Tips for Growing a Soap Berry Tree

COMMON NAMES:
Commonly known as Soap Berry or Soap Nut Tree.

LATIN NAME:
Sapindus drummondii

HISTORY:
Sapindus Soap berry trees, or bushes, are a member of the maple family. They are commonly found in warm temperate climates, as well as tropical regions in both Asia and the Americas. They were particularly prominent in ancient India, and are a highly-valued plant in Ayurvedic medicine for common ailments such as eczema, psoriasis and for the insecticidal properties of the berry, which helped in removing and preventing lice.

HERBAL PROPERTIES AND USES:
Most commonly used as natural soap alternative. Containing a natural soap-like surficant called saponins, these berries have been used for hundreds of years by many cultures, including Native Americans. Today, soapberries are marketed as a natural soap-alternative for use in detergents, cosmetics and other cleaning products. Traditionally, these nuts were also employed for their use as a natural insecticide, expectorant, and emetic. Modern scientific studies have even shown that soap nuts may be useful in treating migraine headaches..

Soap Berry Tree Cultivation and Growing Methods

ANNUAL/PERRENIAL PLANT:
Perennial tree

PARTS USED:
The yellow berries from the flowered bunches.

SOIL REQUIREMENTS:
Grows best in deep loam soil with a high clay content.

SUN REQUIREMENTS:
This tree prefers full sun or partial shade.

GOOD COMPANION PLANTS:

  • American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
  • Chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
  • Red oak (Quercus rubra)
  • Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

GROWING ZONES:
Soap berry trees are a tropical/subtropical plant and grows best in warm climates with a yearly rainfall from 150-200cm. It is most commonly grown in India, China, Hawaii and Florida. USDA Zones 7b-10b

HEIGHT:
20-30 feet.

PLANTING TIME:
Soap berry seeds take between 1-3 months to germinate in the summer. Soak seeds overnight in warm water to scarify the seed shell. You can then plant the seed at a soil depth of 2.5cm. Make sure to keep the seed mix moist and warm under bright light or sun. Once seedlings emerge, re-pot in a large container making sure to protect the long primary root.

POLLINATION:
This tree is polygam-diocecious, meaning that a tree may have only male or female flowers, or may also contain both. And therefore, may self-pollinate or not.

FLOWERING/SEEDING TIME:
Flowers in May and June in cream-colored bunches. The tree then produces the berries, which are about 1/2 inch wide, translucent in color, and turning yellow when ripe. The tree takes 9-10 years to produce soap berries once planted.

HARVESTING:
The berries can be harvested during the winter months. When the translucent berries begin to turn yellow in color, to black and fleshy, it is time to harvest.

DRYING METHODS / YIELD:
Once gathered, the leathery skinned fruit can be dried in the sun on canvas, and stored as soap nuts. Make sure to crack open the berry and deseed before storing and using. Keep the layers shallow for even drying and to keep them from heating.

PLANT YIELD:
Forty-five kilograms of fruit will yield approximately 13.6 to 16 grams of seeds.

PRESERVATION / PACKAGING METHODS:
Dry seeds thoroughly and store in a cool dry place, in an airtight container such as a sealed bag in a cardboard box, or a glass jar.

ESSENTIAL OIL USE:
Soapberry seeds are normally used either in their entirety, or as an extract, but not as an essential oil.

PLANT CHEMICALS:
Soapberries are mostly composed of Saponin. They are also composed of elements of Vitamin C, tyrosine, glycine, fructose, glucose, alanine, pentose, methylpentose, and pectin sugars.

IS THIS AN EDIBLE PLANT:
No

CAUTIONS / CONTRAINDICATIONS:
Soap berries contain toxic saponins, and should not be ingested by humans. If eaten, the berries cause gastrointestinal pain and discomfort, although the plant only has a mild level of toxicity when eaten.

DRUG INTERACTIONS:
N/A

Clinical Research About Soap Berry Trees

  • D.K. Arulmozhi; A. Veeranjaneyulu; S.L. Bodhankar; S.K. Arora (March 2005), " Effect of Sapindus trifoliatus on hyperalgesic in vivo migraine models", Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 38 (3): 469-475. [PMID: 15761628]
  • D.K. Arulmozhi; A. Veeranjaneyulu; S.L. Bodhankar; S.K. Arora (17 February 2004), "Pharmacological studies of the aqueous extract of Sapindus trifoliatus on central nervous system: possible antimigraine mechanisms", Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Elsevier Ireland Ltd.) 97 (3): 491-496, 8 February 2005, 16 August 2009 [PMID: 15740885]
  • Garg, G. Doncel, S. Chabra, S.N. Upadhyay and G.P. Talwar, Synergistic spermicidal activity of neem seed extract, reetha saponins and quinine hydrochloride. Contraception 50 (1994), pp. 185–190. [PMID: 7956217]
  • B.S. Setty, V.P. Kamboj and N.M. Khanna, Screening of Indian Plants for biological activity Part. VII. Spermicidal activity of Indian plants. Indian J Exp Biol 15 (1977), pp. 231–232. [PMID: 914327]
  • P. Ojha; J. P. Maikhuri; G. Gupta (August 2003), " Effect of spermicides on Lactobacillus acidophilus in vitro - nonoxynol-9 vs. Sapindus saponins", Contraception (Elsevier Science Inc.) 68 (2): 135-138, 27 August 2003. [PMID: 12954526]

 

References

  1. Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii. (Hook. & Arn.) L. Benson. Ralph A. Read and John C. Zasada. USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_other/wo_AgricHandbook727/wo_AgricHandbook727_1019_1021.pdf
  2. Stoffels, Karin (September 2008). Soap Nut Saponins Create Powerful Natural Surfactant". Personal Care Magazine (Jeen International Corporation).
  3. Austin, Daniel F.; P. Narodny Honychurch (2004). Florida Ethnobotany. CRC Press. 601-603. [ISBN 9780849323324].
  4. Soap Nuts. Pure India. http://www.pureindia.com/soapnut.htm

 

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