Survive in Style (4) - Free Soap




About: I made a beer mug with only a knife and a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

One of the best superfuities - is so freakin' useful since it gives me the opportunity to learn at least one new word every day, so today it's the awesome word superfluity - when you're out there in the great outdoors with your pockets full of nothing, is body hygiene.

Body hygiene. Yep, we're really going thàt way in this 'Survive in style' series.

I know, the feeling IS great - knowing that you're stinking like a skunk that just threw all its body fluid against the wind - once we've got Rage Against The Machine, now we have Skunk Against The Wind - and not caring a single second about it.

Searching food, making shelter and enjoying the simple life are so much nicer than caring about such a trivial thing as 'being clean' - I know you worked hard the whole year to get all this money just to go out there and live for several weeks without spending it.

I know, all this. But there are limits, though. Bad body hygiene is an open door for deseases, mental breakdown & social isolation. And thus cruelly mortgaging your chances on a decent survival-date.

You really need a wash, from time to time. Please.

I don't want you to smell good, I just want you not to smell bad. You may smell bad, in fact, what counts is that sticky fermenting stuff all over your body.

Get rid of it!

'Got no soap!' - I just knèw you'd say that!

You know what? MAKE IT, that soap!

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Step 1: Go to SIS (2)

Depending on the region where you're stinking you might need a mug - not to brew a magic beer that cleans you on the outside while it passes through the inside, but just to crush leaves. Really.

In fact, the interesting part is not really those leaves, but what they carry in them. Some plants contain a lot of saponins, molecules that protect them against fungi & other parasites. These saponins also have a surface tension-lowering effect and are thus excellent emulsifiers. Read: they dissolve grease & fat aka that stuff that makes you a walking stick-on-everything.

Saponins let soap be soap.

So I invite you to spend just 15 minutes or those thousands of minutes ahead of you to make a decent recipient.

As you see, I even modified mine: I just cut it in eight and remplaced the hemp by nice paracord.

Honestly: isn't it the coolest 15min mug you've eve seen?

Step 2: Carve a Pestle

A nice piece of wood is all you need.

Carve it!

Step 3: Stinking in America

Finding natural soap in North America is as easy as opening a beer bottle with a cucumber and a freezer.

In semi-arid regions: grab some yucca, crush the roots, add some water and soap you have.

In California: find the California buckeye (Aesculus californica), crush the nuts, add some water and soap you have.

In the other regions: start walking to a semi arid region.

In fact, since yuccas have been spread all over the world, it's not that difficult to find them also elsewhere than in the Americas. It's a great escaper from garden centers and once they're nicely installed somewhere they're there to stay. We have one in our garden for example, that has been there for almost 20 years. Just too bad my wife didn't allow me to dig a few roots. It seems that we 'have a real bathroom'.

But sometimes sacrifices have to be made. I discovered a secred egg-cache - playful chickens, you know - and since they had created it on a bunch of baby-yuccas I decided to take good profit of the situation.

The eggs were mine, the baby-yuccas were mine. Minus one piece of baby.

So I did grab some yucca, I did crush the root and I did add some water to obtain a kind of gelatinous stuff that cleaned my hands and my contaminated soul. It worked for the first. It failed for the last.

Step 4: Stinking in Eurasia

On the good side of the Atlantic - haha - we have a real problem, called the Absence Of Widespread Yucca & California Buckeye.

Does that mean we have to stink & make the best of it anyway?

No we don't, since we have Ivy.

Ivy (Hedera helix) is a parasitic plant that climbs upon vertical surfaces like walls & trees, extracting water & nutrients from them. This climber stays green the whole year and gives perfect shelters for birds & rodents.

But most particular of all: the young leaves contain a lot of saponins - up to 8%.

Quite Important Note for those on the bad side - LOL - of the Atlantic: apparently Ivy has found its way over there too, which means that we're stinking as equals by now! We have your Yucca, but you have our Ivy...

