Soapberries: little fruits full of benefits

Soapberries: their benefits and uses

Hi everyone!

Soapberries

Soapberries

I was busy in the past few days and have not had a chance to add new content. However, as I went to my usual Tuesday night Pow wow, I gather some intel for this post ๐Ÿ˜‰ Indeed, I talked natural remedies and plant based products with a merchant there. As she was whipping a pink foamy mixture with an electric mixer, I got curious. So I ask what it was. Her response: soapberry indian ice cream. Well I had seen this foamy “ice cream” before at Pow wows but had never known what it was. As she told me that soapberries are thought to contain numerous positive and healing properties, I decided to research them a bit.

Native soapberries or buffaloberries or foamberries

So as I did my research, I came to the realization that there are two types of soapberries. The kind I am discussing here are the soapberries using by Native nations, especially on the West Coast. They look like the berries above and below, a bright red/pink fruit. The other kind of soapberries are also referred to soapnuts and are used as ingredients in natural detergents. Yes that’s right. That type of soapberries are contained in shells containing saponin, a compound responsible for some of their healing properties and cleaning properties (as it has foaming properties).ย 

Soapberry

Soapberry

The “native” soapberries grow in a shrub that can survive harsh climates and pretty much any kind of soil. The shrub itself is about 3 to 6 feet high with loose branches. A soapberry shrub will need about 5 to 6 years to produce fruits. it produces a fruit that is often described as bitter (I can attest to that…) but when eaten has been reported as being an effective mosquito repellent. Go figure! Berries are collected from the shrub by placing a tarp under the shrub and beating the branches bearing fruits with a stick. Only the very ripe ones will fall down.

So what can soapberries do?

As I said, soapberries are used by many nations, here in BC at least (like the Lillooet nation or the Shuswap nation). Not only are they eaten in dishes as they contain high vitamin C (like the indian ice cream described below) but they have also been used by native people to treat high blood pressure, digestive disorders, acne and bringing on childbirth to name a few. However, as the native soapberries or buffaloberries also contain saponin, they must be consumed in moderation as they can upset your stomach. They can also be used externally to make cleansers or even shampoo.

Wingleaf soapberries

Wingleaf soapberries

But wait, there is more!! The roots, leaves and bark can also be used medicinally. Boiled inner bark can be used as a laxative or a infusion of the bark can be used as an eyewash (remember it has cleansing properties). The brew has also been used to soothe an upset stomach, to treat stomach cancer, constipation and venereal diseases. Similarly, a brew using the stems and leaves can be used as a wash for cuts, swellings and sores. The roots of his little miraculous shrub also have an anti-hemorrhagic property, in other words they stop bleeding as well as purge and cleanse. They have also been used as an aid to childbirth and to treat tuberculosis. Jeez that shrub does a lot!!! Who wants a soapberry shrub in their backyard now?

Ok but how do we eat them? Indian ice cream!

Well soapberries are rarely eaten directly, due to their bitter taste. They are most commonly mixed into something. They can be crushed and be used to make lemonade or tea. And yes they can be found in indian ice cream! Yes I know you are all wondering what the heck I am talking about. Let me explain by reminding you that soapberries contain saponin, which gives them a foamy quality. Meaning that when beaten, they become foamy. Vigorously beating them raises the foam level. So the soapberries are crushed then can be mixed in different ways. More than one recipe is out there. The woman I saw at the Pow wow was beating hers with water and sugar. That’s it. The result looks like the picture below. I included a larger image so you can see its texture. It’s basically as light as air and is often eaten in large gatherings like Pow wows. It is served in little cups. What does it taste like?? Well…..I can only describe what I tasted. The original taste is somewhat sweet but then an ashy/bitter aftertaste sets in. I was told that it is normal to have that aftertaste and that one gets used to it. I can’t say it was bad, as the texture is very interesting and fun but one cup was enough. I will continue to try it though to see if the ashy taste goes away.

indian soapberry ice cream

indian soapberry ice cream

But as I said, there are variances in how one makes indian ice cream. Indeed, Alaskan natives call it akutaq or agutak. It is basically salmonberries (similar to soapberries) mixed with fat. Yes you read that right. Berries and fat. It can be animal fat or good old Crisco. Same principle of crushing the berries and beating them with fat. The consistency is less smooth and more lumpy, like you can see below. What do they call it? Well Eskimo Ice cream of course ๐Ÿ™‚

Eskimo ice cream

Eskimo ice cream

Have you ever had soapberries or indian ice cream?? Share your comments or experience below!

