• Soap Nut Trees

Soap nut trees are one of nature’s greatest gifts.

Sapindus mukorossi tress with ripening soap berries.

Sapindus mukorossi tress with ripening soap berries. Note the yellow to golden brown colors of mukorossi berries that are ready for harvesting. This coloration will last for only a few months at most. They are rarely seen like these by Western consumers.

Man has used soap nuts since ancient times – primarily in Far East lands. They go by many common names such as soap berries, washing nuts, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nuts, Ritha nut shells, Chinese soapberry and many more. Until recently, they have been obscure and virtually unheard of by most. There are logical explanations for this obscurity – many are sad and tragic, but true. However, what is most important is where we go from here. Integrating the benefits of soap nuts into our daily lives will be one of the greatest accomplishments of our age.

Soap nuts are more appropriately called a soapberry. I will use both terms. There is no difference whatsoever regardless of the term used. To visualize a soapberry, think of a golden colored cherry while still on the tree – they are very similar type fruits in appearance. Being more specific, the soap nut that we use for cleaning purposes is actually the pulp and skin of the dried soapberry. The seed is not used for cleaning. It is for cultivating new trees. Research is being conducted for other uses of the soap nut seed, but no other benefits have yet to be documented. Please note that all soap berries are not alike. This will be discussed in detail.

This pulp and skin contain an extremely important natural substance called saponin. Saponin is a truly natural soap (in effect at least). More precisely, and MOST importantly, it is a 100% natural surfactant. By definition a surfactant is an agent, chemical, drug or substance that reduces the surface tension of liquid. It is this reduction of water surface tension that makes cleaning easier. Soap nuts contain this all-important saponin that makes our everyday cleaning needs not only easier, but much healthier, safer and totally free of synthetic chemicals.

So, a soap nut is the vehicle that releases this highly effective, 100% natural substance that is the best alternative to the synthetic chemicals used in the virtually all commercial detergents and cleaners. Even today’s supposedly “natural”, “organic”, and “green” detergents and cleaners mainly use synthetic chemicals as their primary active ingredients. Saponin is the only all-natural substance known that works as effectively and diversely as synthetic surfactants – and therefore is one of the greatest re-discoveries of our age.

I state “re-discovery” because soap nuts are far from new. There are many ancient and Ayurvedic treatments that soap nuts have been essential in producing. They are still commonplace and the primary cleanser used in many remote regions of the world.

They key here is that Mother Nature has freely provided us a substitute for the man-made chemicals that have been coming out of the factories and labs of many of the largest companies on earth. This simple all-natural substitute has profound health and environmental benefits for all mankind. With only a little thought, it is easy to understand why soap nuts are not well known. What does man crave and Mother Nature cares nothing about? Money.

People across the globe are taking a hard, close second look at all the hazards and problems created by exposure to and release of all the synthetic chemicals in our world. Soap nuts are now in the right place at the right time. Soap nuts will be one of the leaders of the new, green age that lies ahead. Their time has come.

Mature mukorossi tree beginning to flower for the upcoming year's bountiful berry harvest. Note: Long distinctive leaves of the mukorossi species.

Mature mukorossi tree beginning to flower for the upcoming year's bountiful berry harvest. Note: Long distinctive leaves of the mukorossi species.

A few facts of interest:
– The mukorossi species is indigenous to China. They are still listed on the books as an “alien” species in India and Nepal, but this is splitting hairs. (The term Chinese soap berry is antiquated at best.) For thousands of years the invasive species migrated southward through eastern Nepal and northern India. Today they are far more established in India and Nepal as agriculture products of international commerce and community incomes – their Fair Trade markets becoming well developed after years of work by local villagers and Southern Asian exporters. China recently began exportation after recognizing a potential for profit. Agricultural products are only a scant few percent (at best) of China’s GDP due to their reputation for low quality control, lack of regulation, common use of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, excessive pollution of both water and air, plus persistently being plagued with worldwide news of hazardous contamination outbreaks.
– They are exceptionally prolific fruit producers. See post on Soap Nuts Sustainability to learn more.
– When growing, patience will be needed. They make take up to 9 years to bare their precious fruits.
– They’re big trees! Can grow to 90′. Allow room.
– Once established, expect them to be live a long time – commonly a century!

Growing Soap Nut Trees from Seed:

(Courtesy L.R. Sacks, www.Soap-Nuts.info)

Initial Note: It is extremely common to see a ring of moldy-looking “white fuzzy stuff” around the umbilical area of the soap nut seed. This is perfectly normal. It does not mean the heart has become rotten nor will it affect germination in any way. No need to wipe it off – and it may even be a good thing.

