Originally written for ‘Growing Today’

I hate to burst your bubble, but shampoos aren’t necessarily doing your hair any favours.

People born in the fifties and onwards have been caught up in the hype that bubbles equate to better hair care.  In fact detergents were developed after WW2 as heavy duty de-greasing agents, when there was a shortage of animal fats and hence soap.

Detergents were originally used in industry and later modified into shampoos.  Detergents are extremely vigorous in their effects on grease, and indiscriminately   strip away our hairs’ natural oils.  This in turn requires us to put on a conditioner to return lustre to our hair in the form of waxes and nutrients.  Your scalp and hair can react in two ways to shampoos – by getting dry and itchy or by getting greasier and greasier in an attempt to balance itself, and replenish the natural oils washed away.

Our favourite hair washing technique is as simple as it gets.  I must admit that sometimes we have lapses and use shampoos for a while – but sooner or later we come back to this:-

Soap – our Grannys’ used it, using rainwater to rinse in and never knew what problem hair was.

Some people like to dissolve a large quantity of soap in hot water and have a ready supply of liquid soap. Personally I can’t stand the texture, a viscous slimey goo which slithers about elusively.  I just lather a bar of soap straight onto my hair (when I had very long hair I would slosh up a soapy mix in a jug of hot water, just enough for one wash).  Our water is hard here so it doesn’t lather a great deal.  I always rinse with a jug of warm water with vinegar in it – any vinegar will do.  The smell disappears quickly, so don’t worry you won’t go around smelling of vinegar.

There are a number of herbs which can be used as tonics and conditioners, and you can either brew up a pot of herb tea to rinse your hair with and/or you can make herbal vinegars to use as a rinse.

Using either soap, the solid bar shampoo or Soapwort shampoo you will probably only need to wash your hair once a week, and it will stay balanced – not too  greasy or too dry.  Of course, if you’ve been working it into a lather every day for years your hair may take a little while to adjust to the new system.

Soapwort Shampoo:

Take a small handful of Soapwort leaves, stalks or roots and pour over it 300ml (1/2 pint) of boiling water.  Leave overnight and then strain before use.  This is a gentle cleanser which will not make a huge amount of bubbles but will cleanse your hair.

Incidentally it has been used in Museums by fabric restorers to clean old tapestries and lace work, because of its gentle cleansing action.


Egg Shampoo:

 1.    Whisk 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of orange juice in ½ pint warm soapwort solution.

Massage the mixture well into the hair and leave 10 minutes; easiest to do first thing in the shower and then carry on with your other ablutions while you wait.  Rinse thoroughly.

This is reported to be an excellent remedy for greasy hair and an itchy scalp.

2.    As a tonic for dry hair, beat an egg, or two if you have a lot of hair, to a froth and rub well into you hair and scalp.  Egg yolks have a wealth of nutrients in them that benefit the hair.

Leave for a few minutes then rinse out with tepid water, too hot and all  you’ll need is toast for a complete breakfast!

In my family fine hair has never been a problem, we all have hair as thick as a horse’s mane – and just as unruly.  In the morning we all have strange crests and tufts that need beating into submission, if we are to look anywhere near presentable in public.  If on the other hand you would like more hair, try brushing it every day with your head upside down and your hair hanging down – it stimulates the oil glands and blood vessels in your scalp.  Another useful trick a lady at a hairdressers told me – is to give your head a jolly good scratch first thing in the morning – especially good if you suffer from dry scalp as it gets those oil glands working and loosens any dead skin so it can be brushed out.  The Bandoline Recipe is excellent to give body and shine to hair.

Like the rest of your body, your hair also acts as an indicator for your health.  Lack lustre hair, hair falling out etc may be a sign to look a bit more closely at your diet and lifestyle, or may be in response to surgery or other trauma.

Useful Herbs for your Hair:

Put a couple of handfuls of any of the following leaves, shredded, in a pot, bring to the boil and leave to cool.  Use for final rinse.