 

 

47 thoughts on “Soapberries: little fruits full of benefits

  1. Stephanie

    I read an article that talked about soap berries being used in the laundry. Have you ever heard of that? I think it said to use 3 or 4 in the wash to help cleanse and refresh clothes. It seems so neat that a little berry can do so much. Very interesting.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Yes the shells of soapberries can be used as detergent as they create foam. I mention it in my post that is one possibility. There are many detergents sold made of soapberries

      Reply
  2. Tavis

    Hey Emily, this is a great article and niche. Very interesting, I am not familiar with the native practices but I am curious to learn more, my great grandmother was a Blackfoot Indian I never knew her but have heard many stories . I will be bookmarking your site for future reference, keep up the good work.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thanks Tavis! Wonderful about your family history. Lots of knowledge about plants and herbal remedies within the native culture

      Reply
  3. simon watson

    Really love stuff like this love it. You obviously have a good knowledge of the berry or you researched it well either way a very good post matey well done!

    Reply
  4. Nik

    Great idea, thank you for sharing, Emily! Iยดll definitely try the soapberry Indian ice cream. Maybe I can add blended dates instead of sugar. Anyway, you do a great job with your website, I love your writing style & content! Keep it on ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  5. Cat

    Well I learned something new this morning! What an interesting fruit and with so many uses too. I enjoyed reading about the different medicinal uses and practical uses (like shampoo!) of soapberries. And in ice cream too. It truly is versatile little fruit ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  6. Kinya

    I’d love to use them on my skin and hair. I’m always open to trying new, natural products and remedies. But I don’t know about eating them, especially after you described that aftertaste.

    Reply
  7. Peter

    Wow, what an interesting post!

    I’m fifty something and, if I’m honest, I would say I’ve never even heard of soapberries, buffaloberries or foamberries! I hope that doesn’t make me too stupid? Anyway, thanks to your article I now know what they are, so I’m just a little less dim than I was!! Cheers.
    Peter

    Reply
  8. Derek

    I heard about soapberries from an episode of Shark Tank, but I had no idea they could do all of that! Another great post!

    Derek

    Reply
  9. zhanua

    Hi, Emily! As for me there is very unexpected theme of the web. Before that I didn’t encounter with such interesting approach to native healing. I was fascinated with facts, history, recipes in your post about soapberries! Great theme and great job! Thank you!

    Reply
  10. Gary

    Emily,

    Thank you for your wonderful site. It is rich with a lot of very unique information and I love to learn.
    This post I found really neat since my wife has not bought laundry detergent for quite sometime.

    She has used the “Soap Nut” variety after someone told her about them. Your post is an excellent, point filled read that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Once again I did some more learning, and I bookmarked your site so I will be checking back to do some more reading.
    My best,

    Gary

    Reply
  11. Anthony

    I’ve never heard of soapberries but they look so nice and appetizing and they seem very useful too with their cleansing properties. Have you tried them before?

    Reply
  12. Ange

    Hi Emily,
    I’m so glad to be reading about such an interesting topic. I’ve always wondered about Native American traditions and healing. I really love alternative healing and was pleased to read about the sweetgrass in a previous post, but then I also love the idea of chemical free cleaning possibilities and these soapberries intrigue me. What a great provider nature is. I look forward to reading more on your site. Great and interesting information.
    Ange

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Ange
      I have since tried the soapberries as a laundry detergent and they work well! Very easy to use and can be reused a few times. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  13. Holly

    I tried Indian Ice-Cream last year for the first time, at a restaurant. I was surprised to find that it was nothing like ice-cream. It was warm and foamy and extremely bitter, a shock to the palate. I would like to have added sugar. I think it must be an acquired taste. I’m told it has great antioxidant benefits so that makes it worth eating. I would be interested in trying soapberries again in some other dish.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Holly
      I am with you that indian ice cream is an acquired taste and does not taste like ice cream! Sugar is typically added though but it remains bitter anyways. The antioxidants of the soapberries are just amazing!

