Licorice soap is, in its simplest form, soap that contains liquid licorice extract. Some versions may also include powdered licorice root, anise extract, powdered anise, fennel seeds, or a combination of all of these ingredients. Anise seeds, fennel, and licorice root all exude the spicy, sweet flavor often associated with black licorice candy. This aroma may help alertness even as the herbal elements in the soap calm skin irritations.
There are two ways to make licorice soap: with a glycerin base or with lye and various plant oils. Glycerin soap is usually easier to make, especially for those new to soap-making. One must simply melt a brick of glycerin soap base, either in the microwave or in a double-boiler, and add the desired herbal ingredients. Ingredients for licorice soap may include liquid scents, for a plain scented soap, or powdered ingredients for a scented soap that also exfoliates the skin. The soap-maker must then simply pour the soap into molds and let them cure overnight.
Lye and oil soap requires more steps and longer curing times than the glycerin variety. The recipe generally starts with 2 parts distilled water and 1 part lye. The soap-maker must wear goggles and gloves while mixing these ingredients because they become very hot. One must stir with a metal spoon, in a glass container, so the heated mixture doesn’t melt the tools. Working in a well-ventilated area typically helps keep the lye fumes at bay.
When the lye and water mixture cools, one may add about 8 parts oil, by combining about 6 parts unscented oil with about 2 parts anise, licorice, or fennel oil. The unscented oil may be palm, olive, coconut, sweet almond, or jojoba oil. Once added to the lye and water mixture, the soap-maker must stir the ingredients until they thicken and then pour them into molds. Lye-based licorice soap may take up to two months to cure completely.
Some may use licorice soap simply because they like the scent, though there are other reasons to use it. Those who ascribe to aromatherapy believe that licorice scent can increase alertness and help cleanse sinuses of infection. Plants with licorice scent, especially licorice root, may also help rashes, insect bites, and sunburns heal more quickly according to herbalists. Fishermen sometimes wash their hands with licorice soap to hide an unpleasant scent. Fish may also be attracted to licorice, making licorice soap both camouflage and bait.