by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Now is the time of the conker, the Horse Chestnut, and thus time to collect them to wash our clothes with. Horse Chestnut fruit for washing clothes, you ask. Yes, as they, like the soap nut found in India, contain saponins – thus making them poisonous for humans but not for wildlife – which can be used instead of harsh chemicals to wash our clothes.
There is a nut that does act as a detergent and very well at that, the soap nut from India, as indicated, but the fact that in the developed countries many environmentally conscious people have been looking for an alternative to chemical laundry detergent and been buying those nuts by the tonne they have caused a lack of them and a price hike in India where people have been forced to, as they no longer can afford the soap nuts, resort to cheaper chemical detergents. Not a very good situation. On top of that soap nuts have a large environmental footprint associated with them too by the time the come to us here in the developed world all the way from India.
Thus the humble Horse Chestnut may offer an alternative for us here and to top it (1) it is regional and (2) most of the nuts tend to go to waste anyway and are not even eaten by the wildlife.
And how do you make the detergent from the nuts? Simple. Collect the conkers, the nuts of the Horse Chestnut, break them up (easiest way would be to put them into a sack and attack them with a hammer), put the broken pieces in a glass jar with screw lid and pour water over them. The whole mess should produce a milky juice which you strain through a fine sieve and simply pour into the compartment on your washing machine where normally the detergent is poured in.
You can also dry the conkers, the nuts of the Horse Chestnut, as they are called in Britain often, and when they are really dry grind them up into almost powder and then soak them just in the procedure above or, if you don't have or use a washing machine, use the powder in the copper or whatever you use for doing the washing.
One note though and that is that you cannot expect the same cleaning results from natural detergent alternatives as from the poisonous action of the likes of Vanish and other such petrochemical based detergents. Not from the Horse Chestnuts, nor from soapwort and also not from the soap nuts from India that can be found in the stores. Stains and ingrained dirt will have to be treated – prior to the washing process – with (lye) soap, just as grandmother and great-grandmother did it.