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Shampoo making in your garden

October 17, 2012

Yesterday we made a shampoo from the young leaves of the native Thai ‘shampoo tree‘, ‘ton mi’, (Litsea glutinosa, Lauraceae).

Swedish beekeeper Ronny Willman’s Thai wife Dhaeng had previously told me that her mother makes her own shampoo. Ketsanee had also told me that her hairdresser in the local village Namphrae spoke about this natural source of shampoo. Of course I was curious to learn how to make it, also with the aim of mixing with aloe vera to make my skin cure. When Dhaeng heard that, she asked her mother for the recipe and tried it herself. She liked it so much that now she only uses her home-made shampoo.

Dhaeng gave us a show yesterday, the audience composed of the Seehamongkol family (the tree does not exist in their hometown Roi-Et), friends from Kalimantan, Borneo (Martin, Sheryl and Joshua Shim) and visitors from San Francisco.

Dhaeng explained that her mother uses a recipe adapted for women with white streaks in their hair, and so they add the cobalt blue flowers of the pantropical butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea, Fabaceae) which grows in many gardens in Chiang Mai. If you do not care about white streaks, you can omit that ingredient:

A small batch of shampoo is composed of:

100 g of young and freshly picked ‘bai mi’ (leaves of Litsea glutinosa).

1 fruit of makrut lime (=papeda lime, leech lime, kaffir lime, sometimes even erroneously called ‘bergamot’, Citrus hystrix, Rutaceae).

100 g of fresh blue butterfly pea flowers (Clitoria ternatea).

1000 ml of water.

A normal batch is usually five times bigger and the shampoo stores up to a month, which is important since the shampoo tree is deciduous and the main ingredient unavailable in the hot dry season. Dhaeng’s mother stores it in the fridge which is clever.

This is how Dhaeng prepared it:

1. Boil the water in a terracotta vessel over open fire. The vessel above was bought at the nearby San Patong Saturday market for 60 Baht. Add the leaves and push them down with a stick. Make a note of the water level.

2. After 30 minutes, add more water and the makrut lime cut in halves.

3. After another 30 minutes, add more water and add the flowers.

4. After another 30 minutes (1.5 hours since the addition of the shampoo leaves) remove the vessel and filter the shampoo through cheese cloth. The remaining liquid was 800 ml.

5. Let the shampoo cool down and then pour into clean bottles (glass bottles can be sterilized in the oven or in boiling water) and store in the fridge.

If you have made the hair colouring shampoo, apply to your hair and leave for 15-30 minutes before rinsing.


The shampoo works well and cleans the hair. My hair is much more smooth than with my ordinary commercial shampoo.

Viscosity: The initial batch was too watery, probably due to lack of jellifying pectin, present in the bark of the shampoo tree and in the peel of the makrut limes. I improved this by reboiling 500 ml of shampoo with 5 ml of Thai cinnamon bark powder (Cinnamomum iners, Lauraceae). To increase the viscosity during the initial production, simply add more crushed twigs of the shampoo tree and/or cut the makrut limes in several slices and/or press them and/or reduce the amount of water.

Since different plant individuals contain different amounts of any given chemical (due to season or individual genes or health condition or time since harvest) local experimenting is essential. A recipe in one farm might have to be adjusted at another farm due to their local plants of the same species. The variation in chemical concentrations between plant individuals is one reason manufactured medicines and cosmetics are preferred; the amount and quality is always the same.

Cleaning ability: The activity of the ‘shampoo tree’ is due to high concentrations of saponins. These molecules foam in water and create a lowered tension of the water which makes dirt less sticky and is easier to wash out. Saponins have both fatty and water soluble ends of the molecule, meaning they can dissolve dirty sebum oils of your hair into the water which you can easily rinse. Washing your hair without any shampoo does not remove these sebum oils and the smelly lipophilic compounds (of bacterial origin or from smoke) dissolved therein.

‘Sapo’ is Latin for soap. In Europe we used the root of soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) in the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae) as a source of saponin. The scientific name of this plant genus was coined by Swedish gentleman Linnaeus, and this plant can still be found as a remnant of old farms on the Swedish countryside. Another tropical source of saponin is the ‘soapberry’ (Sapindus rarak, Sapindaceae) which we also grow here at Dokmai Garden.

Colour: A one minute exposure to the pigmented shampoo does not make your hair blue, you can use it safely. The lilac colour of the shampoo makes it look more appealing.

Hair conditioner: the makrut lime is added for fragrance and as a solvent of fats (D-limonene), viscosity (pectin) and to lower the pH to straighten the hydrogen bonds between the keratin strands in the hair, making the hair look glossy (citric acid). The coating of ethereal oils also makes the hair look glossy. According to anecdotes makrut lime also prevents hair loss and cures dandruff.

Fragrance: to further increase the fragrance one can try adding other spices and flowers.

What about its use in combination with aloe vera? I boiled the shampoo with the aloe vera gel from an entire leaf, which is a much lower concentration than my shampoo:aloe vera mix 1:1 previously described. The aim was to see if I could dissolve the mucilage. I could not, at least not entirely. I think in industrial situations they freeze dry the gel and then grind it before including it as an ingredient. I then mixed this shampoo with aloe vera gel 1:1 using my hands. I got a slight burning sensation afterwards, which I also sense with my ordinary shampoo, but not with the Body Shop Facial wash.

I shall use this shampoo for a few days in a row to evaluate its long-term effects, and please share your experience here!

Teacher: Dhaeng Willman

Text & Photo: Eric Danell and Ronny Willman

5 Comments leave one →
  1. roland mogg permalink
    October 18, 2012 2:55 PM

    hiliked the article, especially since i have lots of blue butterfly pea flowers (Clitoria ternatea). in the garden.can u help me identify this large butterfly ?picture was taken in a friends garden in chiang mai thank u rolandDate: Wed, 17 Oct 2012 05:20:59 +0000 To:

    • October 19, 2012 7:48 AM

      Kindly send me the picture of the butterfly straight to my e-mail address. Unfortunately pictures can not be posted as comments.

      Cheers, Eric

  2. October 20, 2012 10:02 PM

    We use gugo (Entada phaseoloides) here in the Philippines. We pound the bark or boil it. I also refrigerate the mixture, as it spoils quickly. “Old” women here first put coconut milk/oil in their hair, scrub with gugo, and then follow with calamansi juice for conditioning.

    Interest in gugo is still high and it is an ingredient in many natural and conventional shampoos.

    • October 21, 2012 8:13 AM

      How interesting Bea! Entada grows in wet environments here such as Chiang Dao and we have many readers there so they may want to try it!

      Thanks, Eric

  3. harmonysmama permalink
    July 10, 2015 10:55 AM

    Reblogged this on Harmony's Mama.

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