DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Kudzu doesn't seem like an obvious ingredient for soap.

But Mandy Guess used it in a recent batch of her Mae soap. The fast-growing vine, considered invasive, is actually thought to have skin and health benefits and is an ingredient used by many artisan soap-makers.

"Picked it last night," Guess said. "Fresh kudzu."

Guess has used all sorts of ingredients to make her soaps, which she sells under the name Mae Soap Company. Lavender, honeysuckle, aloe, eucalyptus, activated charcoal, coffee and coffee beans, beer, and okra have all gone into Mae soaps. Guess likes to use ingredients that remind her of growing up and living in the South.

"For me, I really want to use the good things we remember from our childhood," she said.

Guess started making soap in 2016 following years of battling medical problems.

She was diagnosed in 2009 with the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto's disease, or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. The immune system attacks the thyroid, hampering the gland's ability to produce enough thyroid hormone and often leading to hypothyroidism and other complications if left untreated. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which causes a number of symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, vision changes and weakness in the limbs. The bacterial infection can become chronic.

"I really just started looking for ways to keep from putting things in my body that I didn't want anymore because I was trying to get healthy again," Guess said. "It's been a struggle."

Guess manages her Hashimoto's disease mainly through diet. But in trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, Guess studied a lot about soap and beauty products to deal with the skin sensitivities she was experiencing.

She went a year without bathing with traditional soap, opting instead to use a loofah covered in virgin coconut oil — which is actually thick like shortening. Her boyfriend, Trey Crook, was the first to suggest she make her own soap.

"Nothing I used was keeping the inflammation down," Guess said.

She spent four months researching and gathering supplies before she made her first soap.

Guess uses a cold process to make her soap. Oil, such as coconut or olive oil, is mixed with an alkali such as lye to create a chemical reaction known as saponification. Guess uses a hand-held immersion blender to get the consistency she needs before adding her other ingredients. The soap is poured into molds and allowed to cure.

Guess said with the cold process method she can control her ingredients.

She even made tallow, or animal fat, soap for her boyfriend to use before he goes hunting. Guess used a mortar and pestle to ground hardened pine sap, cedar and other ingredients gathered from the woods. She added the ground items to the soap.

"I posted it on Facebook and everybody went crazy for it," Guess said.

That was in late September 2016. She made more soap and did more Facebook posts. By November, Guess was inundated with requests for soaps as holiday gifts.

"There was no sleep to be had for that whole December," Guess said. "Before I knew it, I had made a ridiculous amount of soap."

The name of her soap is basically a nickname given to Guess years ago by a friend. The friend called her Mae because Guess used the name in an email address. That evolved into Mae-Mae. The nickname stuck.

Nowadays not only does Guess pick kudzu for soap, she grows her own luffas ? the plants used to make natural loofahs for bathing. She also makes lip and hand balms and chub rub from beeswax. She even makes vegan soap free of any animal-based products.

But Guess cautions that making soap just for yourself would be expensive — and you'll end up with a lot of soap. It can be messy and with the cold process, there are safety precautions you have to take in handling lye.

Guess works as the tasting room manager at Folklore Brewery in Dothan. To balance making soap and a full-time job, Guess sells her soap direct to customers via a monthly box subscription she sells for $35 a month. Her soaps are available at local boutiques Kitty Couture and Angel Wings and sell for about $1.50 per ounce or more based on ingredients.

Soap made through the cold process requires patience. Such soaps have longer cure times. Bars harden over time, and the longer they're allowed to sit, the longer the bars will last when put to use. The color in Mae soaps will become lighter over about three months after completed because Guess doesn't use preservatives or synthetic colors and fragrances. The soaps also become milder on the skin with time.

She uses powered ingredients like French green clay, spirulina and paprika to create rich colors in her soaps.

"I think the majority of people who do like my soaps, like them for two reasons," Guess said. "They know personally for me, I'm not going to make anything I wouldn't put on myself, and they also like the creative part of it. They love that."

___

Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com