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Soap Nuts Health Benefits Finally Explained

Soap nut tree.

Soap nuts are a staple of Ayurvedic medicine. Different ancient traditions make use of them to treat various conditions, from the respiratory and digestive systems to skin and hair issues.

Furthermore, these berries provide a cleansing and softening effect on skin and hair. This is one of the many reasons why they have been used for centuries as soap/shampoo/laundry detergent. It is one of the best and most natural combinations of beauty/hygiene/medicine happening all in one, and this is part of what makes them so popular.

Okay, soap nuts are great, we get it. But what are they, anyway?

What Are Soap Nuts?

Pile of soap nuts.

Soap nuts.

Essentially, soap nuts are a fruit. ‘Soap nuts’ or ‘soap berries’ is the name given to the berry which adorns the branches of the Sapindus trees (commonly referred to as soapberry trees). These trees are part of a genus of small trees and shrubs which come from the lychee family, aka Sapindaceae. They are native to regions in India and Nepal.

The fruit itself is small, yellowish, and leathery, and it contains one or several seeds. Contrary to their colloquial name, they are not nuts. Not even close. Also, they are also not too edible. If you do happen to ingest them, there is a good chance your stomach will ache. So, just because you can eat something, doesn’t mean you should. Words to live by.

Soap Nuts Shampoo Explained

Soap nut shampoo bar.

Soap nut shampoo bar.

As previously mentioned, people have used soapberries as shampoo for centuries. In fact, the earliest documented use of them as hair care products goes back over 2500 years, to no big surprise – India. The use of these berries as a hair cleanser continues to this day. Consequently, in India, it remains the number one used shampoo ingredient. There, it is known by the name reetha.

So, how does this berry get our scalp and hair clean, shiny, and healthy?

The key ingredient in these berries is called saponin, which works as a cleanser. Although many other plants and fruits contain it, none have it in the same amount that soapberries do. Therefore, this is what makes the soap nuts such an excellent cleaner. Just to be clear, you could technically derive the same amounts of saponin from other natural fruits, but what makes them so popular is that a high saponin content is built right in.

As mentioned, there are several trees within the genus which yield these berries. You could make a shampoo using either one of them. What this means is that this may require some trial and error on your part. You’ll have to find the recipe or species which best works for you. It could very well be that one type of soap nuts will be less effective than the other. Because we all have different scalps, skin types, and hair types, it’s not all-or-nothing.

Soap Nuts For Laundry Explained

Soap nuts in laundry.

Soap nuts as a chemical-free alternative to harsh detergents.

There are those who wish to use a laundry detergent which is eco-friendly, natural, and effective. There are many brands and ingredients which qualify for those categories, and soap nuts do as well. Soap nuts have been used to clean fabrics like wool and fine silk since time immemorial. moreover, the sensitive nature of the nuts, which applies so well to treating skin and hair, also translates to clothing.

The nuts take in the water and secrete the saponin. In other words, you can simply put these in the appropriate compartment in your washer, and that’s it. There are those who say you can also use them as a fabric softener, but in my experience, they don’t work so well for that purpose. It does get things nice and clean, but as a fabric softener, I am less inclined to trust it. Also, with exceedingly tough stains, there is usually not enough strength in the nuts to seriously clean the fabric. Of course, this also depends on the kind of nuts, their previous usage, and other factors such as the nature of the stain or dirt.

As was previously stated, it is natural, effective, and free of chemicals. It is environmentally friendly and cost efficient, AND it works for clothing of those with sensitive skin. The only question is whether or not it will fit in with your family’s laundry needs.

There are some cases where there will be no choice but to use some heavy-duty cleaner (and there are natural products there, too!), but generally speaking, you will probably be able to swap whatever you are using for soapberries, save money, and save yourself from potential health issues down the line. Chemical detergents are not the healthiest, to say the least.

DIY Soap Nut Shampoo Recipe

You could choose to use the single ingredient, soap nuts, or you could combine it with other natural ingredients. Depending on the length and volume of your hair, you may want to add more ingredients. Additionally, it is crucial to remember that DIY products almost always involve some form of trial and error period. You’ll need to figure out how your hair and scalp react to the different ingredients and their amounts. Here is a simple soap nut shampoo recipe:

Ingredients

  • 10 soapnuts
  • 1.5 – 2 cups of water
  • A durable container for prep
  • Cheesecloth or another strainer
  • Jar or container to strain shampoo into
  • Jar or container to store the end product

Method

  1. Add water and soap nuts to the prep container
  2. Let it sit for a full day (24 hours)
  3. Strain with a cloth into a jar or container
  4. Transfer to a different jar or container
  5. Use immediately, otherwise store in a sealed container and keep refrigerated for up to a week

Conclusion

In summary, soap nuts are a fantastic alternative to shampoo, laundry detergent, and even dishwashing liquid. Are they great for every conceivable situation? No. There will be instances where you will have to resort to other means. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still go the natural and eco-friendly route, but it means that soap nuts may take a back seat in those cases.

For thousands of years, soap nuts have been used by man. Whether it is beauty, hygiene, or medicine, soap nuts have been around to help us out. Nowadays, there are many solutions and products out there, and yet, many turn to the ancient practices and traditions of India.

It seems that the more science advances, the more these ancient traditions become pronounced. Soap nuts are not something which has been studied too extensively or been subjected to much data/clinical research. Nevertheless, it is a substance which is used by countless souls all over the world, and it gets results. As Bob Dylan said: “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

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