Soapnuts, sounds interesting doesn’t it. Well the name soapnuts is slightly misleading, as they should be called soap berried (and sometimes are). Sapindus is the technical plant name and it’s berries or drupes have large seeds and a thin fleshy outside; when the flesh is dried is called a soapnut. Sapindus grow on a variety of 12 different bushes and trees and have been used by Asians and Native Americans for thousands of years.

They exhibit anti-microbial properties. Soapnuts have gentle insecticidal properties and are traditionally used for removing lice from the scalp. They have been used as a treatment for eczema, psoriasis, and as contraceptive. But that is not why I am telling you about them. They are also used as – soap! In this case specifically laundry soap. The best thing is they are eco friendly, a re renewable source, you could grow your own if you wanted [Article on that coming soon], and obviously they are 100% natural!

So how do they work?
Soapnuts contain saponins which are a natural surfactant. A surfactant is a surface active agent and reduce the interfacial tension between oil and water by adsorbing at the liquid-liquid interface. So basically they allow the soap the do its job – all soaps on the market have a surfactant in them, this one just happens to be natural and all packed in one. So when a soapnut comes in contact with warm water it releases soap like suds and cleans your clothes. For one wash you place 6 – 8 soapnuts in a small mesh or cotton bag and add it to your laundry – inside the machine with the clothes. When the warm water come in the soap is released and your clothes are washed. When the rinse cycle comes (unless you do a hot rinse) the soapnuts become inactive due to the cool water. So your 6-8 soapnuts can be used 3 times, however if you wash at 90 C then they last just once. They have a potent smell when wet, however they leave your clothes smelling clean – and you can add some essential oil in the fabric softener slot if you want to have smelly good clothes! (Sidenote: white vinegar works as a great all natural fabric softener) Also, soapnuts work for color and white clothes – so you only need one laundry soap!

When you have used your soapnuts 3 times, they can then be composted (100% biodegradable) or can go in the trash. So if i did one load of laundry a week, that is 52 load of laundry a year. On this great site I can buy soapnuts for 50 Washes for just £7.14 (70 NOK)! That is amazing! What a money saver! We buy a box of laundry soap ever few months, and one just cost 50 NOK! Another good thing is that people who suffer from allergies to soaps generally are good with these. And since soapnuts are really not a nut – no worries for allergies to nuts.

How do I like Soapnuts?
I have been very pleased with them. I feel that my towels are softer – which is huge since we line dry! I also have done a test run with all our shirts that just stink (we all have them, don’t we) – and they actually came out with little stink (except this one shirt that is just hopeless), I am SO impressed. I found that there were not as many suds or bubbles as I am used to and was thinking that they might not work – but they did. I sat in front on my washer continually though a whole wash cycle hoping to see bubbles – I felt like that fish in Nemo or a little kid amused by a washer. But the first load I washed I never saw bubbles, but I assumed I was just never watching a the right time. So the next time I went in every few minutes while cleaning and cooking to check on the bubble status. They were just smaller bubbles, and not the ‘foam’ like bubbles we are taught means clean. I even did a smell test with Ole, I asked if thought it smelled. He said they smelled clean, but not scented. Sounds like a win to me.

In short, I will be ordering a year supply from Nigels – they comes in a reusable cotton bag! The soapnuts I have now are from a friend who was kind enough to give me some to test when she heard I was wanting to try them! (Thanks Celine) I am very pleased with them! I am thrilled to know that my clothes are not being washed in chemicals and that I am in turn not washing those chemicals down the drain and into the water supply. Also a soapnut tree lives aroun 100 years, it starts producing berries/nuts 10 years in and continues for the following 90 years! One good sized tree can produce 200 – 300 kilos of berries/nuts a year! WOW!

Usage Tips From Nigels Eco Store

What temperature?
We recommend washing your clothes at a lower temperature setting of 40 degrees to save energy.
If using Soapnuts laundry soap nuts washing at 30 to 40 degrees yields usage of 3 times the washes per bag. While washing at 60 degrees will yield a usage of 2 washes per bag of pods and for 90 degrees use once.

Can I use them in a cold water wash?
Yes, to wash in cold water, soak the nuts, while in their cotton bag, in a little hot water a few minutes to release the saponin (the soap in Soapnuts) then add the water to the wash.

How many should I use?
We recommend 6-8 whole pods or equivalent, but if your clothes are not very dirty and/or you live in a soft water area you can use up to HALF THE AMOUNT! Feel free to experiment.

Can I use less than the recommended 6-8 soapnuts? And can I use them more than 3 times?
We have found that people in soft water areas need only 3 or 4 pods, and can use them 4 times. Please feel free to experiment. Additionally, if your clothes are not very dirty or you are not filling your machine you can use less pods.

