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Growing your own ingredients for home-made cleaning products

 
Posts: 11
Location: Skara, Sweden, Europe
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In my household we use organic soapnuts, vinegar, baking soda, bile soap/gall soap (the kind without palm oil) and occasionally a small amount of sodium percarbonate for household cleaning and laundry needs. It's been over 5 years since we last bought detergent. I have also used both soap nuts and nordic soapwort (Gypsophila fastigiata, I think) to clean dishes and replace shampoo/soap for the shower at times. I've had perfectly good results with them and have now been considering growing some saponin-containing plants for home use.

Warning! Sciency Stuff! To pre-empt any discussion that may arise due to my use of technical terms, let me clarify what I am talking about. Saponins (derived from the same entymological origins as soap) are compounds that saponify oils (usually creating soapy, sudsy liquid). They have been used historically for cleaning and in small doses have both medicinal and culinary uses. Like all natural compounds, they are harmful if consumed in excess quantities. Many organisms contain naturally-ocurring saponins (eg. horse chestnut/Aesculus hippocastanum, soapwort/Saponaria officinalis, ginseng and sea cucumber). End of Sciency Stuff.

So, I'm curious to find out whether anyone in these forums has grown these plants and derived their own cleaning products from them.

I'd love to know:

1. Which plant(s) did you grow? Which climate zone did you grow them in?
2. How did you integrate them with your permaculture garden/food forest/etc (eg. which companion plants did you partner them with?)
3. What lessons did you learn from growing them?
4. How did you harvest them and what did you do with the different parts of the plants? Did the plant have multiple uses?
5. How much of the plant did you use for a given amount of cleaning? (eg. used an extract made from 1 teaspoon of the dried root to wash a full sink of dishes.)

If you aren't sure about the question, please ask, and I will clarify. You don't have to answer everything if you don't want to.

I'll share my results when I get them. I'll most likely start my experiments by growing some soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), drying it and preparing the cleaning product with a water-based extraction method (cold and hot for comparison).
 
pollinator
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Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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Hi Sara, welcome to Permies! Very interesting topic, i am in zone 8 on the global plant hardiness zones, i grow saponaria officinalis close to the house, on the south facing side. It likes a sunny spot and chalk/lime in the earth which falls of the joints of the wall. It is growing very well, patch gets bigger and it's self seeding, but i haven't done anything with it so far. Which is silly really, because that was the whole reason for giving it this precious spot. Got distracted. Best of luck!
 
Sara Hjalmarsson
Posts: 11
Location: Skara, Sweden, Europe
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Thanks for the warm welcome, Hugo! Happy you like the topic.

It's awesome to hear you've got a patch of soapwort by your house. Sounds like it's a good climate for them, too! Mine's a bit cooler (zone 6). I'll take extra care to put my soapwort in a warm, sunny spot when I plant them. I have a clay soil on my plot, so that may be the best place for them.

The soapwort is a good resource to have on one's property and I don't think it should require that much work to harvest and process - perhaps hang it from some string above a heat source (radiator, the "mass" part of a rocket mass heater, etc) or in the kitchen. I've only ever bought dried Saponaria Officinalis root at healthfood shops before, so I really don't know if there's any further processing required.

When I used the dried root, I covered it with boiling water and let it sit overnight before straining. The liquid did a great job cleaning my dishes the next day.

 
master steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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I bought seeds for this one and was really disappointed that none of them came up:



Saponaria ocymoides – rock soapwort, tumbling-Ted
 
Sara Hjalmarsson
Posts: 11
Location: Skara, Sweden, Europe
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Sorry to hear they didn't grow, @Anne Miller. Do soapworts grow wild in your area? Perhaps you could transplant some.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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There's a white berry with a soft spongy pulp growing naturally on my property. I have used it as soap. I have used pretty much anything on my property to see if it would work and this is the only one that seems to. It may be snowberry. I also have horsetail and have used it for scouring purposes, when cleaning. I don't think it has any soapiness, but it could work in combination with a softer plant. Similar to those steel wool pads with that awful soap inside.
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My future in soapy plants is bound to be more interesting and productive, since I'm doing it near the equator where plant choices are abundant. Number one will be my own palm oil and coconut oil for the production of actual soap. I will probably just buy lye, but I may try a variation of African black soap, where a mixture of ashes and charcoal are mixed with water and oil to make an abrasive bar.

There are several soapberry type fruits that are used locally. The one I expect to use more than any other, is seed cake left over after pressing the oil from Moringa seed. You may have heard of benzoyl. It's the carrier oil for many expensive perfumes. It's a product of the moringa tree, which happens to also produce a food supplement that is in demand. The seed cake contains high quantities of saponins and it is inadvisable to feed it to livestock. When soaked in water, a milky liquid is produced. It has detergent qualities and it is used in water purification with over 99% bacteria kill in laboratory tests. It's also a clarifier which causes suspended particles to come together and sink to the bottom. It's used in commercial water purification and sewage treatment in India. Aid agencies throughout the tropics teach people how to purify water with this plant.  So this is likely to become my primary cleaner, since it will be a byproduct of oil production. Even when some other cleaner is being used, it will probably be in water that has already been treated with Moringa seed cake.
 
Sara Hjalmarsson
Posts: 11
Location: Skara, Sweden, Europe
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Wow, that's really interesting!

It's amazing how many natural/wild substitues you can use instead of steel wool - plant fibre, coconut husk, moss. With that said, I do use a copper scourer when nothing else works. Since it's copper, it's inherently antibacterial and doesn't need soap or detergent. Mechanical cleaning (scrubbing/abrasion) can often be adequate for simple cleaning needs - even without soap. The ash/charcoal bar sounds interesting. I will read up on it.

Could you clarify what you mean by Benzoyl? It sounds like you are describing benzoil/ben oil. Benzoyl is a specific type of hydrocarbon group, though it can make up part of certain plant glucosides.

Sounds like Moringa has good business potential with it's range of useful properties. Can you use the seed cake/seeds for anything else, once all the saponins have been extracted? Moringa leaves also contain saponins, as far as I understand. Have you tried using them, too?

Do you plan to grow any of the moringa or soapberry trees?
 
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