amla-reetha-shikakai

Amla Reetha Shikakai – Zero Waste Shampoo Recipe with a Story

My earliest memory of my hair is when I was nearly bald and beautiful. As a baby, I was brought into this world with not much hair.

I never looked in the mirror (unless my parents put me in front of one so that I could make a new friend). As a kid, I never worried about my hair being – oily, dry, frizzy and so on and so forth and what have you.

My carefree days of near baldness lasted just for a few months after my head was tonsured in a temple in South of India. My parents decided to travel with my infant brother and my toddler self in a train to get our heads shaved so that we could grow a fresh crop of hair.  I still wonder why…

my-bald-self-before-amla-reetha-shikakai

Now that I look back, I can see that hair is not just hair.

Hair is a ritual.

Hair serves a function. It protects your head and keeps you warm.

Hair personifies you.

Hair is reflection of your health.

Hair is a genetic gift.

Sometimes hair can even make or break your day. I mean, bad hair day.

Hair attracts, it also distracts.

Hair changes as you age. It can thicken or thin or grey or disappear.

Hair allows you play with it. You can curl it, straighten it, colour it, perm it, braid it, dreadlock it OR just – let it be.

Touching someone’s hair can be a sign of affection.

Pulling someone’s hair can be a sign of aggression.

Hair is personal, yet it is political.

Hair is not just another thing. It is your hair on your head.

Hair is highly subjective.

Finally, hair is a loaded and sensitive topic.

I say all this because the herbal hair wash recipe I’m going to share with you today is by no means the most definitive way of cleaning your hair.

It’s all natural and zero waste but it may or may not work for you in terms of your location,  time, energy and results. Especially if you have a modern busy life that is passing by too fast.

amla-reetha-shikakaiAllow me to take you back to the origins of this recipe. Hundreds of years ago, a curious woman explored the wilderness on a regular basis. Her passion was to forage odd-looking herbs. She plucked some amla (Indian gooseberry) and later a bunch of reetha (soapnuts). Being the intelligent being that she was, she dried them in the sun to preserve them.

A few weeks later, her friend knocked on the door of her tree house. She brought a gift she had found in abundance in the forest – it was shikakai (acacia concinna).

As the two women sipped coconut water and exchanged notes on herbs, an idea floated across the treetops and settled into their heads – exactly at the same time.

Amla was so dark in colour that it could possibly make grey hair dark again.

Soapnuts gave off lather when soaked in water and cleaned grime.

Shikakai with its magnificent colour was screaming ‘I’m hair fruit‘.

On a moonlit night, the two friends soaked one handful each of amla, reetha and shikakai in a bowl made out of a hollowed coconut shell.

At dawn, they stretched open their arms, walked around, ate some bananas and shared a papaya.

Then they got down to work. They lit a small fire and boiled the soaked herbs in a pot while humming their favourite songs. When the herbs looked softer, they removed the pot and let it cool.

amla-reetha-shikakai

The herbal conconction gave off an interesting whiff – it was neither fruity nor floral and they never bothered to label it.

They mashed the herbs with their hands and strained the gorgeous wine coloured liquid into earthenware. And off they went to the waterfall to wash their hair with amla, reetha and shikakai.

As they poured the liquid over their wet hair, one woman screamed in pain because some of the liquid entered her eyes. She frantically splashed her eyes with water. She felt like her eyes were on fire.

The curious woman panicked when she saw this but a creative life takes courage and that she knew well. So she sealed her eyes shut and little by little she poured the herbal cocktail over her scalp and massaged it.

By this time, both the women, with their eyes half open, kind of squinting at each other, stepped into the gushing water coming from above and paused for a moment. All they could hear in that moment was the water roaring against their ears, drenching them from head to toe.

When they’d had washed their minds and bodies clean in silence, they walked over to a sunny spot. They remained there until their hair and bodies shone like the sun.

The curious woman could not stop running her fingers through her hair.

