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What is Sapindus?

Sapindus is a genus in the Lychee family, Sapindaceae, native to south of Yangtze River in China, Indo-China Peninsula, India and Japan. It includes deciduous species and is also called the Chinese soapberry, with a history of over two thousand years. The Latin name ‘Sapindus’ is the abbreviation of ‘Soap Indicus’, which means ‘the soap of India’, serving as one of the cleaning agents in ancient times. Thanks to the rich saponin in peel, it enjoys the property of surface activity. In addition, as a new type of nature surface-active agent, derived from plant sources, it contains different kinds of beneficial microelements with multiple effects, including antimicrobial efficacy, skin whitening, antioxidative effect, conditioning and moisturizing. Early in Ming Dynasty, the distinguished physician Li Shizhen recorded in the Compendium of Materia Medica that “pick the fruit of Sapindus in October; cook and pound it thoroughly; then mix it with flour and perfume to make pellets. The pellets, with a better effect than the fruit of Chinese honey locust, can be used for skin cleansing and moisturizing”.

According to the legend, the stick made by Sapindus’s wood can exorcise and kill the devil. Therefore, it is called “Wuhuan” (without trouble) and “Guijianchou” (what the devils fear) in China. It is regarded as a sacred object of Buddhism, and is common in temples, gardens and villages. As a nursery rhyme goes, “if you plant Sapindus in front of your house, Buddha will lighten your home and keep you safe; Bodhisattva will bless you descendants for thousands of years”.

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