Leaf of the Day: More Soapberry

I spent far too long at the Gardens today .. far too long. But it was a lovely day and just to be outside was a treat. I walked for miles along paths I seldom visit, saw a handful of people and really had the 44 acres almost to myself. And today I really did see a hummingbird. It was feeding on the little flowers of the toad lily, a beautiful tiny flower I have yet to draw. I include my blurry photograph.

I know they are fairly common here, but it is the first time I have seen one properly. I think it is probably a female Rufous Hummingbird.

Back to the Soapberry Tree.
I gathered quite a few soapberries to make the soap with. There are many small cottage industries on the Internet selling soapberries in various forms but it’s nice to pick your own. I think I must be the only person in Orlando who can be bothered which seems a shame.
I realised I had not included a photo of the tree yet. Here is a bunch of unripe berries and one fallen on the ground.

They start smooth and green and then turn the amber resiny colour and wrinkle up, eventually blackening, the outer case rotting away and the leaving the hard black seed.
There are pretty small scented flowers which I have missed. Here are photos of the flowers and fruit from Oklahoma Biological Survey website here

This second photo shows very well the translucent nature of the berries.

In India, as well as a cleanser, the soapberry, known in Hindi as reetha is used in Ayurvedic medicine and Soapberry powder along with shikakai, from the acacia tree, is indicated as being extremely good for hair and scalp conditions.
I also found out that in Brazil it was called Soldier’s soap, as, rather obviously, soldiers were encouraged to wash with it. Its mild insecticidal properties also make it good for removing head lice which I imagine would have come in very useful for soldiers. There are many other “medicinal” uses for this little berry but it should be noted that it is slightly poisonous. ….you can also clean the silver with it.

Today I have drawn a young berry. It’s green and smooth and not ready to fall yet and still has its lid on.

Green Soapberry… with lid on.

Leaf of the Day: The Soapberry Tree Suite.. The Heaven Sent Cleaner

Today a couple more sketches of the Soapberry, this time berries and seedlings. I am hoping to do a series of more finished pieces, so that I have a Soapberry “portrait” set.
There is so much to like about this tree, so here is a little more about it.
The Soapberry, this particular one is Sapindus marginatus, is from the interesting family of soap producing trees. This is not some folksy old wives tale but in some regions of the world an industry producing a good biodegradable detergent for clothes and dishes and even as an ingredient for shampoo. The “soap” comes from the outer covering of the berries which contain the amazing natural detergent “saponin”. It works incredibly well! Here are just three foaming berries, they left my hands absolutely super squeaky clean. and they seem to go on and on.

There is a charming short film clip here at Soapberry.org. with a commentary in Chinese /English showing you how to use them and how the tree “leads people return to the nature.” It tells how the soapberry (its Chinese name, Wu Huan Zi, means “no dust”) seeing the terrible state of the polluted earth arrived from heaven to help us clean up our grubby selves and environment. “He want to help the earth recovered back his most pure status. He smiles, and if you have him with you, he then do the clarifying and recovering work for you, not count for money, not count for name”
How lovely!

Basically you put three or four in a muslin bag and run them under water, rub them around a bit and, hey presto, you have a foamy detergent that you can use to wash yourself, your clothes and the dishes in too. To do the laundry, it’s 5 to 8 berries in a bag depending on load and how grubby your clothes are. The liquid is supposed to help skin conditions, is good for those with sensitive skin, is a mild antibacterial, and can be used to discourage pests on your garden plants.

Make your own soap
To make a basic liquid you take two handfuls of soapberry “shells” and 3 litres of water, bring to the boil simmer for 30 minutes and allow to steep overnight. Strain and compost the shells if you have a compost heap. You will then have a concentrated eco cleaning fluid. It is that simple. I am going to get more berries tomorrow and try them and I am one of those skin allergy types so anything natural is always worth a try. If the liquid is as gentle as claimed it will also make a very good natural paintbrush cleaner.
Indigenous peoples in America have known about these cleansing berries for thousands of years of course, but we come along with our chemicals and fancy packaging and take over, don’t we?

At the moment the berries are falling. They are a translucent yellow almost like amber, and you can see the dark shape of the black seed inside. I just love their comical design. The part which attaches to the branch is like a flip top lid or two ears so they look like a bunch of strange vessels or gathering of roly poly fat little animals… delightful!
In the words of the Chinese film , “soapberry brings back the natural to the human. ” Tomorrow I shall be gathering some more heavenly helpers.

So here is a sketch of the roly poly berries and two hula dancing seedlings. I would never make a serious botanist would I?

Rolling Berries and Dancing Seedlings