Step 5: Crushin' Ivy

Grab a handful of leaves, drop them in your mortar and crush them like if your life on depends.

Empty the mortarmug by tapping it upside down and release the mash.

Step 6: Foam Party

Add some water to the mash, rub it between your hands and see the foam coming all over you.

Undress completely & repeat the same action to the rest of your body.

Clean you will be.

There's only one side effect: you might attract lots of Ivy-beetles and Ivy-moths the next few days.

So watch out for SIS(5): DIY Roundup Shampoo.

Step 7: The White List

There's more soap in the world than yucca & ivy. Many plants contain saponins - it's just a question of knowledge & finding them.

Using natural - and biodegredable - soaps on your next trip will be so much better ànd cooler than the commercial stuff.

The soap is out there. Use it.

Horse chestnut - use the crushed chestnuts (thanx member ChefJohn1955)

Philadelphus sp. - use leafs & flowers

Snowberry - use the berries

Clethra alnifolia - use the flowers

American Pokeweed - use the crushed root

Bracken - use the rhizomes

Common soapwort - use the crushed root (thanx member ysabet)

Sapindus - my favorite - use the nuts

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    60 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Hi there mate,

    Just thought you might like something from down under here in Australia for your white list. It's the Aussie Soap Tree, Alphitonia excelsa (also known as Red Ash or just Soap tree).

    Here's the wikipedia link -

    Plus a useful video link in case you visit down under. You will probably find it entertaining too, but the info in it is factual & useful here in the bush.

    Interestingly you can also use the soap tree as a fish "poison" too, in still or slow moving bodies of water (creeks, rivers, billabongs etc.). By crushing enough of the leaves in the water it deoxygenates it & renders the fish unconscious so they float to the surface. It doesn't actually poison the fish & although it isn't really sporting, it's a handy thing to know if you find yourself in a real survival situation.

    We have some more native plants here that also can be used for soap, but I want to make sure I post correct information. So I will double check it first.

    Great instructable btw ☺.


    3 years ago

    From the time I was able to walk, my family went out every year and picked polk sallet. Everyone in the family, except me, ate it. Never had one person get sick. My mom would wilt it in a pan, then scramble it with eggs. One interesting thing about poke sallet a lot of people don't know. When you go pick it, it is always found along fencelines, bottoms of poles, gates,etc. The seed has to pass through the digestive system of a bird before it will germinate. That is one of the main reasons it has never been commercially grown. This is a great instructable going in my faves. Brought back some good memories too.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    Really? people ate it where I grew up. And didn't die. Are we talking about the same thing? "Poke sallet"?


    Reply 3 years ago

    Poke sallet may be a traditional food, but a risky one. From what I understand it has to be made correctly, or else. And apparently the root is the most poisonous part of the plant.


    4 years ago

    You could also use some hardwood, make a nice fire, drink some beer and gather the white ash:
    throw some white ashes into your frying pan after dinner — the lye in the ash will combine with the fat from the cooking to make a crude soap.

    or just use the ash with water, also good toothpaste


    4 years ago

    There's the Ragged Robin, too. Pink flowers, grows like a weed.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Horse chestnuts aka (conkers) have a lot of saponin .. used to be an expensive bubble bath made out of them (Badaedas sp.? I think)

    6 replies

    I checked it out: you've got to crush the nuts to set those saponins free. It seemed that during WW1 a lot of people used the chestnut flour as a natural alternative for soap. I really need to try that!


    Reply 4 years ago

    I know there are Chestnuts on the box - I never thought about why though... :)


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    How do you extract the saponin from conkers? Are they in the outside layer or do you have to process them?


    Reply 4 years ago

    How? I'd like to try that :)


    4 years ago on Step 3

    well at least i know something to do with that yukka plant i cant get rid sonce the landscaper thought it a good idea to dump dirt over the original plant now it grows where ever it please I use reetha soapnuts to wash my hair, also known as sapindus detergens. They're native to south asia.

    1 reply