By Debra Hasbrouck
One morning, while strolling through the Paradise Farmers’ Market, I met herbalist Jules Pecson when I stopped at the “Fiona’s Forest” booth. Jules studied in McCall, Idaho under Darcy Williamson, a master herbalist and author of many books on herbs and plants. Jules herself is a wealth of information on herbal remedies and natural beauty products.
I couldn’t resist the luscious smelling “Chocolate Fondue” soap, which Jules said became a best seller after she made a batch with chocolate leftover from a fondue party. Two other items caught my eye — the Sunny Day SPF 20 Facial Cream with non-nano zinc oxide (the good kind that isn’t absorbed by your skin) and the 50/50 Bar Body Butter.
After trying the products at home, I was so impressed that I decided to sign up for one of Jules’ classes. With the holidays perched on the horizon, I figured that I could make some unique gifts that would smell fantastic. Jules offers two different hands-on classes. One week you can make natural body butters and facial creams. The following week she has a class on making soap from scratch. Both classes offer the option of scenting your creation with natural essential oils. I decided to try my artistic talent in the Soap Making Class.
One Sunday afternoon, I gathered with five other women at Jules’ studio in Paradise, as she gave us a brief explanation of what to expect. While handing out copies of her soap recipe, Jules explained that it was vital to measure exactly and to monitor the temperature with a thermometer as we worked.
After smelling a large array of different essential oils, we each decided on which scent we wanted to use. We also had the option of putting color in our batch and adding texture by using dried lavender flowers or lemon zest.
Before starting the process we weighed our ingredients on a small kitchen scale. We learned that one needs to get the correct proportion of ingredients for the soap to stay firm, while still leaving enough oils free to moisturize your skin.
After donning aprons, gloves and safety glasses we were ready to start the process. Using temperature and consistency as a guide, we were able to saponify (convert fat into soap) our batches. Some of us added dried lavender flowers or lemon zest to the mixture. Next we stirred in some essential oils, and with six of us taking the class, there was an amazing potpourri of intoxicating scents. We then had the choice to dye our entire batch or work color into the top for a beautifully accented layer. Ideally, upon completion the soap needs to sit for two days before cutting and four days before removing from the mold. Finally, after two weeks the fragrant, luxurious soap will be ready to use.
There are many recipes online, and if you go that route, I recommend following the instructions exactly. Especially pay attention to any safety precautions, most soaps use lye that is very caustic. Once you begin making the soap, you need to complete the entire process uninterrupted. Therefore it is necessary to have everything ready ahead of time: measuring cups or a scale, apron, gloves, safety glasses, all recipe ingredients, paper towels, pans, utensils and a mold of some sort.
Taking a class worked well for me because I could practice under someone with experience – before trying it at home. It was also helpful to learn some tricks, such as misting the finished soap with alcohol to keep an ashen crust from forming. Plus, it was great to have a wide assortment of essential oils to experiment with. In the end, I have four gorgeous bars of homemade soap, some new knowledge and many fun memories shared with a wonderful group of women on a Sunday afternoon.
If you’re interested in making soap or lotions, Jules gives alternating classes every Sunday. Check out her website at www.fionasforest.com for class schedules or find her on Facebook.
If short on time, you can buy Jules’ beautiful soaps or natural creams through her website or visit her at the Saturday Farmers’ Market in Chico.