Soap nut berries and powder can be used for the washing machine and cut down on pollution. A look by S. Vishwanath

The house-help Mary calls it ‘soapkai’ or soap fruit. Known locally in Kannada as “Antwaalad-kai,” in Hindi the name is “Ritha.” This is the soap nut, a saponin laden miracle of nature. Its Latin name is Sapindus Mukorossi or the Indian Soap Berry. Thanks to the local authority and the Forest Department, many trees of the “Ritha” have been planted in the neighbourhood. Summer is the fruit fall season and below the tree one finds a lot of the fruits lying around.

Chitra, an architect, is a big fan of the Ritha berries. On her daily trip to the office on the cycle she never fails to stop and pick up some of them. They are brought home and then dried in the hot sun. Once dry they are put in water and boiled for some time till all the saponin comes out. After a few hours a nice, thick soap liquid is ready. This liquid soap is now ready to be used for many a purpose.

The first is as a clothes washer. A few drops can generate a rich yet gentle lather and clean up the collars of the dirtiest shirts. The liquid can also be tossed with clothes into the washing machine and it does a thorough job of cleaning clothes. The best part is that the wash water is now free of phosphate and other harmful chemicals and can be used for the garden without fear of them harming the plants. The soap nut liquid can be used as a shampoo and is good for the hair, bringing a lustre and a nice smell to it. Dishes can be washed and even glass cleaned. It acts as a shampoo for the pet too. Adding a few drops to the floor swabbing process helps clean up the floor.

Truly the soap nut tree is a gift of nature. The tree itself is a large one with a big canopy that provides a lovely shade. It roots easily and is hardy enough to cope with the hot climate and red soil of India though it does very well if watered enough.

Growing organically, processed, packed and sold by small ecologically minded companies like www.krya.in and www.dailydump.org, the berries and powder are available in many forms for use in the washing machine.

Foam rivers are a gift of an endless detergent consuming society. It is possible to look around, trust nature and find solutions which are small, simple yet eco-friendly which can save our rivers and lakes. Smart cities will include trees like the Pongaemia and the Ritha in their planting schedule and every neighbourhood could have its own soap factory for the residents to take advantage of. That would be water wisdom.