22 May 2013

Washing Hair with Ash

As many of you may know, besides diet I am also very interested in traditional lifestyles. How did people live without all the conveniences we have today? So, this post is not about diet, but about hair care before the advent of shampoo.

I asked an Indonesian lady in her fifties, to tell me more about her childhood in the suburbs of Yogyakarta (Indonesia). They lived in a wooden house, growing their fruits and vegetables. They purchased rice and sugar to complete their meal. They had chicken and pig in the backyard, which they ate occasionally.

They washed themselves and their clothes in the river nearby. They had no soap or shampoo, so it really intrigued me how people could stay clean without these items. She described me in detail the cleaning process with ash, especially used for their hair. It goes something like this:
  1. Collect the leftover stalks from the rice fields after harvest.
  2. Burn the stalks.
  3. Soak the remaining ash in water for at least two days.
  4. Filter the water with a cotton cloth.
  5. Wash your hair with this water.
This makes sense to me. Ash is alkaline and dilutes fatty substances. So hair should become shiny after washing it with ash. This lady also told me that when applying this water with ash on her hair, it would produce foam, like soap or shampoo. This also makes sense, as in ancient societies soap was made of ash of wood and animal fat. So, the ash reacting with the grease from our hair would produce foam.

You can have more details about ancient soap production in this post: Pioneer Soap Making.