Aleppo's Rich Tradition

We can’t imagine what it is to live in a war zone. Here on relatively safe soil, what wakes us up in the middle of the night is insomnia, not gunfire; what bothers us on our way to work is traffic, not the worry that we may never see our families again. In this time of controversy and conflict, we at Secret Garden Soap are mindful of the victims of the tragedy and chaos of the civil war in Syria. We mourn the destruction of Aleppo, which was once the largest city in Syria and one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.  And we honor its tradition of soap making by creating an Aleppo-style soap to support relief efforts in Syria and other war torn areas in the world.

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 Soap in the traditional ground vat

Soap in the traditional ground vat

It’s nearly impossible to trace the origin of Aleppo soap, or Ghar, because it predates documented history. It is said to have been used by Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and Queen Zenobia of Syria.  Aleppo soap is made by the hot process method, in which olive oil, water and lye are boiled together in a large in-ground vat.   

 Soap cooling and drying after being walked upon.

Soap cooling and drying after being walked upon.

Then laurel berry oil is added at the end of the cooking process, and the solution is poured over a waxed paper-covered floor to cool and dry. As it dries, workers walk over the soap to help flatten and smooth it. The soap is cut into cubes, stamped to identify the maker, and stacked like staggered bricks, where it is left underground to age for six months to a year. This curing period allows the soap to fully harden as moisture escapes.

The surface of the soap becomes pale gold while the inside remains a lush green, and the lather and mildness improve over time. You can see Aleppo soap being made in the traditional manner in videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYR6c2MOc2g&t=29s  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTADF_FDbkw.

Laurel berry oil, a rich fragrant oil produced in the area, gives the soap its characteristic color, its spicy/smoky fragrance and its antibacterial properties.  The oil is expensive, so its concentration in the soap affects the bar’s cost; generally, 2% to 30% is added. The cured soap is effective for shampooing, shaving, and cleansing of especially sensitive skin.  Many people find it relieves eczema and psoriasis, and soothes dry skin.

 

 Our version of Ghar, made with traditional ingredients, traditional methods, and Secret Garden care.

Our version of Ghar, made with traditional ingredients, traditional methods, and Secret Garden care.

In honor of those who are struggling, and to celebrate the richness of the Syrian culture, we have created our own Secret Garden twist on traditional Syrian Ghar. With 20% laurel berry oil and 80% olive oil, our cold process version is made in the traditional cube shape and stamped with a botanical image, representing the bay laurel.  It will be curing for up to 6 full months and will be available in June of this year.  Additionally, we have advanced a $100 donation to Doctors Without Borders so that the sale of this soap can help relieve suffering while highlighting one of the many things we have in common with those across the globe.  And make us all a little cleaner.


Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supports eight hospitals in Aleppo city. It runs six medical facilities across northern Syria and supports more than 150 health centers and hospitals across the country, many of them in besieged areas.  Visit their site to learn more about the incredible work being done in Syria, and watch for announcements when our Aleppo soap is available for purchase.    http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/

Mary Forest