Soap nut, also known as Reetha in Hindi, is one of the most important trees of tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia. The species is widely grown in upper reaches of the Indo-Gangetic plains, Shivaliks and sub-Himalayan tracts at altitudes from 200m to 1500m. It also grows widely in the far east and various varieties grow in South America as well.
Soap Nut trees belongs to the main plant order Sapindaceae and family Sapindeae. Sapindus in Latin means "soap of the Indes" and saponaria refers to the saponin found in the fruit.
The significance of Soap Nut lies in the fact that its pods, dried and powdered, are an effective natural soap and cleanser. They may be used on the skin, hair and even on delicate silk fabric. Devoid of the ill effects of soaps, shampoos and detergents which are getting clearer as conscious consumers learn to decode personal care labels -- soap nut powder is a sustainable and green alternative.
 Uses of the Soap Nut
- Natural Laundry Detergent
Hand wash or machine wash, when used with cold water tends to soften clothing. Especially used for fine wool and silk in preference to chemicals.
- Powder, Shampoo and Skin Cleaner
Soap nut is excellent for washing and bathing both humans and pets. It acts as a natural exfoliant and leaves the skin with a soft, smooth layer which protects against infections and insects. It also prevents hair loss.
The Soap nut solution can be used as a spray to repel and prevent a wide variety of pests and blight, including aphids and blackfly. Recently in Agriculture Research Institute, Taiwan, a molluscicide and a fungicide were developed with the use of extracts from Sapindus mukorossi seeds, effectively controlling golden apple snail (Ampullarium canaliculatus) and powdery mildew on muskmelon and tomato.
General Purpose Cleaner
- Cars, Motorbikes, Jewellery & Silverware wash: Gives a glossy finish removing dirt and grease. It is also an excellent hand wash for greasy hands.
- Fruits & Vegetables Wash: Most of us are unaware that many of the fruits and vegetables we eat are grown using harmful chemicals and sprayed with pesticides to increase their shelf-life. Scientific tests have shown that a ten minute soak in soap nut solution will remove upto 95% of the surface pesticides and chemical residues.
- Cardamom Wash: Used for washing and bleaching cardamoms to improve the colour & flavour.
- For cleaning & washing dishes, floors, glass and metal surfaces: Acts as a disinfectant and is 100% biological and biodegradable. It is also excellent for septic tank drainage systems.
- Mordant: It acts as a mordant in the process of vegetable dyeing of the silk and cotton yarns, removing the need for both alum and caustic soda and rendering the fibres soft and yielding to colour-depth and fastness. No other mordant is required for most natural dyes as soap nut has a lovely light brown natural dye.
Medicinal Use: It is used commonly in the Indian Ayurvedic Healing system for
- Skin problems, eczema, chronic itching, removing pimples, psoriasis and the treatment of scabies.
- Lice and and other parasites
- People with allergies, neurodermatitis and people with sensitive skin, should use soap nut as other chemical detergents often provoke an aggravation of their ailment.
- The fruits are credited with expectorant and emetic properties and when prepared by an Ayurvedic doctor it can treat epilepsy, chlorosis and excessive salivation. It is also used as a sedative to the uterus and is used to ease childbirth. It can also be prepared as a digestive aid, an anti-venom, or to treat diarrhea, cholera and paralysis.
- The powdered seeds are said to possess insecticide properties. They are employed in the treatment of dental caries.
- Reetha fruit is so rich in iron it is considered a hemolytic and is used often to treat anemia.
 Recent Research
- Clinical trials have just finished on the use of Sapindus mukorossi as a spermicide (replacing Nonoxynal-9, which has shown to lead to widespread sexually transmitted infections.)
- Recent studies by Chinese researchers show that the saponins in Soap Nuts inhibit tumor cell growth in humans.
- Indian researchers show that a solution made from the fruit of Sapindus trifoliaus decreases behaviors associated with migraines in mice. Early Vedic medical texts describe thick solutions made by crushing and adding water to reetha fruit that were used regularly to pacify folks suffering from chronic viral infections and headaches. There is also evidence it was used to treat hysteria.
 What are Saponins?
Saponins are glucosides consisting of a polycyclic aglycone called a sapogenin and a sugar side chain, joined by an ether bond. When in contact with water te Saponins produce a soapy foam that has detergent-like quality.
