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Springtime suds: Ruth Gonzalez seeks out three local soap makers so you can finish your spring-cleaning, literally!

Soft rich lather, a daily dose of aromatherapy, and all-natural ingredients characterize the moisturizing soaps made by three local soap makers. Their soaps are different than mainstream personal care products. Many industrially produced products are petroleum-based, contain ingredients that are harsh on the skin, use synthetic perfumes, and may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals of particular concern for teenage girls and women of all ages. In contrast, conversations with the following local soap makers about their processes conjure up images of them in their gardens. They're all devoted gardeners who grow herbs, flowers and vegetables and utilize their homegrown herbs in their soaps and other herbal products. Most of their businesses began with a love of herbs, a desire to be at home with their children as much as possible, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Twenty years ago, Beth Herdman started making salves because she didn't want to use commercial products on her newborn baby daughter. A few years later, Beth's sister landed in the hospital with a severe allergic reaction to a bar of French lavender soap from the grocery. She and her sister are both sensitive to perfumes, so Beth decided to try her hand at soap making. She uses only pure essential oils for their healing qualities and therapeutic fragrances.

Cheri Hoefelmeyer liked using handmade soaps because her face didn't feel tight after using them. She decided to try making some for her family and ended up selling her soaps at the Mars Hill Farmers' & Artisans' Market for many years. When she first started making soap, the Internet was in its infancy, and information and ingredients were hard to find. Even though information is now very accessible online, Cheri's favorite source is a book called The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch.

Registered nurse Leslie Stilwell attended the NC School of Herbalism 15 years ago. She wanted a tangible way to integrate her love. of herbs into her daily life and spend more time at home with her young daughter, so she started making herbal soaps hoping to produce extra income. It worked! As a mother/infant nurse, Leslie even created a soap with extra-sensitive baby skin in mind. Leslie's soap has lots of fans at Mission Hospital where she works, but she also sells to the general public.

Although local soap makers can't legally make any claims about their products, Leslie reports that she "gets a lot of good feedback from all over the place. Customers say they like the way the soap feels on their skin while in the shower and how their skin feels afterwards--especially if they have a tendency to dry, flaky skin. They like how long the soap lasts, too."


Money can't buy this kind of attention to detail. The soaps produced by these local women are galaxies apart from those found in the grocery. They're all handmade with high-quality natural ingredients, pure oils, pure essential oils, and a strong sense of integrity. Extra oil makes them extremely rich and moisturizing. Each soap batch is poured into molds, hand-cut into bars, cured for a number of weeks, and then hand-trimmed before wrapping. The local makers' soap recipes have been developed using years of experimentation, customer feedback, and a knowledge of herbal healing properties. Remember that your skin is your biggest organ, and that it absorbs what you put on it. Handmade soap may seem like a luxury, but maybe it's a necessity!

Local Soap Locations

Beth Herdman of Dancing Woods Farm offers her soaps, ointments and pottery at the North Asheville Tailgate Market. Email for more information.

Cheri Hoefelmeyer creates soaps, handmade cards and Christmas wreaths that you can find at the French Broad Garden Club's Christmas Greens Market.

Leslie Stilwell creates 11 different soap formulas you'll see for sale at Penland's Department Store in Marshall. Email for more information.

Locally handcrafted soaps are also available at area natural groceries, and most WNC tailgate markets have a handmade soap vendor. See page 24, or visit for area market listings.




Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, backyard gardener and founder of the local Tailgate Market Fan Club. Join the club at
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Title Annotation:BUY LOCAL
Author:Gonzalez, Ruth
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:May 1, 2009
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