She had just co-created shampoo, long before it was to be known as shampoo.

This, by the way, is a complete figment of my imagination about how amla reetha shikakai was discovered as a way of cleaning and maintaining healthy hair – all in sync with nature.

Now that I’ve poured forth this wild imaginative tale that wanted to be told, here’s the recipe if you’d like to use it in today’s time and age, in your very own concrete bathroom. You’ll need to source these ingredients from your local kirana store or from a farmer you know:

  • a handful of whole amla (4-5 pieces)
  • a handful of whole reetha (6-7 pieces)
  • a handful of whole shikakai (5-6 pieces)

Tada! Here comes the recipe for amla reetha shikkai:

  1. Soak these beauties in a bowl filled with water.
  2. Transfer the herbs along with the dark water to a pot. Use your intuition and add more water.
  3. Boil them for 10 minutes and let them cool in a corner.
  4. Transfer this mix to a big blender (if your blender is not big enough, you want to put in all the herbs first and then add the liquid little by little as you blend).
  5. Blend it (make sure you don’t blend the hot liquid or there is a high chance that you could paint your kitchen walls with it).
  6. Strain it through a big sieve or colander (if you’re concerned about all the small particles, strain again). Feel free to toss the remnants into the compost.
  7. Your amla reetha shikakai shampoo aka nopoo aka herbal hair wash aka tea rinse is  – ready to use.

Before you rush off to get your hands on these herbs, wait a minute. Read this painless process of using it.

In the shower, you want to wet your hair, throw your head back and pour this liquid very slowly onto your scalp. It runs very quickly. Under no circumstances, I repeat, in no way should you let the liquid enter your eyes. Unless you want your eyes to burn!

But if the liquid does enter your eyes, don’t panic. Rinse them well and be prepared for them to look bloodshot for an hour.

After you’ve massaged your scalp thoroughly, count until 120 or longer if you have trained yourself to be patient. Rinse your hair very thoroughly so that all bits and pieces of herbs get washed away.

Once you’ve experience this slow way of living and washing your hair, do come back here and let me know if you still have hair on your head. Just kidding, I still have mine on my head!

How does your hair feel now?

Let me break it to you – given how many toxic bottles of commercial shampoo you have used in your lifetime, chances are high that it will take months for your hair to get adjusted to this mild and gentle hair wash.

If you’re up for it, keep aside your hair-related fears for a moment.  Go ahead, be a maker and create your very own amla reetha shikakai shampoo.

P.S. This post is dedicated to the ladies who inspired me to pen this down – Rakhi, Manju, Samyukta & Tara.

About the author

Vandana

Hi there, this blog is my attempt to make plastic-free & zero waste living fun, practical and livable for you by using desi ways from the good old days.

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37 Comments

  • I made this shampoo using the powders form. The tiny particles are still there in my head. I strained 2-3 times. What to do?

    • Hi Gopa, I recently started experimenting with the same herbs in a powdered form and had the same issue. You have to give your hair a very thorough wash. I usually put my head under the tap and let water run through my hair. I collect the used water in a bucket below (to reuse it later). Once my hair dries, i brush it 3-4 times, the particles fall off.

    • Hi Archana, you can refrigerate easily for upto a week. Some people even keep it for longer. You can also freeze it in an ice cube tray and thaw it before use. Hope this helps.

  • Hi there, I use the similar recipe to wash my hair but I also included neem leaves. You can boil neem leaves along with other ingredients. I want to add that this recipe maintains the ph level of scalp. Our scalp is towards acidic side that is ph 4.5 to 5.3 so neem and meetha helps in maintaining the ph of scalp. If you want to make a body wash with this recipe add some coconut milk or oil in the recipe. Coconut oil is an alkaline base which makes your skin soft and moisturized. So with this basic recipe with some add ons you can make your own shampoo, body wash and many more things. Happy zero waste. #GoBasicGoZeroWaste

    *If I have some mistakes in my comments I would like to have your suggestions.

