Western Soapberry, Sapindus drummondii

I'm curious what experience there is regarding the growing of our native Soapberry tree?  According to the fact sheet put out by the US Forest Service, it looks like an excellent urban tree for use in the Phoenix area http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/SAPDRUA.pdf.  It tolerates clay, loam, sand, and alkaline soils; is highly drought tolerant; is a showy upright canopy shade tree and has not particularly susceptible to any pest or disease problems.

I just ordered a bunch of seeds to 1. try using them for a laundry detergent and 2. to germinate and grow locally.  I'll post a comment to let you know how the laundry experiment worked once they come in the mail.  It seemed like a better solution than getting the imported Chinese variety from India/Indonesia to keep our clothes clean.

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  • Great link Chris!  Under "Other Uses" the fed database lists:


    Western soapberry is attractive and
    tolerant of poor soil and harsh
    urban growing conditions [29,34].
    Consequently, it is well suited for
    use as a shade tree or ornamental
    in landscape plantings. It has been
    cultivated since 1900 [23,41].
    Western soapberry casts light shade and
    makes a good patio tree [34].
    Its attractive, persistent fruit and
    unique bark make it visually appealing
    during the winter [34]. It is
    extremely wind resistant and hardy
    to zone 5 [34].

    Berries contain approximately
    37 percent saponin and were crushed to
    make cleaners and soaps by Native
    American peoples and early settlers
    [7,32]. Western soapberry can, however,
    cause contact dermatitis in
    susceptible people [14]. Although the
    berries are somewhat poisonous,
    preparations made from them have
    been used to treat fevers, rheumatism,
    and kidney problems [26,41]. The
    closely related wingleaf soapberry
    (Sapindus saponaria var. saponaria)
    has been widely used in parts of the
    Old World to treat ulcers, joint pain,
    epilepsy, cataracts, bronchial
    asthma, and "uterus pain" [44].
    It has reportedly produced good results
    in the treatment of psoriasis, jaundice,
    and pellagra [44]. The inner
    bark of western soapberry has been
    used in home remedies as an
    astringent [17]. Seeds of western
    soapberry have been used to make
    buttons and necklaces [41].
  • I bought some berries at a quilt show. I have been making my own detergent, but these are awesome! I have a toddler... So these work well on stains, even in cold water. When the berries are used up, you can add them to the compost. I just put in an order for a tree, but it could be a while before I get it. I am looking to get one sooner though.
  • I have heard pro & con on the literal soap value of this tree for our applications. I understand that this tree should also grow in a lawn, if given good drainage (meaning it can take some water but is drought tolerant). Obviously, it will take some time for you to produce seed from a tree. Keep in mind I believe there are some poisonous aspects to this tree. This tree was a candidate for me but there will be people and pets with access to my back yard, so I passed on it for safety sake--playing on the side of caution. I think it is also a relatively attractive tree.

    Desert Survivors, where I was a member for some time, had them down in Tucson. You might try Mgr. Jim Verrier there if you contact them; he is probably my favorite nursery guy of many. If you do inquire, tell him I said hello. They also had a nice write-up on the tree in a recent bulletin--you "may" be able to access this on-line off their website. I rec'd mine in the mail but they do "usually" keep up with posting these on-line...
  • I've heard about this, but don't know details. do you have a recipe for converting the soapberry to detergent?
    • Most of the instructions I've seen for soapberries include putting a large handfullish amount in a cotton sack and trowing it into the laundry...although I have heard you can also soak in boiling water to create a detergent - I can't verify from experience until I get some...
  • Sounds incredibly interesting....do tell when you find out....Sorry Janine that yours didn't make it. Actually, I might like to try my hand as well - Liz - where might I order some?
    • I just ordered a bunch and should have some to share - good excuse to get together? :) email me directly at liz@phoenixpermaculture.net
  • Let me know. It is DIFFICULT to grow the tree from a seed is my understanding.

    I have a bunch of soap nuts, sans seeds. I have one seed I was trying to grow. it has to be scarified and soaked and who knows what else, but I couldn't scarify it. it's a tough nut to crack. lol pun and literal meaning intended.
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