To be honest at first glance these clever little gems look a bit like shrivelled-up conkers that have been in a schoolboy’s pocket for about 3 years! However, as I quickly learnt, they are actually the dried shells or husks from soapberries, a fruit related to the lychee.
Soapberry shells contain saponin a substance that is a 100% natural alternative to chemical laundry detergent and cleansers. It’s completely free from synthetic and toxic ingredients and therefore perfect for those with sensitive skins and allergies. As it is technically a fruit and not actually a nut, it is also safe for nut allergy sufferers.
As a long term dermatitis sufferer I was absolutely amazed at this and had to find out more…
Where do they come from?
The soapberry tree is relatively hardy and grows uncultivated in poor quality soil primarily in northern India and Nepal. The tree grows to 10 to 20 meters in height and begins flowering and bearing fruit after about 9 years. Local farmers harvest the fruit after it falls from the tree, spreading linen under the branches to catch the mature fruits as they fall.
The berries are then dried in the sun and the seeds removed and replanted, so just the shells are left. No commercial manufacturing processes are required in any way for the soapnut to become effective and of course the sale of the soap nuts provide much needed income to the local population.
One of the things that really made me respect the old soapnut is its versatility. The shells can be ground into a powder and blended into soap bars and bath products, or boiled to make a liquid which can be infused into shampoos, moisturisers, balms and liquid soaps. If that wasn’t enough their anti-fungal properties mean they have also been used for many years for cleaning both laundry and around the house (and as they repel lice and fleas can even be used to wash the dog!).
So there you have it – the pure wonder of the soapnut. Here are just a few ways you can use it at home…
- Pop around 5/6 shells into a muslin bag and place into drum of washing machine with clothes. Save used shells, they can be reused up to 4 more times.
- To make a liquid wash simple place 15 shells (50g) into 2 litres of water, cover and boil for 10 minutes. Store your strained soapnuts in the fridge, they can be boiled at least 3 more times.
- After being used about 5 times the soapnuts will start to break up and and lose their colour slightly. They can be disposed of with the food waste recycling – or pop onto the garden to fertilise soil and keep slugs and snails at bay.
You can buy a 500g (240 washes) bag here. Go on – give them a try!