Soapberry Tree

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

I saw Soapnuts at a healthfood store the other day and was unaware that you could wash your clothes with them. Turns out it is very popular in India and China. Well, I was then to find out that we have our own native soapberry tree that works just as well. Furthermore, turns out that the 20+ unidentified trees on my property were Western Soapberry.
In one week, I went from uninformed to overloaded with an all natural detergent. The trees are full of the berries right now and we have already picked some.
Even better news, these trees were burnt last year and went thru the worst drought and heat wave of all time in Texas with flying colors with no watering.

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

This is interesting. We donít have one on our place and I havenít noticed any while wondering around the woods. Will have to ask some of the ďlong timersĒ about it.

I think it might be a prime candidate to add to our survival garden.

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

It looks just like a Chinaberry tree except the berries. They should be amber colored and transparent to you can see the seed inside of it. I checked with a few other people and they said that hundreds are down by the river too. I wonder why no one uses them? The same is with loquats here in San Marcos. They fruit everywhere but no one eats them but me.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

jujube, if you look through some of the earlier threads on this forum, you will find an extensive discussion on using soapnuts/soapberries for laundry, shampoo and other uses. We were hoping to find a domestic supply rather than importing soapberries.
You may have just found yourself a new cash crop!

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

Iím still looking into it but so for I have found that the berries are poisonous and some people are susceptible to sever skin rash from the berries. Recommends doing a skin test before getting carried away.

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

If you Google the Western Soapberry, Sapindus saponaria, almost every article says they are used to wash clothes and have been in Mexico and by American Indians. The Chinese Soapberry, Sapindus mukorossi, that you buy in the store are poisonous to eat or drink so dont do that with either one. The active ingredient is saponin which is not meant for human consumption. I have yet to find anything that states that they are any more harmful than the ones we are currently importing. Lets keep our eyes open.

More than likely, they are importing the berries from China and India because they have a huge established market for them so they are very very cheap. The same could be said for Gogi berries. The Matrimony Vine which is essentially the same thing has been grown in America for a long time but since we dont have a market for it, people import them from overseas.

Richmond, TX

I just noticed this topic. We have soapberries all over our property. They seed themselves readily.I have never tried using the berries, but now I'm intrigued. However for the last several years something has been killing them. They get knots on the larger limbs and gradually die back over the summer. The recent droughts don't seem to be the cause. Anyone else having the same problem?

Greensboro, AL

The Western soapberries are toxic as are those of the Asian soapberry. Yet, the big selling point for Asian soap nuts is that they are "natural", "hypoallergenic" and all around good for the environment as compared to detergents which build up in groundwater, rivers, etc.

So I wonder if all this is just unsubstantiated hype. Using soap nuts just substitutes one type of poison for another --- or, if soap nuts really are a good thing and we should use the native soapberries we have instead of supporting the Chinese economy. If done several internet searches but I did not find an answer.

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

I guess it is what you consider toxic.
Apple and cherry seeds are toxic. They contain cyanide.
Nitrates from fish waste are bad for fish and humans but they feed plants in the water.
Tomato leaves contain a poison called solanine because they are from the deadly nightshade family but we grow and compost them every year.

The active ingredient in soapberries is saponin. It is in many of the plants we eat in lower levels such as peas, soybeans and spinach. It is actually good for you in trace amounts. Here is a little article. The level in soapberries is higher and that is why you should not eat them just as you should not eat many apple seeds.

As with any product, you should use test it a few times to make sure you dont have a reaction to it.

Greensboro, AL

Plants for a Future lists 113 plants that have been used ethnographically for soap:[]=Soap

It is interesting that beans contain saponins. That's right they do get foamy when you cook them from dry beans and you need to skim off the foam. Id rather eat beans that Tide soap!

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

At least we are exploring alternatives.


This message was edited Oct 13, 2009 11:16 AM

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Many things that have been used safely for millennia are toxic when not used/prepared/diposed properly.

Our modern quest for speed and convenience has done that for may things
Certain grains and legumes are toxic if not soaked/sprouted/ fermented before consumption. Soapworts and Soapberries fall into the same bucket. I have relatives who used to buy "shampoo nuts", soak them and boil them with herbs, and then use the liquid for shampoo. It doesn't foam as much as commercial detergent shampoos but it does a great job with your hair. In my experiments with the laundry soap nuts, I have to say that my clothes feel better on my skin.

There is a concern about the saponins being toxic to fish and aquatic life. If the berries were to be thrown into a stream, this would be the likely case. Used in a household situation though, where the saponins have a chance to be broken down by microbes in the septic system or worked on by soil microbes, this is not a concern.

I would rather buy soapnuts from Texas and save the fuel miles of having them shipped from Asia.

So, jujube, are you marketing your soapnuts now?

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

Ha! No. We are just picking them. Maybe at farmers markets if we get too many next year.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Dry the berries and store them up.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try all the of techniques below and then report back. LOL!
After you've tried these, you'll know if you want to pitch the product at your farmers market, mail order etc.

