Reetha, scientifically known as Sapindus mukorossi, is a large deciduous tree of the Sapindaceae family. It is commonly known by many names like soapberry, soapnut, washnut, aritha, dodan, and dodani. In countries like Japan and China, Reetha has been used for centuries. In Japan, it has been used as a life-prolonging pericarp (the part of a fruit enclosing the seeds) and in China as a fruit for managing illnesses. The plant is well known for its folk medicinal values. Reetha is found in the hilly regions of the Himalayas in India. The fruit of Reetha has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for decades.  Reetha is a popular ingredient of many Ayurvedic shampoos and cleansers.

Nutritional Value

The major constituents present in Reetha are saponins, sugars and mucilage. The seed kernels of Reetha are a rich source of proteins and show a balanced amino acid composition as per the World Health Organization. In addition to proteins, sugars and fibres are also present. Phytochemicals like polyphenols and saponins are also present. The seed oil contains vitamin E and beta-sitosterol. The nutritional value is mentioned in the table below.

Nutritional componentContent (g/100 g) (approx.)
Oil (seed kernel oil)3.9 
Soluble fibre3.8
Insoluble fibre2.2

                                          Table 1: Nutritional value of Reetha seed kernel

Therapeutic Uses

  • The saponins extracted from Reetha (pericarp of the fruit) have contraceptive activity. In Ayurveda medicine, Reetha is used to remove tan and freckles from the skin. It is also used to remove oil from the scalp and as a hair cleanser.
  • Traditionally, Reetha is used for removing lice from the scalp and as an expectorant (an agent that promotes the secretion of sputum by the air passages).
  • Reetha has medicinal uses in managing conditions like pimples, excessive salivation, chlorosis (anaemia due to iron deficiency), migraines, epilepsy, eczema, and psoriasis. In addition, Reetha, in powdered form, can be used to manage dental caries, constipation, common cold, nausea, and arthritis.
  • The roots and leaves also have therapeutic uses. The leaves can be used in baths to relieve joint pain, and the roots can be used to manage gout.

Benefits of Reetha

1. Benefits of Reetha for Contraceptive property:

The spermicidal (sperm killing) activity of the saponins present in Reetha makes it beneficial as a contraceptive. The human spermatozoa (sperm cells) show morphological (structural) changes when exposed to saponins. These morphological changes cause the sperm cells to disrupt. It has been used in a contraceptive cream due to its spermicidal activity.

2. Benefits of Reetha for Cancer

Many saponins found in Reetha have shown anticancer benefits against cancer cell lines. The anti- tumorigenic (preventing tumour formation) benefits of saponins are a result of a variety of antitumour pathways. For example, some saponins present in Reetha showed anticancer activity by inducing the death of cancer cells.

3. Benefits of Reetha for Anti-Bacterial Activity

According to an animal study, Reetha extract stopped the growth of the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori when administered orally. Furthermore, the extract was beneficial in clearing out the Helicobacter pylori infection in an in-vivo study.

4. Benefits of Reetha for Liver

Reetha extract has shown liver protective activity in an animal model. Extract of the fruit pericarp of Reetha showed liver-protective benefits in the rat model. The extract could protect the liver from damage by protecting the hepatocytes (liver cells).

5. Benefits of Reetha for Anti-Fungal Activity

According to a lab study, the extract of Reetha could stop the growth of Candida albicans, which causes cutaneous (skin) candidiasis infection. Extract of Reetha showed strong anti-fungal activity against Candida parapsilosis. The saponin portion of the extract showed activity against the fungus Trichophyton rubrum.

6. Benefits of Reetha for Wound Healing

Oil derived from the seeds of Reetha showed wound healing benefits in animal studies. The oil also showed anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-bacterial properties. It was found that the therapeutic benefit of skin wound healing is the result of the anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. The vitamin E present in the oil provides for the antioxidant benefit. Reetha seed oil has the potential for promoting skin wound healing in humans.  

7. Benefits of Reetha for Hair

Reetha is widely used in preparations like shampoo. The dried fruit powder is used as a foaming agent in shampoos. It cleans the oily secretions in the skin and can be used as a cleanser for hair and a hair tonic as it forms a natural lather. It is also used for removing lice from hair.

Side Effects

  • The saponins present in the extract are safe to be used in cosmetics.
  • Oral administration of saponins obtained from Reetha showed signs of poisoning in animal studies, characterised by a swollen stomach and intestine.
  • There are no side effects reported in humans.

How to Use Reetha?

  • The dried fruit powder can be used as a foaming agent.
  • It is the ingredient of many Ayurvedic shampoos and cleansers.

Precautions to Take With Reetha

  • Saponins found in Reetha are quite bitter and show toxic effects. These should be removed by leaching in running water, thoroughly cooking and changing the cooking water before use.
  • It is not advisable to consume a large number of foods containing Reetha.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Reetha?

Reetha is a large deciduous tree, scientifically known asSapindus mukorossi. The fruits of Reetha have been used in Ayurvedic medicines.

How to use Reetha for hair?

The seeds of Reetha can be used as a cleanser for washing hair. It forms rich and natural lather. Reetha can also be used to remove lice from the scalp.

Can Reetha remove oil from the scalp?

Reetha can remove the oils from the scalp generated by oily secretions.

Is it safe to eat Reetha?

The seeds of Reetha are edible. The saponins found in Reetha are bitter in taste. To remove these saponins, you can leach the seeds in running water, cook them thoroughly or change the cooking water. It is not advisable to consume large quantities of Reetha as it can be toxic.

What are the other names of Reetha?

The common names of Reetha aresoapnut, soapberry, aritha, washnut, dodan, and dodani.

Can Reetha be used for dental problems?

Powdered seeds can be used in the management of dental caries. It is not advisable to self-medicate and consult a dentist if you face any dental problems. Self-medicating might worsen the situation.

Can I use Reetha to treat wounds?

Reetha seed oil has the potential for promoting skin wound healing as it showed wound healing benefits in animal studies. The therapeutic property of skin wound healing is the result of anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. In case of any skin wound, consult a doctor. Self-medicating might worsen the situation.

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