Give Me Leaves, I’ll Give You Shampoo

18 Oct

Things not to do in the kitchen… especially when cooking with aunties who remember you were banned from lifting even a spoon when you were a child and are convinced you must still be that little girl even though 20 years have passed since you last tried to make everybody eat your “cooking” i.e. raw gooseberries in brine.

A short listicle:

  • Fiddle with gas connection
  • Turn on heat under empty vessel
  • Wash knife
  • Thinly slice
  • Grate
  • Deep fry
  • Transfer utensil from one burner to another
  • Insist everybody wash hands with soap in between tasks
  • Offer tips
  • Explain flambe
  • Cook

I finally had to stop because she was clearly not enjoying the experience at all. When I offer to “help”, I don’t mean I’ll help some senior citizen to an early grave. Not her fault, though. The last time  she saw me, I was busy manufacturing shampoo out of hibiscus leaves.

I was fascinated by housework as a child – a fascination that was immediately dispelled once I had to do any. Eventually, bugged by my constant pleas to chip in, one of the maids asked me if I knew I could make shampoo at home. My paternal grandmother, the child of an Ayurvedic doctor, used to mix up powders and potions all the time so this little chemistry experiment appealed enormously to me. It sounded like real grown up work.

My great aunt who ran the kitchen immediately whipped out a mixing bowl and sent me packing with a heartfelt squawk of relief. I gathered my retinue of essential staff (one of the houseboys, the oldest of the drivers, and the head gardener who was incidentally the henpecked husband of the maid who’d made the initial suggestion) and set off for the garden where I spent a pleasurable half hour discussing the merits of differently colored hibiscus plants. The boy held the bowl and offered to climb the gooseberry tree instead; the driver smoked and grinned; and the poor grandfatherly gardener nodded his head gravely when I informed him color was an important indication of cleansing strength.

Having established that red was the best choice, capable of cleaning even the dirtiest scalp, I proceeded to make my shampoo. This is how you do it:

  • Pick leaves. The shinier, the prettier the better
  • Pick flower. The more brilliantly red, the more you will enjoy it
  • Remove stamen. It offends the eye and has gross crumbly pollen. Yuck
  • Place in mixing bowl and pour water. From garden hose or whatever is convenient. As much or as little as you like but mixture made with less water is more satisfying in texture
  • Put in your hand and squish, squish, squish
  • Revel in sticky scented glory
  • Display results to universal acclaim
  • Abandon bowl because your job is done – you have prepared shampoo for whoever needs it
  • Wash hands and forget about the whole thing until the next time you’re bored.

As an adult who continues to use store bought shampoo, I always thought they’d invented this whole hibiscus thing to keep me out of their hair same as when they convinced me people were just dying to eat my gooseberry “pickle” – just note how the jars mysteriously vanished from their shelf.

But turns out people actually do use hibiscus to wash their hair. Hibiscus and a whole bunch of other stuff including bananas and baking soda and God only knows what else. I don’t think they’re following my recipe though.


Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Personal


Tags: , , ,

15 responses to “Give Me Leaves, I’ll Give You Shampoo

  1. pitu

    October 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    LOL! I tried washing my hair with shikakai once, what a hideous experience. Pain in the you know what. But I only use herbal stuff so I go by the next best thing to making your own shampoo- buying solid shampoo bars from I swear by the Godiva bar! 😀 The other do it yourself thing I do is hennaing my hair. Boy, that’s always an afternoon of drama. But far better than chemical dye. Whattodo am an earth mother 😉 Speaking of hibiscus shampoo, isn’t there a brand in India called Dr Jain’s which sells this? I think my cousin bought it once. Hmm.

    • Empowerment Engineer

      October 18, 2010 at 3:41 pm

      Ha ha, replied to the wrong thing. Sorry Pitu, did not mean to suggest that you were the one who had hid her somewhere… 🙂

      • pitu

        October 18, 2010 at 6:04 pm

        How do you know I didn’t? Baby Quill is a danger to the world and must be kept in tight control lest she destroy everything, which you know she will 😛

        • Empowerment Engineer

          October 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm

          If by destroy you mean happily mushed and squished together, I will take destruction any day over propriety

  2. Empowerment Engineer

    October 18, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Love the baby Quill. Can we have her back please?