1. Scarify the seed. Because the soap nut seed coat is so hard, the plant embryo inside cannot breakthrough the seed coat on its own. You must help it by damaging the seed coat. You’ll have to be a little creative. One option is to use a nail file and wear down a notch in the seed coat. I found the seed coat to be so tough that sand paper and fine-grained files did not leave a mark. Another option is to hammer the seed. Be careful not to crush the seed; we just want to weaken the seed coat. I gave about a dozen hard whacks to my seed against concrete, and felt like I was weakening it, but did not see any visible change. Another option is to soak it in hot water. Don’t use water that is actually boiling, but it can still be very hot. I boiled a kettle, let the hot water sit for five minutes, and then filled up a vacuum insulated thermos with the seeds and water, and let it soak for 24 hours. The thermos will keep the water quite warm throughout that period. I used all three methods (filing, hammering, soaking) and it worked ok, but I’m sure there are other good methods too. Soaking is particularly important though, as the water is what activates the germination. If you choose the hammer method be careful not to fully break the outer shell of the seed because once it’s in damp soil it may begin to rot. Remember sapindus mukorossi (and many species  of soap  berry trees) grow in rough rocky mountainous soil not in wetlands so don’t over water.

2. You need to plant the seed. I would do this in spring or early summer in a pot either outside or in a greenhouse. Choose a pot that is deep, as soap nut trees send down vertical taproots. If you don’t have a deep pot, a 2 liter plastic bottle works well – cut off the top and drill several holes in the bottom. Bury the seed in potting soil (not dirt – use good quality potting/germinating soil) to about three times the seed’s depth. Put it in a place where it will not be in direct sun, and where it can catch some rainfall. Water the pot if the soil starts to dry, but don’t water if it is still moist – that can promote fungal growth. Also, avoid fertilizing the soil before germination occurs – high levels of nitrogen in the soil can actually inhibit germination in general.

3. Wait. Your soap nut seed may take a long time to germinate. It could be 1 month to 3 months, perhaps even more. Not all of the seeds will germinate, but if you follow these directions, you should get 80% or more to grow. Once it does begin to grow, it will shoot up fast. About 1 foot in 1 month should be about right, then it will slow down a little. Give it plenty of full sunlight, and water when soil begins to dry. Again, remember these trees grow in rough rocky mountainous soil not in wetlands so don’t over water.

4. Taking care of the tree. My trees are still very young, so I cannot provide a lot of personal experience. I will be growing mine in progressively larger pots, keeping them on a sunny patio. They should be moved inside once freezing weather begins next winter. Since they are mainly grown in northern India and southern China, they may or may not be able to sustain freezing temperatures. Soap nut tress are known to be and appear generally quite hardy, so should not need a high level of care once well established.

30 replies
  1. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    How and when do you take the seeds out of the soap berry? If you just put the whole soap berry seed and all in a sock tie it up then throw it in the washer would that work?

    Hi Barbara,
    Soap nuts with seeds is becoming a real problem that I’ve been trying to warn people of. Good quality soap nuts will not have seeds, or very few. They should be removed when fresh off the tree. They pop right out before they’ve dried. If the species is any other than the large mukorossi berries, they get tough to remove when dried. Please read through the post “How to Buy Soap Nuts”. I spend some time on soap nut seeds. Don’t ever leave the seeds in the soap nuts when doing laundry. If you have a lot of seeds, I recommend returning them if you can. Soap berry seeds have no practical use other than to grow sapindus trees. They are added weight that consumers end up paying for. They can even leave spots or stains if left in contact with your laundry, hence leading to a bad experience. If you can’t return the soap nuts, then peel the dried pulp and skin off. It’s totally okay if the “husk” ends up in pieces. That’s the part of the soap nut that contains saponin, the active ingredient. Not knowing what species you have, I can’t determine how many shells you should use. In weight it should be about a half ounce. Putting the soap nut “shells” in a sock and just tossing the sock in with your laundry is the traditional way to use them. Do tie off the sock so they don’t fall out. Use a thin sock with a loose weave that allows a lot of water flow through the fabric. Dependent on the soap nut species and quality they should do four or more loads. Thorough saturation and agitation are the two main factors that allow the soap nuts to release their saponin. I am sorry that you received soap nuts with seeds. You are far from the first who has reported this problem. Keep in touch!

  2. Mama4x
    Mama4x says:

    Hi, I am sold on the soap berry. I would like to grow a tree to harvest my own. Can you provide me with a link to a good place to do so? In addition, I would like to buy 32 ounces like you suggested. However, I can’t find any link to the reputable dealers you describe. Can you please be more specific and give your readers an URL? Thanks.

    Hi Mama!

    Regarding the soap berry trees, that’s tough. There’s not many plants around anywhere. It’s pretty hit and miss, and I’ve found that growers often don’t really know the species when you do happen to find some. You can start from seed, but germination is difficult. It takes a long time, and then the mukorossi tree takes about nine years to bare fruit. Once established though, they grow like a weed.