Can using Soapnuts reduce the amount of water used?
Yes it can! As Soapnuts are completely natural you don’t have to rinse them out as much (They are good for your skin and your clothes!) So, if your machine has a cycle that uses less water and a shorter rinse cycle, you can use this setting.

Will using Soapnuts prolong the life of my washing machine?
Yes it can! Chemical washing products can eventually damage the workings of your machine.

What happens to Soapnuts in the rinse cycle?
Saponin (the soap in Soapnuts) is only released in hot water and the rinse cycles are cold, so it’s fine to leave them in the machine during the rinse cycle.

Update (5 March 2011) – If you happen to get a seed in your bag, do not use it in the wash! Seeds can stain clothes. Also, I read this great article – and you should to if you are seriously interested in buying soapnuts. How to Buy Soapnuts

BPA in receipts! EKK!

Researchers have just linked prenatal exposure to bisphenol-A – a near-ubiquitous industrial chemical – with subtle, gender-specific alterations in behavior among two year olds. Girls whose mothers had encountered the most BPA early in pregnancy tended to become somewhat more aggressive than normal, boys became more anxious and withdrawn.

This is the first study to link human behavioral impacts with BPA, a common ingredient in hard polycarbonate plastics and the resins used in food-can linings. Emerging data from an unrelated research group points to another especially rich newfound source of BPA to which people unwittingly may be exposed: thermally printed cash-register receipts. [read more about the effects on pregnant women and their fetus here]

While working at Polaroid Corp. for more than a decade, John C. Warner learned about the chemistry behind some carbonless copy papers (now used for most credit card receipts) and the thermal imaging papers that are spit out by most modern cash registers. Both relied on bisphenol-A.

“When people talk about polycarbonate bottles, they talk about nanogram quantities of BPA [leaching out],” Warner observes. “The average cash register receipt that’s out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” By free, he explains, it’s not bound into a polymer, like the BPA in polycarbonates. It’s just the individual molecules loose and ready for uptake.

As such, he argues, when it comes to BPA in the urban environment, “the biggest exposures, in my opinion, will be these cash register receipts.” Once on the fingers, BPA can be transferred to foods. And keep in mind, he adds, some hormones — like estrogen in certain birth-control formulations — are delivered through the skin by controlled-release patches. So, he argues, estrogen mimics like BPA might similarly enter the skin. Read the whole article about BPA in receipts here.

Make sure you read both articles linked…

Environmentally Friendly Sugar Production

The other day I was searching to see how the ‘syrip’ is made here in Norway. I was wondering if it was High Fructose Corn Syrup or not – If you have seen King Corn or Food Inc, you will understand why I do not want to have HFCS in my life. So I looked up the brand of syrup we have in Norway – Dan Sukker, which is Danish (in the States the common brand in Karo Corn Syrup). And wow! I am so over the top impressed with Dan Sukker (who is a selling name under Nordic Sugar) – They have the most amazing set of goals for there company for becoming even more environmentally friendly then they already are. By 2030, they want to be 100% off of fossil fuel, they are looking into taking there sugar beet root waste and turning it into biomass fuel, there water use in 90% from the beets as they have a high water content(75%), and they make sure to reuse the water up to 20 times, and they have no genetically modified materials. I could go on and on, if you want to read all about there good doings, feel free to here.

So, the photo above is of sugar beets in the ground – that is where your table sugar comes from (unless you eat cane sugar). So lets see how that happens, the photos below and how to are from Dan Sukkers site.

Delivery of sugar beets. After being harvested, the beets are transported to sugar factories. Spot checks. The beets are spot checked on arrival. The grower is paid according to the quantity of clean beets and their sugar content. Washing. The beets are weighed and tipped into large piles. From here, they are transported to the beet washer to remove stones and gravel.

Cutting. To extract the sugar, the beets are cut into cossettes – thin strips resembling french fries. Diffusion. To extract the sugar from the beets, the cossettes are run through water warmed to 70°C. The pulp that remains after the sugar has been extracted (beet pulp) is made into animal feed and other products. Purifying the sugar juice. The warm sugar juice (raw juice) contains roughly 15% sugar, but also contains 1-2% impurities (non-sugars), which must be removed. This is done using lime.

Thin juice is reduced to thick juice. The sugar juice, now a thin, pale yellow liquid, is called thin juice. The juice is placed in an evaporator, which boils away the water to make the juice thicker. The resulting liquid, called thick juice, contains approximately 70% sugar. Crystallisation. The thick juice is pumped to large boiling stations, where tiny sugar crystals form in it.

