Herbs and Essential Oils
Though I am a staunch champion of ethically raised animal products, I also recognize the valuable qualities of many plants and essential oils!
Calendula, chamomile, and black and green tea are just a few of my favorite herbs to add to soaps. Many I grow in my own garden where I never use chemicals, relying instead on well-composted cow manure to fertilize, chickens and ducks to control pests and thick layers of mulch to keep down the weeds and retain moisture.
Any plants that I don't grow (like coffee!) I always source organically from responsible growers.
There are many ways to capture the useful compounds in plants and herbs. For my salves I like to infuse herbs into the fat itself. My Farmer's Salve, for example, is made with lard that has been steeped with calendula flowers, an herb with wonderful skin soothing properties.
Teas are another favorite of mine. A strong tea made with the plant or herb of choice can than be used in place of the liquid in soap making recipes, effectively infusing each bar of soap with that plant's qualities.
Essential oils are one of the most powerful methods of capturing a plant's qualities and also makes for some attractive scents. I get my essential oils from various soap supply companies, focusing on oils that have benefits to the skin and that are not outrageously expensive so that my products remain affordable! This is also why I do charge slightly more for my scented soaps, to reflect the cost of the essential oils.