#14. The colour of lavender soap

The first time I saw and smelled a real lavender[1] plant, was in the year1986. The plant stood against the outside wall of the gîte rural[2], where I stayed for some weeks together with my family. It was the only plant there. The gîte was located in the surroundings of the (then) small village with the name La Roche-de-Glun[3] in the department Drôme[4] in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes[5] region of southeastern France.

The small shrub, where I found the name of later, was bathing the entire day in the heat of the sun, and despite that it never looked as if it was in a need for water. Used to the wealthy-leaved shrubs in Dutch gardens I was touched by the heat-resistant leaves of this one, and their colour: greyish green. The unique, fresh, strong, uplifting, relaxing, wonderful, charming smell has since then become my most favourite one. The colour of the lavender flowers is light purple, violet[6].

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

Since I am working with herbs from Crete, I searched for Cretan lavender, and found on the website “Wild Herbs of Crete”[7], a blogpost about it[8]. According to this blogpost there are two different kinds of lavender: the Lavandula Stoechas, which seems to smell more sweet, and the Lavandula Vera. I assume that Lavandula Vera [“vera”, which is Italian for “true”] is the same as Lavandula Angustifolia[9], also known as Lavandula Officinalis. For my Cretan-Garden.shop I use Greek lavender, the Greek Lavandula Angustifolia.


The colour of natural lavender soap

When one googles on images with “lavender soap”, one is overwhelmed with the colour violet, or purple, not only because of the purple wrappers or boxes, but also because the soaps are purple, violet. When I started to make lavender soap, with infusing 12 litres organic olive oil with 720 gram dried lavender flowers, I was curious how the colour of the olive oil would become after three months infusing, pulverizing the filtered infused lavender and adding the result back into the infused oil. The colour is black. Not purple. The liquid soap is as all herbal soaps this colour, and dried it has a beige / khaki colour. Not purple.


When the infused oil becomes soap during the saponification process the almost black colour turns into orange/brown, sometimes, that depends on the herb, it is red/brown. The colour of the lavender soap becomes even lighter than the colour of the other herbal soaps. The smell however is not lesser strong. On the contrary. Important to know is that the skin-nourishing ingredients of extra virgin olive oil, organic herbs, and essential oils are not affected in the saponification process.

Whenever you would like to have a violet coloured bar of lavender soap, and you find one, be aware that the colour is not natural, but synthetic. Often even perfumes, which contain synthetic fragrances, or pure synthetic fragrances have been added to mislead you even more.

Handcrafted lavender soap smells the same as the lavender plant. How does lavender smell? The scent of the lavender plant is strong, charismatic, and intensely botanical. Underlying its floral sweetness are green and spicy notes, and a woody accent[10]. When a herbal soap comes in a contact with water the smells of the ingredients become more active. After washing, showering or bathing the smell slowly disappears: natural smells evaporate quickly when they are exposed to the air. Only when you would use your own body-oil, in this case your own lavender body-oil see Cretan Garden info, §7[11] the smell of the lavender essential oil will accompany you for a longer time, in a modest way, and will not -like perfumes and fragrances- take over the personal airspace of others. Be aware of what kind of smell you “wear” when you are going to spend time in nature. Perfumes and fragrances do not fit there.


The toxic truth about perfumes and fragrances

“The toxic truth about perfumes and fragrances” is the title of a blog post, written by Karen Kingston. Since I agree with every word and sentence, I would like to recommend this blog post. You can click here to read the post.


References

  1. Lavender – Britannica dictionary
  2. Gîte rural – Wikipedia
  3. La Roche-de-Glun – Wikipedia
  4. Drôme – Wikipedia
  5. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes – Wikipedia
  6. Violet (colour) – Wikipedia
  7. Wild Herbs of Crete – Website
  8. Greek Lavender – Website Wild Herbs of Crete
  9. Lavandula Angustifolia – Wikipedia
  10. Lavender – Cretan Garden, Page Lavender
  11. Body oil – Page Cretan Garden, §7

#12. Sappho, and the origin of soap

The following article is a machine-translation of “Η οικογενειακή επιχείρηση του Οδυσσέα Ελύτη που έφτιαχνε σαπούνια”, “The family business of Odysseas Elytis who made soaps”, published in News on July 21, 2017. Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996), was a Greek poet, essayist and translator.[1]. His real name is Odysseas Alepoudelis. The name Alepoudelis[Αλεπουδέλης] is also the name of the soap factory in Heraklion, Crete.

Odysseas Alepoudelis was born on November 2, 1911 in Heraklion, Crete and was the son of Panagiotis Alepoudelis, a businessman from Lesbos[2], who had one of the largest and most famous soap factories in Greece.