    I just try to stay neutral about sellers, and let folks figure it out themselves. BUT, since you ask, hands down NaturOli has the best soap nuts imo – anywhere. Excellent consistency in product. All hand sorted in the USA. Superb company with exemplary customer service. Top notch. Very honest and forthright. (You can get mukorossi soap berry seeds from NaturOli if you write.) http://www.NaturOli.com/soapnuts

    Thanks for visiting SoapNuts.pro!

  3. Leanne
    Leanne says:

    I find myself coming to your blog about soap nuts more and more often. Almost every laundry day to see what’s new! So much good stuff.

  4. Lernspielzeug
    Lernspielzeug says:

    Certainly, what an incredible website and informative posts about soap nuts, I will add backlink – bookmark this website? Regards.

  5. Scott
    Scott says:

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague doing a research on growing soap nut trees. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  6. Maria E Cantwell
    Maria E Cantwell says:

    This is without a doubt among the more fascinating blogs I have seen. It’s so easy to assume you’ve seen it all. Soap nuts are fascinating! There some some first-rate sites out there, and I believe your blog is seriously on the list!

  7. Serg
    Serg says:

    i just couldn’t leave your web site before saying that i truly enjoyed the high quality details you deliver to your visitors… i look forward to more articles!

  8. Lesley
    Lesley says:

    This is exactly what I was looking for! There isn’t much online about soapnut trees that I could find. Thanks.

  9. Eusebia
    Eusebia says:

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  10. Jennifer J.
    Jennifer J. says:

    Many ideas have emerged after I’ve been reading your articles. Very interesting. We all should start planting soap nut trees now.

  11. Candida
    Candida says:

    Hey i love your soap nuts blog, found it while randomly surfing a couple days ago, will keep checking up. Btw yesterday i was having troubles reaching the site.

    Thanks! …and sorry! I have been having technical difficulties lately. Think it is all OK now. Welcome to SoapNuts.pro!

  12. grow your own Soap Nut trees
    grow your own Soap Nut trees says:

    Very interesting post. Soapberry trees can change the world in many ways. All good ones. I am SOOOO very glad to see you writing about this. It’s truly visionary!

  13. Suzette Hanan
    Suzette Hanan says:

    Soap nuts are amazing. We all should be planting trees! Thank you for the sensible posting. I am very glad to see such great information being shared freely out there.

  14. Paul B
    Paul B says:

    The one thing we need most in our lives is our family. I have found that fabric softener and other laundry agents might be harming our family!! Scary to think hey.. Thanks for the great read. Soap nuts offer us a great and safe alternative to the commercial products.

  15. Nadine B.
    Nadine B. says:

    Our class has discussed soap nuts and the positive environmental impact they are having. You point out many things we didn’t even think about. Your work is appreciated very much.

  16. A. Channing
    A. Channing says:

    Nice posts about soap nuts! I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  17. Reginald
    Reginald says:

    You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!

    We appreciate that! Thanks!

  18. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    “I recently moved into a duplex and discovered two large soap berry trees in my backyard! I would like to start using them for laundry, but can’t seem to find any step by step instructions on how to do this. Is it really just as simple as picking and de-seeding them? What about storage of the soapnuts after picking?”
    Hi Lindsay,
    Yep, it’s pretty much that simple. I have no idea what species they are, but you’ll find many articles here that should be helpful. They must be fully ripened before “picking”. They should be able to be “shaken” off the tree when ready. They will be a warm/golden color when ripe – not green. You’ll be wasting your time is they aren’t ready for their saponin content will be minimal if premature. Hope this helps!
    – Chris

  19. Emiko
    Emiko says:

    Do you think sapindus mukorossi would survive in San Diego? Temperatures get down to 22 degrees F with light frost at times. I have 3 small trees, plus one grown from seed. Thiis winter will be their first winter. What do you suggest? I have alkaline (ph 8.4) clay soil. Thank you for your time.

    Hi Emiko, This comes with no assurances of course, but I think you should be okay. They are a tough and hardy tree. As a former tree farm owner, there are never any guarantees. It may wise to simply cover them during the freeze/frost periods to be on the safe side this first year. I would construct a small shelter (a portable makeshift greenhouse) for them – especially for cold nights. I wish you luck!!! – Chris

  20. Bamikole
    Bamikole says:

    Please, can we find soap nut trees in Malaysia?

    Absolutely. I can’t say what species will be predominant, but sapindus trees are certainly found in Malaysia. You should ask around with local tree farms for the best info (call them sapindus trees). You’ll find them – guaranteed. They may not be a walk down the road, but they are there. Good luck!


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