|Courtesy of Wikipedia.|
Sometimes a plant catches my eye. Usually while I'm driving somewhere, or taking a walk. I've known for years that the berries of this tree were used as a soap substitute by the Mormon wagon trains, but never really knew anything else. Curiosity finally won out.
It's not a big tree, but they are lovely. The bark is thick and craggy, the berries look like little burning suns when the light hits them. But what use could they have (aside from the obvious) for this witch? How do I dig deeper and discover the uses of this plant?
1: The Physical Appearance of The Plant.
Soapberries (Sapindus drummondii) isn't terribly tall, I'd say the tree wasn't more than twenty feet, and I know for a fact it's at least twenty years old. The last Tornado we had didn't even break a branch. It's related to the Lychee, though I wouldn't eat one as the berries are listed as "mildly toxic" due to the saponin content. Better safe than sorry.
The bark is deep, craggy, and flaking. The wood becomes brittle toward the fruit end. The fruit themselves are bright, shining, yellow-orange, and remain on the tree through winter and well into the next spring. The flowers which produce the fruit are small and off-white, present only on the female trees. It spreads primarily by Rhizomes.
2: The Properties of It's Relations.
Soapberry has been used not only for soap, but as contraceptives, emetics, anti-spasmodics, and is apparently being looked at for anti-migraine properties.
It's relations, the Lychee, Longan and Rambutan (rambutans are also used in soap-making) are thought to have "warming" qualities in Chinese Traditional Medicine, and another relation Guarana - well... it has twice the caffeine of coffee. Buckeyes and Horse Chestnuts, used in hoodoo as a "pocket piece" for sexual prowess and financial gain, are also related to the Soapberry.
3: Talking to The Deva.
She, the tree from which my berries came, is quiet right now. She's cold, and why the hell am I bothering her at this hour? I explain who and what I am, why I am interested. She sighs deeply, stretches her bones, and explains.
"I am for cleaning, and changing, and washing away. I strip away nastiness without harming what's left. I can exorcise, and wash your laundry. But like too much of anything, I can do harm. My rootbark can kill, and my berries can make men sick when they're stupid. But I don't think you're stupid."
And off she drifts, swaying in the cold wind, berries clustered all over the tips of her branches.
4: Assembling it All.
What this tells me is that, though this plant is a "fruit", it is not "fruitful". It's primary qualities are "getting rid of" rather than "drawing in". It's poisonous, persistent and slow, deep, dry, and craggy. It spreads and grows, and cares not for storms. It's sunny fruit, good for sloughing away unwanted grime, are gentle - but deadly if abused. It cautions us on excess. It is warming, and cleansing, and powerful woo for banishing. It is Airy, and Sunny and a little bit Saturnine. Maybe better described as "Cold and Dry with invasive qualities"
In short, right up my alley.
In short, right up my alley.