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…
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.
Allow 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.
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:
- Soak these beauties in a bowl filled with water.
- Transfer the herbs along with the dark water to a pot. Use your intuition and add more water.
- Boil them for 10 minutes and let them cool in a corner.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.