The Alepoudelis soap factory was founded in Heraklion, Crete, in 1895. In the time of World War I, Elytis’s father, Panagiotis, moved his soap factory to Athens, to the area of ​​Piraeus. The Alepoudelis family, and of course Benjamin Odysseas, also moves to Athens. However, the origin of Elytis’ father, Lesvos, was determining the choice for a soap factory.

What we all know today is that a traditional soap, made from olive oil (a product that – remarkably – abroad is considered particularly valuable and a kind of luxury), comes, according to Greek mythology, from Lesbos. A legend tells that the women of ancient Lesbos washed their clothes in the river (as all women did at that time). So they noticed that the animal remains, along with the fats from the animals that were burned as sacrifices in the ancient sanctuaries near the river, swept away the ashes and formed a pale yellow stream that ended up in the river. On the days when the yellow stream flowed into the river, the clothes were washed better. And the soap was made! According to the ancient Greek legend, the soap got its name from the famous poet of Lesbos, Sappho[3][4].

[The word soap is related with the Latin word “sapo”, the French “savon”, the Italian sapone, and the Spanish “jabon”[5]. Those who have studied medicinal herbs and their active ingredients know about the so-called saponins[6], which have indeed characteristics of what we name soap. The word soap, and the term saponification[7] are therefore without any doubt only related with the term saponin. Admin]

Sappho (c. 630 – c. 570 BCE)

Until the time of the industrial revolution, all over the (known) world, soaps were produced in exactly the same way as the women of ancient Lesbos invented it. There have been soap factories on the island all these centuries. After the revolution of 1821, until the destruction of Izmir[8] (1922), soap making was a very lucrative Greek productive activity, with Lesvos soaps being exported from Constantinople[9] to Alexandria[10] and New York.

It should be noted that shortly before the Asia Minor[11] catastrophe, over 50% of Greek soap exports were from Lesbos. It was also the sttlement of 1 or 2 soap factories in the country.

One of the most famous soap factories (originating from Lesbos, based in Crete and then Piraeus, as mentioned above) was the company “Alepoudelis”, owned by the family of the poet Odysseas Elytis. “Alepoudelis” soaps were known all over the world, thanks to the pure olive oil they contained and the softness they offered. The “Alepoudeli” factory was one of the most modern at that time (of the first decades of 1900), and at the same time it was a huge export company since most of the production was exported to Egypt, Turkey, England and the USA. When Elytis’ father died in 1925, the business passed into the hands of Pangiotis’s younger brother and co-founder of the soap factory, Thrasyvoulos Alepoudelis, Elytis’s uncle, had the business idea to establish a separate department in the company, for the production of soaps that used only excellent olive oil and coconut oil, something that then put them at the top of European quality standards.

The company “Alepoudelis and Co.” also had branches in Crete, Corfu, Thessaloniki and – of course – Mytilene (Lesbos). The production of the soap factory continued unabated, surviving the enormous obstacle of World War II. Despite the huge business and commercial success of the company that bore his ancestral name, however, Odysseas did not want to deal with it. In fact, according to the information regarding his biography, the main reason that he changed his name to “Elytis” was precisely to separate his position and his … fate from the family business. The rest is history of course for the Greek poet … As for the family business: Alepoudelis soaps are produced until today. If you take a closer look at the well-known green soaps that are sold in many tourist shops throughout Greece, you will see the brand “Alepoudelis” in them.

The family soap-business lost Odysseas, but Art welcomed him.


References and additional information:
  1. Odysseas Elytis – Wikipedia
  2. Lesbos – Wikiwand
  3. Sappho – Wikiwand
  4. Guide to the classics: Sappho, a poet in fragments – The Conversation
  5. Soap – Online Etymology Dictionary
  6. Saponification – Merriam Webster dictionary
  7. Saponin – Wikipedia
  8. Izmir – Wikiwand
  9. Constantinople – Wikiwand
  10. Alexandria – Wikiwand
  11. Asia Minor – Wikiwand
  12. Alepoudelis Soap Factory – Blog In Silencio
  13. Documentary: Αθηνά & Σαπουνοποιίες στο Ηράκλειο / Athena & Soap Factories in Heraklion – YouTube
  14. All bar none: How ancient soap making methods are reinvigorating Crete – Geographical

#09. The Minoan Lady

In September 2015 I was for a week on Crete and visited Knossos, and the Minoan Palace, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site[11]. I had already seen many pictures of the palace on the web, but when there I was touched by the atmosphere in a surprising way. Because thousands of tourists visit this site day after day, and so many tourist buses and cars fill the parking places, I expected that it would become a noisy, stressy experience, but the visitors were silent, calm, and did not even talk with each other. The atmosphere was so intense peaceful that it is justified to comparethe site with a holy place. I remember what I once read about powerful energy spots on earth, in the magnetic field of the earth, in the soils, and all the layers beneath the surface.