  • Cleavers – leaves (goosegrass)
  • Lemon tree leaves
  • Ngaio leaves (poisonous)
  • Ivy leaves (poisonous)
  • Stinging nettles
  • Walnut leaves
  • Burdock
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Sage
  • Parsley
  • Southernwood


Conditioners & Tonics

  • Chamomile flowers – especially for blonde hair
  • Lime flowers – Tilea (Linden)
  • Fennel – leaves, flowers or seeds
  • Stinging nettle
  • Ngaio
  • Rosemary – especially for dark hair
  • Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
  • Nasturtium – flowers, leaves and seeds

Colour Enhancers *You need to follow a recipe

  • Rosemary – conditioner for dark hair
  • Rhubarb root – turns light brown hair to golden *
  • Sage – a strong brew is reputed to darken fading hair
  • Walnut husks – green – darkens hair to dark brown *
  • Chamomile – conditioner for blonde hair
  • Lemon juice and sunlight bleach hair to blonde

To Stimulate Hair Growth:

  • Stinging nettle
  • Lime flowers

If you make a tea to rinse your hair with, using one or several of the above herbs, you can add the vinegar to the brew and repeat rinse for your final rinse after the soap is rinsed out by catching the run off in a bowl and running it through your hair a couple of times.  Might as well make the most of it if you’ve gone to the trouble of picking the plants and preparing the rinse.

“Bar Shampoo”

This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found in a book years ago for Pine shampoo.  I haven’t made it for some time, regretfully, as it is an excellent shampoo and ideal for anyone travelling as well.  The normal precautions taken for soap making should be observed – remember caustic is very corrosive and will burn your skin.  If you get splashed apply vinegar to the area and then rinse well in water.  Only make soap when there are no small children around.

You will need – for 6 small bars

½ cup  cold water or herb tea

2 tblsp  caustic soda

½ cup  olive oil

½ cup  castor oil

½ cup  melted coconut oil (kremelta will do)

2 tsp  essential oil – rosemary, chamomile, sage or one you like the  smell of

  1. Protect work area with several layers of newspaper, protect yourself with an apron and rubber gloves.
  2. Assemble all the ingredients and equipment.  You will need – heat resistant glass or plastic bowl, small saucepan, wooden or plastic spoon, measuring spoons, cup measures, egg beater.
  3. Moulds – the books say pliable, plastic moulds are ideal.  I find my soap sticks in them, so I use polystyrene cups (bring them home after coffee in the supermarket), grease each cup with Vaseline.
  4. Put the cold water or cold herb tea into the heat proof bowl, add the caustic soda – CAREFULLY  (Do NOT breathe the fumes).  It will get hot – this is fine, don’t panic.
  5. Gently melt the coconut oil in a separate saucepan.
  6. This is a tricky part, the caustic solution needs to cool down to lukewarm – no don’t put your finger in it, feel the outside of the bowl, don’t rush this – get it right.  When the caustic is lukewarm, stir in the lukewarm coconut oil – like you add oil to mayonnaise – add it slowly and stir all the time.
  7. Beat gently with the egg beater and slowly add the olive and castor oils and essential oil.
  8. Pour into the prepared moulds – fill each about 2.5 –  3 cm deep.  Leave to set for 48 hours.
  9. Ease the soaps out of their moulds and lay on tray or plate with kitchen towel on it.  Handle gently this is a soft soap, wash your hands straight away or wear gloves again.
  10. Allow to mature in a dry airy place for at least two weeks.  Any residue powder on the outside can be washed off after this time.
  11. Don’t forget when you wash your hair with this soap to use an acid rinse – vinegar or lemon juice in water.

Moisturising Melt & Pour Soap:

We haven’t bought shampoo for years, & just recently we’ve been experimenting with melt & pour soap bases. The following recipe make a great soap you can use for both body & hair. If you have dark hair you can use Rosemary in the infusion, & the trick with soaps is to use an acid final rinse, either lemon juice or vinegar, about 1tblsp to 2 cups water.

The Melt & pour method, is an easy way to start out on Soapmaking, & because no Caustic Soda is used, it’s an interesting project you can do with children. There is plenty of scope for personalising your brew.

4 tblsp  Herbal infusion, made in advance

½ cup  Melt & Pour Glycerine Soap

1tsp  Olive Oil or herbal maceration

1tsp  Honey

5 drops  of Essential Oil

1tsp  oil to grease moulds

  1. Line a tray with tin foil, then grease, or use a plastic mould, which just needs greasing.
  2. Grate the Glycerine Soap, & put in a pot, over a pan of simmering water.
  3. When the soap is melted, gently stir in the other ingredients, try not to make bubbles on the surface.
  4. If necessary, re-heat until the mix is liquid, then pour into greased mould.
  5. When set it can be turned out, cut if needed, & is ready to use.

We source a lot of oils & other bits & pieces from ‘Aromatics & More’, in Auckland. Their website is http://www.aromaticsandmore.co.nz

Since writing this, we’ve started to make shampoo bars & Vinegar rinses for sale, you can find them listed in our online shop, there’s a link to it from this blog.