    • Hi Bharti, thanks for sharing. This is the first time I’m hearing about adding neem leaves and coconut oil/milk to this recipe. But I do know that people like to add various herbs to this basic recipe. Personally, I like to keep the ingredients minimal and the recipe simple 🙂 Some time ago, I switched to a herbal hair wash powder (with amla, reetha & shikakai powders) and the results have been wonderful.

  • My mother used this in her days as a shampoo and now she says that although it’s good for your hair but there is a significant amount of hairfall in the initial days or months and after that your hair starts growing. So is it true that there could be hairfall in the initial phase?

    • Hi Sonam, this the first time I am hearing about the hair fall part. I did not have such an experience and others who have used these herbs haven’t told me such things either. A healthy person sheds upto 100-25 strands of hair a day. Also, there are a number of factors that affect hair fall.

  • Hey how can I use the powder form? I get I have to combine equal parts of all three herbs and mix it with water but I’m confused if I should make the paste runny or not? Will that effect the potency of the mix? I think I also read somewhere about boiling the powder mix after putting in water??
    As you can tell, I’m confused. How do you use the powder form? Help me!

    • I mix equal quantities of each powdered herb. Some people use 2 parts reetha, 2 parts shikakai and 1 part amla. You can mix it into water (stir it until it forms a batter-like consistency) and use it right away. If its too thick, it wont spread easily, if its too runny, it will not stick to the hair. You can also leave aside the herbal paste for 15 minutes or longer. In my experience, that makes it more effective.

  • Hi, thanks for sharing such a wonderful hair solution. But it leaves a bitter smell on hair after wash is it because I have added one more ingredient that is fenugreek seed.
    Also I normally put oil and then wash my hairs but this wonderful solution does not help to get rid of oil from hair.
    Please help me with my queries.

    • Hi, this solution does not work with oiled hair (at least in my experience). Some people use a paste of besan to remove the excess oil and then use the solution after that. I am also told that sarson ki khali (residue of cold pressed mustard oil) works well.

  • What a lovely story you told. It is wonderful. I too use the powders and oil my hair previous night. I boil the powder mix and use it after cooling it down. It gets rid of oil too. At least that’s my experience. After using this my hair has gotten thicker and my hair fall got reduced.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.

    • No, it is not normal. This is the second time I am hearing such a thing. I know many people who wash their hair with these herbs without any such issues. I hope you are aware that a healthy person loses an average of 100-125 strands of hair per day. Hair fall can also occur due to a number of factors.

  • Hi, I was already having hair fall and started seeing bald spots in my scalp when I started using biotique hair oil .. for two and half months I saw the baby hair follicles growing. And shortly after a friend of mine suggested using this recipe replacing the usual shampoo and conditioner. It’s been one week , my hairfall is still the same or may be a bit more than it use to be. The hair seems dry too. Is it normal ? I read somewhere and saw many videos on YouTube regarding this , some suggested it will take time for the hair to adjust to this natural remedy . My question to anyone who have been using this powder for months, does hair get really better? N how about the hairfall??

    • Hi Jashmine, I can only speak from my experience of using this recipe (now I use the powdered form). It suits my hair very well and although I still experience normal hair fall (an average person loses 100-125 strands of hair on a daily basis), it has reduced.You can try to vary the amount of each herb and see how that works for you. If you feel your hair is dry, use less reetha and more shikakai. Also, one’s hair and scalp takes a long time to adjust to any ‘nopoo’ method whether it washing with herbs or with just water. Adjusting may take upto 6 months or even longer.

    • Hi Meenu, you might want to reduce the amount of reetha you are using and increase the shikakai. Reetha contains saponins which wash the grease off. Too much of it might be drying your hair. Shikakai is a natural conditioner so you can use a little more of it to see if that suits your hair better. Vary the amount of each herb and see how that works for you.

