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All you Wanted to Know About Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are also known as Sapindus. Sapindus is a taxonomic category of approximately 5-12 varieties of shrubs and bushes which belong to the Lychee group.

We find Sapindaceae in the areas with moderate to tropical climate in both the New World and Old World.

Nature of soap nut plants

The taxonomy comprises both evergreen and broad-leafed types. Parts of this taxonomy are typically termed as soap nuts or soapberries since the soft tissue of the fruit is a raw material for manufacturing soaps.

The generic name of Sapindus originated from the expression saponis, which is Latin, standing for “soap”, and indicus, which implies “of India”.

The length of the soapnut leaves vary between 5.9 and 16 inches or15 and 40 cm. They are featherlike and there are 14-30 cusps, and the last cusp is frequently missing. The flowers grow in big racemes, and every flower is tiny in size and the color is creamy white.

The soapnut fruit is a tiny tough-skinned fleshy indehiscent fruit. The diameter of the fruit is 0.39–0.79 inches or 1–2 cm, with yellow maturing blackish color, with 1-3 kernels.

Varieties of soapnuts

The count of varieties of Sapindus is debated by various writers and researchers, especially in the Northern United States. It is acknowledged that between one and three varieties are there.

  • Sapindus detergens (synthetic variant of soapnut, also known as Ritha)
  • Sapindus delavayi (found in India, China)
  • Sapindus laurifolius Vahl – Ritha (found in India)
  • Sapindus emarginatus Vahl (found in Southern Asia)
  • Sapindus mukorossi Gaertn – also known as Indian soapberry (found in the regions of North India, towards the east of the Himalayan mountain ranges)
  • Sapindus marginatus Willd – Also known as Florida soapberry (found in South Carolina to Florida); grouped in S. saponaria by a number of writers.
  • Sapindus rarak DC. (found in Southeastern parts of the Asian continent)
  • Sapindus oahuensis Hillebr. ex Radlk. – Lonomea (O’ahu and Kaua’i, Hawaii)
  • S. s. var. drummondii (Hook. and Arn.) L.D. Benson – Western Soapberry (found in Mexico and Southwest U.S.)
  • Sapindus saponaria L.
  • Sapindus tomentosus (found in China)
  • S. s. var. saponaria – Wingleaf soapberry (found in the Caribbean archipelago, southeastern United States, Central and South America, and the island of Hawaii)
  • Sapindus vitiensis A.Gray (found in Samoa, American Samoa, and Fiji)
  • Sapindus trifoliatus L. – Also known as three-leaf soapberry or South India soapnut (found in Pakistan and Southern India)

What are the popular uses of soapnuts?

Earlier, soapnuts were used in the form of nauseants, mucolytics, and contraceptives as a part of folk medicine. In addition, it was used to cure iron deficiency anemia in young women, epilepsy and extreme secretion of saliva.

At present, soapnuts are used as a natural wetting agent since the fleshy part of the fruit is full of saponins. It is helpful in washing clothes and Native Americans in the US and the indigenous people of Asia have been using this for a very considerable period. Commercially, saponins have applications in manufacturing of detergents and cosmetics. Researches confirm that soapnuts have disinfectant and anti-inflammatory aspects and are also used as natural detergents. Some of the Sapindus saponins are believed to have spermicidal abilities.

Usage in Ayurveda

Traditionally, soapnuts have been used in Ayurveda. It functions as a major ingredient for manufacturing Ayurvedic cleaning agents and shampoos. A number of Ayurvedic medications are made for curing psoriasis, eczema and getting rid of lentigines and all these medications feature soapnuts as one of the key ingredients. Because of its germicidal and insecticidal nature, it is used to get rid of lice from the scalp.

Author bio: Jane Fonda is an experienced blogger who has been writing blogs and articles for various home improvement blogs and sites. She is a knowledgeable person and knows a lot on soap nuts.