Typically you get at least one wash bag inside the bag of soap nuts you purchase. Take 5 Soap Nuts and place them inside the provided wash bag. Toss in to washer machine with clothes and wash as usual with warm water. Remove wash bag from washer machine after the load is finished and set aside to dry. Remove clothes from washer and notice there is no smell and clothes look cleaner and brighter.Place clothes in the dryer and come back when finished drying. Remove clothes and notice your clothes feel extremely soft and smell very fresh and clean. Repeat 4-7 loads before replacing the soap nuts in the bag with new ones. You can also use 1/4 cup of the liquid we will be making in the next step to do a load of laundry at any temperature.

Step 2 Make Soap Nuts Liquid! Take about a dozen Soap Nuts 12-15 and place them in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for approximately an hour cool and strain. The Saponin or soap is fully extracted from the soap nuts when they turn a light tan or gray color or become mush and lack a slippery feel. You can compost or throw out the used shells as they are fully biodegradable. Your liquid will last 3-4 days at room temperature and a little longer if refrigerated as it is a plant based substance. You can also freeze to prolong life but I suggest just not making more than you will need at one time.

Step 3 Use the soap nuts liquid as a green natural all purpose cleaner! Just place in a spray bottle and use in full concentration or dilute if desired. Use to clean tubs, sinks, tile, floors and more! Just as effective as chemical cleaners with no chemical smell!

Step 4 Use the liquid from step 2 as an effective green, natural dish soap! Just add 2 Tbl to your dish water and wash as usual. You may also use on a sponge in full concentration. Add to your automatic dishwasher with vinegar as a rinse aid very effective and low sud-sing.

Step 5 Use the liquid you made in step 2 to create a highly effective green, natural glass cleaner. Combine 8oz of water, 1/2 ounce of vinegar and 1/2 ounce of soap nuts laundry liquid in a spray bottle and shake. Spray and then wipe clean with a dry cloth.

Step 6 Use your soap nuts liquid as an all natural shampoo! Apply to hair leave in for 5 minutes and then rinse as usual with warm water. You can also combine with your favorite shampoo to boost it's cleansing power.

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

I would just sell berries and let the consumer do all the work. I already know people using the ones from the health food store.
I have been talking to a guy in Pakistan about how they use it there. He is sending me the seeds of a tree used for shampoo. It is called Shikakai. I have never heard of it but the more the merrier.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Shikakai is from the Acacia Concinna tree. It is most commonly sold in the powdered for now, as shown in these adverts:

BTW, acacia's are known a "thorn trees" for good reason. (it can be painful to stay beautiful) :)

Clearwater, FL

I would love have any seeds,fruit,trees,ect.of the florida soap berry tree(sapindus saponaria) that anybody on this forum might have growing right now. If your selling them or just giving them away let me know.

Thumbnail by ethnoplantguy
San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

I found a link for trees. I bought Juneberries from this site recently. There was little communication from the seller but the trees came fast and were of good quality.

You can just go to and type in soapberry in the search window as well.

Greensboro, AL

oikos has a very good reputation. I believe they are working with American chestnut varieties.

Biggs, KY(Zone 6a)

Do you have a pic of the trees and berries? I have never heard of soap berries.

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

DG has some good pics.

Biggs, KY(Zone 6a)

Thanks for the link. Those are very good pics. I see what you mean about being translucent. We don't have any of those here that I am aware of. Wish we did.

Huntsville, Canada

Neat there are some herbal plants that grow in my garden Soap wort I started growing them to experiment with there ability to clean this thread has givin me some ideas thank you.

I boiled my soap wort to get a soap subsitute and I tried it in my wash of clothes I added a bit of baking soda everything came out cleaner and brighter. A also tried it in the shower and my skin and hair came out clean yes :) It is also good for people with sensitive skin like me I usually itch like crazy with most soap but not this one. I also didnt need conditioner because I added Mallow to the boiling soap wort that I used in my shower not the load of laundry it helped the soap get thicker a bit it also was a bit foamy with thoes shower scrunchys but not really foamy.
I have a lot of soap wort so this could work out great for people trying to keep soap wort under control in the garden as it can get out of control quickly.

This message was edited Jul 28, 2010 9:15 AM

Hi everyone :) I guess I'm generally late to the whole soapberry scene, but I just heard about them and became super excited about it all. I placed my first order for raw soaperries as well as a soapberry powder detergent and a bodywash/shampoo set. I immediately started thinking how nice it would be to grow our own! We are just starting to plant trees in our yard and there's plenty of space for a couple soapberry trees. I don't have much information on the subject yet or experience growing trees from seed but if anyone has successsoap with this that can offer tips or any seedlings that this would be willing to sell some, I'd be very grateful! For reference I live in Nashville, TN. Thanks so much :) Rachel

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