I love soap nuts! They are not only great for green house cleaning, but they also are wonderful in skin and hair care too!
Soap nuts (also called soap berries and washing nuts) are the fruits (which is the ‘shell’; the seeds from soap nuts are often removed) from a few species of the Sapindus genus, including Sapindus mukorossi and Sapindus trifoliatus. They are grown in India, Nepal, and other Asian countries. They are widely used in Ayurveda. They contain natural saponins, which are effective at cleaning the body (skin and hair), and many different materials and surfaces, including fabrics, counters, jewelry, etc. In addition they are mildly antimicrobial too. Best of all, they are biodegradable and very economical. Be sure to get fair traded (and if possible, organic) soap nuts to support the communities and farmers that grow them.
I’ve been using soap nuts for a couple years in skin and hair care, but it wasn’t until the last few months I started to use them to clean my clothes. I hadn’t used them for laundry before because I really liked the natural based laundry detergent I was using, until they changed their formula . A few months ago, as I was making a batch of liquid soap nut decoction for my skin and hair, I realized I never tried it on my clothes before, so I made a double batch and used some on my laundry. I am glad I did, because it worked better than any synthetic detergent (naturally derived/natural based or conventional) I've used! Soap nuts are super gentle: they left my clothes very clean and soft, and did not strip the color from the fabrics (a problem that I often had with using many natural based laundry detergents). I absolutely love using it!
For the laundry, there are a couple different ways to use them. You can simply place 3-6 soap nuts in a muslin bag and throw them in the wash (don’t forget to remove the baggie before putting your laundry in the dryer!). This amount will clean about 3-7 loads. Air-dry them between uses and add new soap nuts as needed (once they get really mushy, lose their color, and look very disintegrated, add more to the bag).
Some people prefer to use a liquid (see below for recipe) for laundry (especially if the soap nuts are in powdered form) instead of the whole soap nuts.
For cosmetics, soap nuts can be used to cleanse both the skin and hair. Make a liquid soap nut decoction and use as is or add other herbs and ingredients. Since it is very gentle, it is suitable for sensitive skin, and may be used to relieve a variety of skin and hair conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and lice (please note they are not ‘cures’ for these conditions but may help them).
To make liquid soap nut wash for the laundry and body care, make an herbal decoction:
Add 1 teaspoon of soap nut powder (or about 1 to 1 ½ whole soap nuts) to slightly over 1 cup of (distilled, spring, or filtered) water (add a little more than 1 cup of water to account for evaporation). Let it sit for a few minutes, and then cover and bring to a boil on high heat. Lower the heat to low and let simmer for 15-30 minutes or longer. Take it off the heat and strain after cooling. Compose the spent soap nuts.
Optional: I like to use different herbs along with the soap nuts so I usually add a teaspoon or two of an herb (rosemary or lavender are good choices) after I take it off the heat and I let it infuse for another 15 minutes to an hour before straining. And/or I’ll add a total of 4 to 12 drops of essential oils per cup of liquid soap nut decoction, after it has cooled. Suggestions for essential oils that work both for the laundry and body care are lavender, rosemary, geranium, lemongrass, or peppermint.
I use about 1/3 cup or so of this concentration per load of laundry, BUT I've seen some recipes that use way more soap nuts to water (about 12 to 15 whole nuts (1.8 ounces) per 5-6 cups of water) so if using a higher concentration you can use way less per load: 2-3 tablespoons since it is more concentrated. I prefer making a lower concentration since I have found it is a good concentration to wash both the skin/hair and laundry (I like multi-tasking products!). But some people may prefer using the higher concentration. To keep liquid soap nut decoction fresh, be sure to refrigerate (it will keep for several days in the fridge), add a broad spectrum preservative, or freeze the excess (in ice cube trays, add 1-2 Tablespoons in each little mold).
When washing the facial skin, you only need to use a small amount (about the size of a dime) using my recipe (the lower concentration). For the hair: wet the hair and use a couple teaspoons or more (depending on how long your hair is). Rinse well. You may or may not need to use a conditioner afterwards. Use less if using a higher concentration (if you make a higher concentration and find it too strong, you can always add more water to dilute it).
About The Author:
Li Wong has a B.A. in Environmental Studies (Biology) and a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy. She has been crafting natural cosmetics and studying aromatherapy and herbalism since 2001, and is currently a student of Jeanne Rose’s Aromatherapy Studies Course. Environmental interests include conservation, botany, ethnobotany (uses of plants by indigenous peoples), mammals, organic standards in cosmetics, urban wildlife issues, environmental education and awareness, and public perception. Her all natural, eco-friendly, vegetarian cosmetic company will open this month (December 2009).
For more information on environmental issues, Eco Living, natural cosmetics, aromatherapy, and herbalism check out: Solarkat’s Eco Blog. http://solarkatecoblogspot.com
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SOAP NUTS can be found at Mountain Rose Herbs