Many people don’t realise that Henna is the powdered leaves of a plant in the Privet family, Lawsonia inermis.  It is found in Egypt, India, Persia, Kurdistan, Levant and Syria.  Traditionally it was used to colour not only the hair, but also nails and the soles of the feet and palms of the hands.  The Egyptians are reported to have used an ointment made from henna to make the limbs supple.

Henna is available in a range of colours, some have other plants added to them, such as indigo.  I like to henna my hair in the Autumn; when the leaves turn red, it just seems to make Winter a little less drab.

So you come home with a little packet of henna – now what? I’ve learnt to test the strength, mix a little henna powder with water & rub on your skin or a piece of paper. The good stuff makes a dramatic change, you can see the red hues. The stuff that looks like you’ve wiped on sheep poo, & leaves a greeny smear isn’t worth the effort, & if you spend several hours happily expecting auburn locks, you’ll be disappointed.

Firstly, don’t be tempted to henna your hair in a rush, pick a few hours when you won’t need to look too glamorous.  Mix the henna to a paste with water and a slosh of vinegar.  Cook it over a low heat, stirring until hot, leave to cool.  It should be the consistency of smooth peanut butter to use, you can add more liquid if needed.

Wash your hair, with a little ‘shampoo’, and rinse.  Rub your hair with a towel until it is just damp – not dripping.  Put cold cream or other waterproof cream around your hairline, and don’t forget your ears.  Put on a pair of disposable gloves, unless you don’t mind orange hands.  Rub the henna paste thoroughly through your hair – it feels like a cow pat on your head – well, at least how I imagine a cow pat would feel.  I like the smell – some people can’t stand it.


I squash a plastic bag onto my head, or wrap it in a couple of layers of clingfilm, so that all the hair is tucked in and then put on a woolly hat to keep it warm.  Now you see why you need a free afternoon.

Leave it on for 3 hours for a good strong colour.  I usually take a few buckets of warm water into the garden to save sloshing henna coloured slops around the bathroom.  Rinse out the henna and then wash as usual.  Your hair should emerge rich coloured and shining.

Herb Vinegars:

Take a clean glass jar, fill with selected herb leaving a couple of centimetres space at the top.  Cover with the vinegar of your choice, put on the lid and leave in a warm place, a sunny windowsill is ideal at this time of year.  Shake each day.  After a week or so strain out the plant material, or when the vinegar has taken on the aroma of the plant or changed colour.  Store vinegar in a cool, dark place.

We make scented vinegars by steeping herbs or rose petals in vinegar for a week or so, then straining. So if you are blond you could use Chamomile or Calendula. There are a number of other herbs you can experiment with like Nettle & Cleavers.

Below is a jar of Lavender & Rosemary Vinegar, just started. It will go quite red over the next few days.


The advantage of soap over shampoo, is that it is not a detergent & does not strip your hair of all it’s natural oils, & the vinegar rinse keeps the Ph right. Also it’s cheap & easy to travel with. I think too , that if you have skin problem, this is the way to go.

Herbal Vinegars

Some interesting plants to try:  rose petals – smell lovely.  Eau de cologne mint – fresh smell.  Rosemary, Calendula, Chamomile, Lemon verbena or lemon balm – clean fragrance.  Fennel, Sage, Nasturtium, Yarrow.  I can’t see why Cleavers (Goosegrass) or Stinging Nettles couldn’t be used – but must admit I haven’t tried them.

Mrs Beeton’s Bandoline:

This looks unpromising, smells delicious and does amazing things, giving body and shine to thin, lank hair. I first came across this when a friend gave me a small jar, which I eked out for some months.  Gum Tragacanth is available through a chemist – though they may have to send off for it, and some Art Supply shops.

25gm  Gum Tragacanth – a vegetable gum

150ml  cold water

½ tsp  essence of almonds

2 tsps  rum

Put the Gum Tragacanth into a wide mouthed jar, stir in the cold water.  Go away and forget about it for a day or so – except to give it a shake now and then. Stir in the essence, leave another 2 hours or so and finally stir in the rum.

NB – Don’t use almond flavouring from the supermarket, I tried it and it was awful.

To Use –

Mix 1 teaspoon of Bandoline in 1/4 cup or so of warm water.  After washing your hair, rub partially dry and then dab the solution through your hair. When dry, brush hair.


NZ author, Elizabeth Francke, has written an excellent book on hair care, called “Shampoo and Scissors” which covers the topic in a lot more detail than I have here.  When our daughter was an unruly teenager living at home, our suggestions about hair care were treated with scorn, but when we came up with something in print, it was a lot more convincing.  Hopefully some of the suggestions in this article will be useful to you and your family.