  • Hi,
    I have been using this herbal tea since almost a year now and it has worked wonders for me. I had every hair problem known to womankind – grey hair, dandruff and hair fall – the trifecta. After using this, I don’t have dandruff, grey hair – well, they are still present, about hair fall – even I feel that while washing the hair fall is more than shampoo, but it compensates later – I do not have hair fall after I am done with the wash. I have baby hair now, where my hairline was receding.My hair does not get greasy even after 5 days, and most importantly – they shine. I have never got compliments for my hair before – even now I do not have a full mane – but my colleagues and friends tell me my hair looks shiny now, healthy.

  • Hey I’m using this shampoo since a month but there is more hair falling andd after washing my hair still the stickyness of hair oil is there… So what should i do now.. Do reply

    • Hi Khyati, this recipe does not work for oiled hair. I don’t oil my hair because the scalp naturally produces the oil it needs. So I cant advise you on this matter. However, I do know that some people use multani mitti or besan to get rid of the oil.

      I have been using amla reetha shikakai for an year now and have not experienced any extra hair fall. Please note that hair fall happens due to a number of factors. A normal person loses 100 strands of hair in a day. Most people I know who use this have better hair now.

      After you stop using commercial shampoo, your hair and scalp go through a long phase of detoxification where the scalp throws up a lot of grease. This can easily last 6 months or even longer. Basically, your body takes time to adjust to this new herbal shampoo after years of getting used to chemical-laden shampoo. Hope this helps.

    • I use powders because it saves time and energy. I’d say a paste of powdered herbs and water cleans hair even better than the liquid. The only downside is that you need to spend a few extra minutes washing your hair to get all the particles of the powder out. And it makes a bit of a mess in the shower area (which you can clean in a few seconds).

    • Hi, amla is supposed to darken hair but I dont know anyone who uses this herbal hair wash recipe to reverse greying hair or colour it.

  • HI i totally agree with u that its a pure shampoo and natural . we r so used to these chemicals that we had forgotten the good old methods .when i was a kid my mother always gave us head bath with this mixture and we never had dandruff and we had lovely long healthy hair but as we grew up we switched to shampoo but now again i have started using the same old concoction and i m feeling good .it takes out oil also from hair if u massage ur head with oil before hand . girls go for it dont b afraid its v useful.and the left over particle of shikakai comes out with brushing and no bad smell.

  • Hi, I have used this recipe for 2-3 times. When I only oiled the scalp a little, it removed the oil completely, but when I oil the hair from roots to strand, which I usually like to do, it removed the oil from my roots but not the strands, I can feel it clean on the scalp but greasy on the strands, Also it makes the hair a little dry afterwards. Is there any natural conditioner.

    • I do not oil my hair so I am not the right person to answer your question. My friends who oil their hair use the same herbs in a powdered form and it works for them. Perhaps you could try that. I find shikakai to be the best conditioner. Many people have told me that hibiscus leaves are great too.

  • Hi
    How do we use this mixture boil it and filter the concoction or grind it wet paste?
    Or dry powder is best…kindly give me some ideas.

    Thank you

    • Hi Pavithra, please read the last section of this article for the step by step process. It’s best to mash the boiled herbs by hand or cool them with their liquid and put them in a grinder/blender and then strain the liquid. I use the same herbs in a powdered form to wash my hair because it saves me time and energy. You can try both and see what works best for you.

  • Do you know of a way to make us a little thicker -not a past- it’s so watery I feel it’s not staying in my hair long enough for me to get it through my scalp to ends long enough for the benefits. My hair is past my waist.
    Thank you

    • Hey Peggy, one way to keep the shampoo thick is to not strain it after the boiled herbs have been mashed or blended. The downside is it will leave many of the remnants n your hair which will take longer to wash out. The other is to use the herbs in a powdered form and make a paste with them. Again, it will require a thorough wash to get all the particles out. Some people mix henna powder into the liquid shampoo which makes it thicker but the primary reason is that they also want to colour their hair.

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