Native to India, this tree produces something very special: the fruits (nuts) have a hard, green then browning coat which if collected and dried, can be used in the washing machine to clean your clothes. Using it as a washnut, perhaps not the dirtiest trousers, but normal, daily used clothes will be clean. It can also be used for restoring and brightening tarnished silverware. The wood is excessively used in India for making furniture, boards, plywood, etc. The powdered seed is a natural insecticide.
Now, this is a large tree and only hardy to about -5C, but it can be grown in a large pot in a conservatory or unheated greenhouse, and a trimmed, 2m tall and 1m wide plant may well flower and fruit after about 5 years. We found that the 1 year old plants in our nursery survived the 2019/20 Welsh Winter, without damage. The composite, large leaves are decorative and huge flower panicles (made up of small, creamy flowers) appearing in early summer are as equally eye catching. Deciduous, without much autumn colour.
How it works as a washnut? Just put some soap nuts in a net bag and place it in the washing machine together with your clothes. When agitated in water, the soap berries release saponin, which is a natural cleaner as a surfactant, breaking the surface tension of the water to penetrate the fibres of your clothing, lifting stains from the fabric, and leaving dirt suspended in the water that is rinsed away. They can be also made into a liquid concentrate by boiling them for about 20 minutes for the saponin to be released, turning the boiled water into liquid soap. This liquid soap can be used as a base for liquid laundry detergent and other cleansers.
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