  3. Amrita

    October 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    @ Pitu – I laugh at your pain but I must admit those shampoo bars are something else. I have no idea about Dr. Jain’s because in India I just buy regular over the counter stuff.

    @ EE – Baby Quill (thanks, I’m adopting the term now :D) is an obnoxious brat so I stashed her away for a few months but sure, she can come out to play.

    • Banno

      October 18, 2010 at 5:14 pm

      Yes, yes, more Baby Quill, please.

      But all those kiddie recipes used to be so much fun, specially with all the squishing involved.

  4. bhel

    October 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    “I gathered my retinue of essential staff (one of the houseboys, the oldest of the drivers, and the head gardener who was incidentally the henpecked husband of the maid who’d made the initial suggestion)” – Good Lord, Ruchi Rich, which country was your family ruling?! :p

  5. dipali

    October 18, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Love Baby Quill!
    I was the kid who chopped up chocolate wrappers to make glitter, but could never cut it fine enough. Tried using the egg whisk with an even worse result.

  6. DewdropDream

    October 19, 2010 at 6:29 am

    You prompted a whole post!

  7. M

    October 19, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Huh – file this under your “turmeric prevents hairgrowth” epiphany folder 🙂 Powdered hibiscus leaves mixed with shikakai was our only hair-washing method growing up….and I had *thick* butt-length hair….of course, I dumped all that for good old shampoo once I went away to college and am still ruing the subsequent loss of hair 🙂 🙂 I still do the shikakai/hibuscus thing when visiting India – and it does wonders for my hair! And – I started on the turmeric thingy (Thanks, pre-menopause!) – and it seems to slow hair growth so hooray for back-to-basics!


  8. Empowerment Engineer

    October 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Seems like the sobriquet has stuck. 🙂

  9. Veena

    October 19, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Have not heard of Hibiscus, but shikakai-reetha-amla mix was what I used. The stuff is good, though not easy as “user-friendly” as shampoo.

    Love baby quill too!

  10. Amrita

    October 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    @Banno – the squishing is without doubt the best part of childhood.

    @Bhel – the land of crackpots obviously 😛

    @Dipali – lol! I made some fat glitter out of candy wrappers in my day too! My poor mother was always cleaning out my secret stash while I was at school.

    @3D – yay!

    @EE – in more ways than you’ll know, you just kickstarted something completely different in my brain with that term 😀 So thanks!

    @M & Veena – I didn’t know so many of my readers were such organic nerds! I ran the idea past my mom and she looked at me like I was crazy but I feel a batch of homemade shampoo coming up!

  11. CheeC

    October 31, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Oh, I too fondly recall trying my hand at the home-made shampoo, courtesy the backyard hibiscus plant perennially bursting with brilliant red flowers. (Ah, all the squish squish squish and reveling in sticky-scented glory…will those days never return?!)

    This weekend ritual (paired with grandma’s shikai powder to rinse off the oil) used to be the secret of my thick and lustrous hair that I wore in two braids until fourth grade, after which everything went downhill: My best friends got theirs bobbed, I wanted to conform, dad didn’t let me, and a half hour with a pair of really rusty scissors on a Sunday afternoon (not to mention really bruised thumb and index finger) later, I had a shoulder-length “bob” that looked more like something the rats chewed off at night!! (Dad made me go to school like that for a whole week before he took me to his barber to get it fixed, the following Sunday (apparently, that’s how I developed a hide so thick it’s guaranteed me a lifetime’s worth of immunity to being publicly shamed).

    PS: BTW, I like how “sham poo” also seems to connote an alternate identity, if I channeled Sharanya’s theory. Hey, who wouldn’t love to be Hibiscus rosa-sinensis! 😀

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