      Reply
  14. B

    One way to eat the ice cream that helps [ a bit ] to counter the bitterness…is to keep the ice cream on the front of your tongue…lol. It’s true…your ‘ sweet ‘ taste buds are closer to the tip of your tongue…So, sip the spoon with the front of your tongue ..you’ll taste the sweetness…then swallow it quickly to avoid the back of your tongue. That is what i was taught…..

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi!
      that makes so much sense! I will try it next time I have indian ice cream. It makes sense to focus on the sweet taste buds and avoid the bitter ones. Thanks for sharing your teachings.

      Reply
  15. dawn

    grew up eating this, my gran would whip it up with her hand no mixer we all sat watching her mesmerized waiting for it to be ready, it is an acquired taste my poor husband (non native) last year heard ice cream took a big spoon and had a very hard time swallowing the look on his face said everything all the elders who saw had a good giggle and yes eat it with the tip of your tongue but you will always get some of the bitterness.

    Reply
  16. Jackie Yaklin

    Thank you for all that information. I didn’t know the medicinal qualities before; I’ll probably forget. But…I started eating soapberries when I was small, straight from the bush. It was quite a while later, when I was about 8 years old, that I first ate them as Indian ice cream. And then, for the longest time, I forgot about them. About 15 years ago, I started making ice cream again; and this time, I learned to not use plastic. For some reason, the plastic utensils or containers won’t work. I mix mine with honey. And, not surprisingly, I’m the only one in my family who likes them. I’ve always picked them with my fingers, not with a stick. I’ve never thought about doing that. My recipe: in a metal or wooden dish, put about 1/2 a cup of berries. Squish all the juice out with a wooden utensil. Remove all the pulp. Beat the juice until it’s very foamy; and then, add honey, not too much. Keep beating it so you beat out all the air. It should look like merangue. Enjoy. If you leave it, and it returns to liquid form, just beat it again.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Jackie
      thank you so much for sharing your family recipe! Indian ice cream is for sure an acquired taste as the bitter aftertaste is not for everyone. But I am thinking that honey would help a lot, even more than sugar. What a good idea to mix some in the recipe!

      Reply
  17. Wendy

    I have been gifted the pulp and seeds from my friend who made them into juice which he canned. I make soap already, using Goat milk and Canola oil. So am adding some to my basic blend to make a soap that should be good for the skin and hair!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Wendy!
      That is awesome! I would love to learn how to make my own soap like you. The addition of the soapberries is such a good idea ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  18. barb humphries

    please if you can send me a basic recipe on how to make soapberries,what kind of bowl,and what kind of mixer to use etc.please and thanks

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Here is one I found. I have never had indian ice cream made with fat. The one I have had was always made with sugar, water and the soapberries. So you could try it without the shortening.
      Ingredients:

      1 cup solid vegetable shortening*
      1 cup granulated sugar
      1/2 cup water, berry juice, or 2 cups loose snow (optional)
      4 cups fresh berries, (blueberries, cloudberries, cranberries, salmon berries, or blackberries)**

      * Crisco solid vegetable shortening is preferred.

      ** Use one or more different types of berries.

      Directions:

      In a large bowl, cream vegetable shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add water, berry juice, or snow and beat until well combined.

      Fold in berries, 1 cup at a time, until blended.

      Place in freezer to firm up before serving

      Reply
  19. Tam

    Wow. Ian always looking for a way in a natural way for not only my body due to allgeries. But also cleaning supplies. This info was very informative a wonderful day

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thank you for stopping by Tam! I a glad you enjoyed the information and that it was useful to you. Soapberries certainly have so many uses!

      Reply

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