Until a few years back, when the market shelves were not packed with fancy haircare products, the fragrance of the black concoction obtained when reetha (soapnut), soaked overnight, is blended with shikakai powder, filled most Indian homes.
Both reetha and shikakai have been an integral part of due to their diverse benefits. The reetha tree, found in plenty in northern India, usually flowers during summer. The locals use it commonly for washing hair, and also its antiseptic quality is utilized in the form of insect and snake repellents.
The nutshell of the reetha contains saponin, which acts like soap and gives a foamy lather when it comes into contact with water, and gives a foamy lather, thus making it a chemical-free cleanser for the hair. Reetha is also known to fight dandruff, prevents occurrence of lice and keeps hair tangle-free. Reetha, particularly, is a boon for people with sensitive skin, who are allergic towards chemicals in the shampoo.
The skin of reetha is also ideal for washing clothes, particularly woolens. It is also used in painting, polishing silver and metal jewellery and in cleansing glass.
‘Shikakai’, popularly known as ‘fruit for hair’, is a powerful herb for hair, native to southern India. The pods of the plant are rich in saponin, the foam-forming substance. It is mixed with reetha, and other herbs and used as a hair pack. Shikakai is a natural conditioner, which removes oil and dirt, and keeps hair free of fungal infections, by detoxifying the blood in the scalp and preventing premature graying of hair. Shikakai contains100 times more vitamin C than grapefruit, apart from abundant antioxidants such as vitamins A, D, E and K that promote healthy hair growth.
One of the traditional reetha-shikakai hairpacks, that have been in use for ages now, is to mix two parts of reetha, with one part of shikakari, adding half-a-cup of methi seeds into this mixture. If possible, add dried hibisicus leaves too. Make a powder or grind the paste of fresh leaves. Wash and rinse hair thoroughly with this paste.
Now Ayurvedic pharmacies and other beauty companies are making use of these herbs, by converting them into easy-to-use haircare products. Reetha and Shikakai contain all the required goodness for healthy lustrous hair. So, looking back to tradition, once a while, has its share of advantages, too.