Centrifugal spinning. The thick, brown juice, which is now called massecuite, is spun in a centrifuge to separate the white sugar from the brown syrup. The syrup is returned to the boiling station and boiled again until there is no more sugar left to extract. Molasses. The remaining product is called molasses. Its sugar content is too low to yield any more sugar. Molasses is used for making animal feed, yeast and spirits.

Ready for use. Finally, the sugar is dried and stored in a silo. The silos are completely full after the beet campaign, but will gradually be emptied during the year as the sugar is sold to shops, industries and on export. [There is a video on the site– showing the process, sorry it is not embedable.]

So I think that that is so cool! I would love to tour one of there factories! So now we know how the sugar is made, but back to that syrup. “Syrup (sugar syrup) is obtained as a by-product when white sugar is produced from beet or cane sugar in a sugar refinery.Syrup is a viscous sugar solution where some of the sugar has been broken down into glucose and fructose.This combination of different sugar types prevents crystallization, while the very high sugar content (approx. 80%) guarantees a long shelf life.” Fructose (fruit sugar) which is naturally occurring in plants is not to be confused with HFCS. So that is good to know, so now when I make my homemade marshmallows (recipe to come soon) I can eat them with ease knowing there is not hidden corn in them! The only problem I have now is that the syrups come in plastic. But there sugar is in just paper.

Knowing that my sugar is made in Denmark (around 500 km or 300 miles away) is great, it is local to Scandinavia – and that is a goal of mine to have local foods. Now if you are thinking wow local is not another country.. Norway is smaller then California, so I think that since we are such a small place having a product like sugar from within Scandinavia is great – however I would want my milk, eggs, ect to be literally local.

Now if you are not sure about you sugar or would just rather skip the commercialism and make your own – then guess what! I is possible! I think that once I have some growing room, I might have to give it a try! How cool it would be to say I made this sugar from scratch! So I have been doing some research and found a recipe to share – from all I have read this seems to be the best one, simple and straightforward.

First grow some sugar beets or buy them from a local farmer. If you are going to grow your own, make sure to read up on it. Wash the beets very well and peel them. Then over a large pot shred them with a cheese grater (this is supposed to be messy, apron recommended), then place pot in sink and rise off greater into pan to get all the juices. Fill pan till all shreds are floating. Boil on high, then allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Strain water through cheesecloth, keeping the water large bowl – make sure to squeeze out as much water as you can. You can compost the beet pulp or find other uses for it. Then return the water to the stove, simmer and stir till reduced to syrup consistency. Then remove from heat and cover with cloth overnight. The next day you will have many crystals, break them with mallet to be desired size and use the same as table sugar. They will not be pure white. If you try this, let me know!!

So there you have it, how to produce your own sugar and the great local sugar I have been eating and did not even know it was from such a green company!

My [mini] Herb Garden

Goal #3 Started: Grown my own basic Herbs

I have been itching to start my own herb garden, I have since I have moved to Norway. In September last year (2010) – I got a Numex Twilight, a chili plant. The chillies start purple, go to yellow, orange then red when ready to eat! This is where the name of the blog came from, I was wanting to make a blog to track what was going on with my life – I have a design blog, but felt it needed to be on it’s own – my design readers are there for just that – I did not want them to think I was getting preachy. So I was looking out my window and there was my chili plant and it was next to a mint plant cutting that my friend had just given me. I thought what a prefect name -Mint&Chilli- like sweet and sour, black and white; they were in essence opposites.

So recently I got a few envelopes of organic seeds from my Daddy, he knew I have been wanting to grow some herbs – So he sent me some! (I have not been having good luck finding seeds in Norway, I think it is just I am still unsure where to look. The stores I have been to don’t have good selections or organic. I was planning to just order some online, and will do that in the future for more).

click photo to see it larger

Above are my six herb plants, in order: Coriander, Mint, Sweet Italian Basil, True Greek Oregano, French Rosemary and Winter Thyme. The Mint is a few months old, it has really slowed down growing this winter – I have moved it to be above a heater and now it is doing better.The Coriander is store bought, I am not sure how long it will last – friends who have bought this grocery store type say they only last a month or so. The others are only a week old, so Ill post back in due time with results. My Numex is dormant now, I read that I needed to trim it down to stubs – it looks sad, I hope it picks back up this season. I am watering the plants with my leftover cooking water, in order to save water and give the plants more nutrients. I have read that when boiling vegetables or pasta, that there are many nutrients in that water and it is very helpful to plants.

I still want to grow sage, lavender, dill, chipotles, chives, black pepper, and tarragon – to name a few. For now though, I am running low on space. So I will stay with the basics. If you are wanting to learn more about herb use, check out this article I wrote previously.

Any and all gardening advice is welcome, I am still learning and would love to benefit from others knowledge.

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