Saponins occur widely in many plant species, including the soap nut tree Sapindus mukorossi, found in North India and Nepal, and the soap bark tree Quillaja saponaria native to South America.
Both species have long been known for their detergent qualities to local populations and both appear in personal care products currently on the market.
Saponins can replace conventional chemical detergents such as sodium laureth sulphate that are becoming increasingly unacceptable to the consumer due to fears concerning the safety of the chemical.
Certain studies suggest that sodium laureth sulphate and other chemical surfactants can leave the skin dry and irritated, especially in individuals suffering from eczema and other skin conditions.
In addition such chemicals are not biodegradable, a factor that is becoming increasingly important to the environmentally-minded consumer.
In contrast, naturally occurring saponins provide the foaming agent necessary in shampoo or shower gel, whilst being both gentler on the body and environmentally friendly. A small number of products containing soap nut extracts are currently on the market, for example Sapon'hair, a shampoo recently released by a small French manufacturer Cosmigea. Creator of the product Mehdi Ouahchi told Cosmetics Design that his unique selling point was the mix of ancient Ayurvedic traditions with traditional European natural ingredients. His product combines the soap nut extracts from India with Rosemary oil to calm the scalp and tone the hair shaft, and cider vinegar to rid the hair of chlorine and calcium residues.
 How To Use Soap Nuts For Laundry
- Take 4-6 soap nut shells and tie together in a small muslin bag and put into the washing machine.
- Add clothes and start the normal laundry cycle.
- This set of soap nuts can be used for 4 to 5 loads of laundry. The soap nuts should be changed when they become grayish or mushy. It is advisable to allow the soap nuts to dry between successive loads of laundry. The soap nut bag should be removed before running the clothes in the dryer.
- To make a liquid solution, 100 grams of soap nuts, (or approximately 30-35 whole soap nuts) should be boiled in approximately 3 litres of water for about half an hour. A liquid will be obtained which is a chemical free, concentrated laundry detergent.
- The shells that are left over may be added to compost.
- Then 45 ml of this solution (approximately 3 tablespoons) can be used for a load of laundry. The solution made with 100 grams of soap nuts can be used for washing approximately 40 loads of laundry and will cost less than $10!
 Tips For Using Soapnut
Create this traditional Ayurvedic recipe for a relaxing bath:
- 1 c. raw honey
- 10 drops lavender oil
- 1/4 c. papaya leaves
- 1/4 c. neem leaves (Azadirachta indica)
- 3 T. reetha (soap nut) powder (cracked soap nut shells)
- 3 T. shikakai powder (Fruit for the Hair)
- 2 t. kastrui manjal (Curcuma aromatica)
- 2 t. sandalwood powder
Blend herbs by hand with mortar and pestle and pour into bath with honey and oil.
 Soap nuts also plant germination inhibitors
 How to Grow Soap Nut Trees
Soap Nut is a drought resistant tree and therefore a good option for Xeriscaping. The tree can reach a height of above 25 metres and a girth of 3 to 5 metres in nearly 70 years and is therefore planted along boulevards. This tree flourishes in deep clayey loam soil and does best in areas experiencing nearly 150 to 200 cm of annual rainfall.
It flowers during summer and the fruit appears in July-August and ripens by November-December. These are solitary globose, round nuts 2 to 2.5 cm diameter, fleshy, saponaceous and yellowish brown in colour.
The seed is enclosed in a black, smooth and hard globose endocarp. The fruit is collected during winter months for seed and or sale in the market as soap nut.
The Ritha seed germinates easily. To ensure cent per cent germination, the seed is soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours and then sown, either directly in already prepared 60 x 60 cm pits at 5m x 5m spacing or sown in polythene bags filled with clayey loam soil mixed with farmyard manure or similarly prepared nursery beds.
 Did You Know?
- The Genus Sapindus has 168 species, subspecies, varieties, forms, and cultivars. 
- Soapnuts may be used in quite easily in dishwashers! Just add 3 shells in the bottom of the cutlery holder and some vinegar in the rinseaid dispenser and glasses and plates will come out sparkling clean!
- Soap nuts are antimicrobial and are beneficial for septic systems and greywater.
 See Also
- All About Soapnuts
- For free samples of soapnuts, visit In a Soapnut Shell
 Additional Information