Monasteries were also built on these special spots. Stonehenge[12] is another example. The Minoans who lived in the palace of Knossos were highly civilized, not only rationally, but also spiritually. Priestesses were also living in the palace of Knossos, an enormous complexity of buildings with even four storeys. The Minoan Lady, also named La Parisienne, was a priestess[1]. Continue reading below the picture.


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Cretan Garden

When I decided to start a web shop to sell the seven soaps, made out of Cretan olive oil, herbs and essential oils, and searching for the picture that could be used for the logo, the icon in the media and blog, my thoughts went almost immediately to that one picture[17] that I made in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, in 2015. It was an intuitive choice. For me the Minoan Lady was and is what I would like to represent in my products: ethics, values, respect, dignity, esthetics, beauty.

It is a pity that I lost the article that I once read about Minoan priestesses in Knossos and their role in the herb garden: only priestesses were allowed to pick the herb salvia fruticosa, or Greek sage. For that sage ritual they had to wear a white dress, because that herb was holy. When I smelled dried Greek sage some years ago -for the first time in my life- I understood. Because of that intense smell I also understand why it is used in rituals to clean the atmosphere in rooms, in buildings with negative energies, graveyards, in a diversity of cultures, world wide[16].


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The use of soap in the Minoan Civilization

It is not certain if the Minoan Lady has used soap herself. There is nothing written about the use of soap in the palace of Knossos, though the first soaps seem to have been made in Greece, during the Minoan time. Here are some articles with information that explain for instance the use of salt in bathing rituals:

“Before modern medicine, salt water treated patients as a healing remedy. Before modern spa day, firm believers of its healing created a concept of therapeutic bathing. In order to cleanse the body, they infused salt with herbal blends, lavender and bay laurel leaves that extracted daily toxins. Another contribution salt progressed into was basic soap making. Dated around 2800 BC, the Greeks were one of the first soap makers who created mixtures of alkaline salts with local vegetable oils, animal fats and wood ashes to form soaps and detergents. By contrast, today an individual uses soap for bathing or personal hygiene, in ancient times, it was produced for cleaning cooking utensils, goods and medicinal purposes.”[18]

“The oldest archaeological findings in Europe related to bathing habits date from the Bronze Age (2,400–800 BC). In the palaces of Knossos and Phaistos in Crete, the population of the Aegean Minoan civilization has left traces of special chambers devoted to bathing. Alabaster bathtubs excavated in Akrotiri (in Santorini Island), as well as wash basins and feet baths, showed how people from the Minoan civilization maintained their personal hygiene.”[19]

“Lustral Basins were first identified by Arthur Evans[15] at Knossos and consist of a sunken rectangular room reached by an L-shaped or dog-legged stairway. There is often a balustrade running alongside the stairway, normally ending with a pilaster supporting a column. All of the examples at Knossos, like the one at Mallia (above) were lined with gypsum and so Evans thought they were used for bathing—a clay tub was even found in one of them. However, a few of them were found in areas of the palace, the Throne Room for example, where relaxing in the tub seems unlikely. In those cases Evans believed they were used for ritual purification through lustration—hence the name”[20]


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Sources and additional information

  1. Minoan woman or goddess from the palace of Knossos (“La Parisienne”) – Khan Academy
  2. Appendix Two, La Parisienne – Erenow, Biographies and Memoires
  3. Knossos and the Minoan Civilization – World History
  4. Journal article – Water, Fertility and Purification in Minoan Religion – Oxford University Press
  5. How ‘ritual’ were the Palaces? – The Secret of Civilization
  6. Minoan Religion, Ritual, Image and Symbol – Nanno Marinatos, Academia
  7. Hydro-technologies in the Minoan Era – IWA
  8. Minoan civilization – YouTube playlist
  9. Archaeological Museum Heraklion – Photo album Flickr
  10. Minoan Art, Archaeological Museum Heraklion – Photo album Flickr
  11. The archaeological site of Knossos, Crete – Photo album Flickr
  12. Stonehenge – Wikipedia
  13. Herbs for health and beauty in Minoan Crete – Explore Crete
  14. The Minoan Harem : the Role of Eminent Women and the Knossos Frescoes [article] – Nanno Marinatos
  15. Sir Arthur Evans and Minoan Crete – Nanno Marinatos
  16. Salvia fruticosa and rituals – Scholarly articles
  17. Picture Minoan Lady – Flickr
  18. Importance of salt in Ancient Greece – Greek Boston
  19. Ancient Greek and Roman bathing – Blog Stella
  20. Lustral Basins in Knossos – Odyssey

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