Leave it to cool.
Now we will need to strain our conker soap mixture to remove any shell or lumps. I originally used a tea towel with a few holes poked through for this and it always worked well however I also recently tried cheesecloth and actually found this actually strained too well, all it produced was a very thin conker infused water. So I went back to the idea of stabbing holes in the fabric and that seemed to work. These holes need to be small enough to catch any shell but big enough to let your soap drip through.
I also found that if you find yourself in a situation where you have strained only water out and are left with a thick paste inside of your fabric, you can mix a bit of this paste back into the water you’ve strained out so its not a disaster if things don’t go to plan, this recipe is very forgiving at every stage!
I’d really like to try making a conker soap bar out of the conker paste next autumn, if you give it a go be sure to let me know how you get on in the comments and we can compare notes!
Pour your soap into a small bottle for storage. I picked a this little 100ml squeezy bottle at Superdrug for about £1.50. Use your soap within a week and store out of direct sunlight.
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