Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Shampoo

I finally used up my old shampoo, so it's time for another go at recipes for the shower. This recipe is based on one from Rosemary Gladstar, and you can check out the original recipe here. I made a few tweaks based on what I had handy.

Step one: make a strong tea with 1 ounce of dried herbs in 8 ounces of distilled water. Turns out an ounce of dried herbs is a LOT:

I used (more or less from left to right) sage, rosemary, and comfrey. The rosemary and comfrey are supposed to be good for hair (more about this in Rosemary Gladstar's book, if you are interested). The sage is mostly for its darkening properties. I ended up doing a modified version of what was recommended for brunettes. Now, I actually have naturally light-to-medium brown hair, and it gets lighter in the summer. Aside from some misguided Sun-In use in junior high school, I have never colored it. I thought I'd give the darkening version of this shampoo a go, knowing that it is gentle, natural, and should rinse out in pretty short order if I don't like it. Winter lowlights might be nice.

I brought this to a quick barely-boil and let it simmer for 20 minutes. It made the whole house smell like rosemary and sage – but mostly sage. Not everyone liked it: Jonas Let out a loud and unhappy "What's that smell?!" upon returning home from karate.

Step two: Strain out the herbs and keep the tea, allowing it to cool to room temperature:

Although I used about 12 ounces or so of water, I ended up with only 6 1/2 ounces of tea. Since the recipe calls for 8, I topped off the tea with some rosewater, which ended up smelling quite nice. Kind of made me wish I had used rosewater for the tea entirely, but it's expensive and I didn't have enough. Maybe next summer our roses will be mature enough that I can make my own.

Anyway, on to step three: Mix up the rest of the ingredients. This includes 3 ounces of liquid castile soap (I used Dr. Bonner's Lavender because that's what I had around – it smells nice with the other herbs too) and 1/4 teaspoon of comfrey oil. The original recipe calls for jojoba, but I don't have that, and am not about to buy some for just 1/4 teaspoon's worth. The original recipe also calls for essential oil for fragrance, but I didn't bother with that either – the soap and tea are pretty strong as it is. Stir gently so you don't foam up the castile too much, and funnel it into a bottle:

This recipe makes about 12 ounces of shampoo, so I had to set some aside in a separate container until I use some of this up. I've been using it for about a week now, and I like it. But, like other homemade toiletries, it's an acquired taste. 

  •      It smells nice and fresh and herby – mostly like lavender and rosemary. 
  •      It lathers up more than I expected (though nowhere near as much as a commercial shampoo). 
  •      It's free of chemicals and (unnatural) dyes.
  •      It's gentle and leaves my hair nice and soft.
  •      It's cheap to make – 12 ounces probably cost me between 50 cents and a dollar to make. Considering I had been using Bumble and Bumble before, that's no small savings!
  •      It does deliver on the darkening, although it's fairly subtle. I'm not sure how much color builds up over time since I've only been using it for a week. Also, the book suggests that this can help cover grays. I have a handful, and while I'm not noticing a huge difference in that area, there is a subtle tinting. Perhaps in another week they'll be dark enough to really blend in? I don't really care about that part, aside from a scientific interest in the shampoo.

  •      The consistency is really runny – like pouring water into your hand. That was a deal-breaker for Tiegan, and might be for anyone with long hair. I have short hair, though, so it's not a big deal to me. I did have to change my technique, though. Now I take my hair washing in 3 sections: a small squirt for each side and then another in kind of stripe down the crown and back. That's about as far as I can get the shampoo to spread and lather since its so thin. Not a huge problem for me, but I can see that it could be annoying for someone with longer hair.
  •      The scent doesn't last on my hair. Not that it smells bad; it mostly just doesn't smell like anything. Next time I'll add some essential oils to see if that helped the aroma to stick to my hair a little better. Maybe just some lavender and rosemary, since I do like the way it smells.
  •      The rinse isn't very satisfying. What I mean by this is that it doesn't leave your hair with an absolutely squeaky feel between your fingers. That took some getting used to, but the squeak we've been trained to look for is actually the result of your hair being stripped of all its natural oils. This homemade shampoo leaves a little of that behind. I don't feel like my hair is dirty or greasy--for me, it's actually giving it more body. I have really fine hair, and the extra oomph is helping it to hold its style better, without as much product. Still, I've read that if the castile leaves a residue, you can use a vinegar rinse to help cut through that. I may give that a go as a weekend thing in the future.

So for me, none of these cons is enough to put me off, and I have read that the longer you use this kind of shampoo (or – even more hippie-dippy – the no shampoo method), the more your hair reabsorbs its natural oil and adjusts to making less of it in the first place. Again, my hair is short enough that this is all a pretty easy adjustment for me, so I'll probably stick with it.  


  1. whenever I make homemade shampoo I add xanthan gum or guar gum to thicken it that way I don't have to deal with the water consistency of homemade shampoo. a little bit goes a long way though try using 1/8 teaspoon, maybe even 1/16 first. add after all the ingredients have been mixed. here's a link to a website that gives you tips to fix problems when making your own cosmetics. http://www.makingcosmetics.com/troubleshooting-19.html

    1. I may have to give that a try. Now that my daughter is using this shampoo as well, I think we might actually waste less of it if it were thicker. I'm pretty sure a fair amount of it slips through our fingers and down the drain with this thin version.


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