For most of human history, you just couldn’t go buy this stuff. It didn’t exist. There was nowhere to buy it. And once there were places to buy it – for many people, it was just too expensive. But did everyone walk around smelly and with dirty hair? No! (Except perhaps in Medieval Europe when people believed bathing was bad and doused themselves with perfume instead! Yikes.) Our great-grandmothers were resourceful. When they walked out their front doors, they saw a huge bounty of ingredients, just waiting to be used for health and beauty. (Guess what, many of those ingredients are still there in plain sight, we just don’t recognize them – or worse, call them ‘weeds’ and kill them!)
This was true no matter where your great grandmother lived in the world. Europe, America, Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco, India, Ghana … everyone used the natural bounty that was around them to make the products they needed.
So when I travel, I love re-discovering these traditional uses of the weeds around us. It’s a connection not only to the land and plants, but also to the culture, and to our ancestors. And anyway, it’s just fun!
I was recently back in Chiang Mai, Thailand, studying with a traditional Thai herbalist named Homprang. She grew up in a small village where her grandmother was the local healer, so until she was 18 she was completely immersed in herbal healing. In fact, it just seemed normal. There wasn’t any other way. Of course they cooked with wild plants, and used them for health and healing too – what else would they use? So when she told me that she’d never used bottled shampoo until she moved away from the village, I was intrigued.
In 2010, when I was just getting started exploring natural health and beauty, I did a year-long beauty detox where I made all of my own products! (Yes, it was a bit crazy. I jump into things full-on!) The big winners from that year were homemade deodorant, facial cleansing oil and a facial oil/serum, three products I still use today! But the biggest struggle from that experiment? Shampoo. (If you’ve ever switched to natural shampoo you know how tricky that can be … and trying to make your own is just a whole other level of pain!)
This shampoo was simple and fresh. Two ingredients, picked from the wild plants nearby. Combined in a bowl with water until sudsy, then used immediately to wash your hair. Ok so this isn’t going to be a super thick creamy lather (no natural shampoo is), and it doesn’t leave your hair ‘squeaky clean’ because it maintains the natural oils in your hair – but it’s gentle and effective, and traditionally known to strengthen and darken the hair.
The key ingredient? Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea) You’ll find this plant all over Thailand. It’s really popular not only for shampoos and beauty products, but as a regular drinking tea across Thailand. I’ve even seen it included in specialty ‘bubble teas’ here in Hong Kong for its incredible blue color.
Fun Fact: Butterfly Pea also has a cool property of being pH sensitive (like these violet leaves!). So if you put some lemon juice into your glass of blue butterfly tea, it turns bright pink!
Butterfly Pea provides the hair strengthening benefits to the shampoo, and the second ingredient provides the foaming (“saponins” in some plants provide a foaming action when agitated in water – eucalyptus leaves are an example of a saponin-rich plant you might find more easily.) Unfortunately, Homprang doesn’t know the official name of the plant they use to provide the saponins – it was simply “Shampoo plant” when she was growing up. But I’m still on the lookout for the real identification of this plant and will update the post when I have it!
So here’s how to make Thai Butterfly Pea Shampoo…
First walk out your front door into your beautiful Thai garden to pick Butterfly Pea flowers off the bush. (Or you can just order them dried online, sigh…)
Put the leaves and the butterfly pea flowers in a bowl, and cover with water. Then start squishing them together with your hands.
You really want to squish and rub the leaves and flowers together vigorously to create a lather and make the water a nice bluish purple color.
Once the liquid has a nice foam on it, you can strain it out through cheesecloth or muslin. Or just simply squeeze it out really well with your hands.
(How amazing are outdoor kitchens?! Just pick the plants, and start working with them immediately.)
And there you have a fresh bowl of Thai Butterfly Pea shampoo! This shampoo needs to be used immediately or can be kept for 2 days in the fridge. Like any water-based fresh plant product, it will spoil quickly, so this is one of those products to make and enjoy as you need it.
You can visit Homprang and learn Thai herbal medicine and traditional Thai massage at Baan Hom Samunphrai.