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Ayurvedic herbs: properties and benefits of Shikakai (Acacia concinna)

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This post was last updated on April 29, 2020 by Preethi Sukumaran

At Krya, we blog about the wide ranging and healing benefits of herbs and how they can be used by all of us for hair, skin, and home care without resorting to using any of the dangerous synthetic products we are currently surrounded by. A versatile cleansing herb in this list  is Shikakai, which has many wonderful benefits. We frequently use Shikakai in Krya’s hair , skin and home cleansing and healing formulae for its multiple benefits like gentle cleansing, anti fungal action, wound healing and dandruff control action. So here is a more detailed blog post from us on the ayurvedic properties and benefits of Shikakai.

Benefits of Shikakai: indigenous to Indian tradition and lore

Shikakai is a herb that many Indians love to hate. This is a herb that reminds us of 2 things: having our hair washed by our mothers , and of stinging and watering eyes! But paradoxically, we associate Shikakai not just with painful childhood memories, but also having the hair of our childhood: thick, long, dark, and strong. A time when it was impossible to manage our hair because it was so voluminous and so long!

benefits of shiakaki : extensively used in india to care for hair
Shikakai is referred to as “the hair fruit” in India, and the Shikakai pod has been used as a biological surfactant to cleanse hair and skin for thousands of years in India. The Shikakai pod along with the Reetha pericarp, (Soapberry fruit) are part of the large set of plant based cleansers India used to clean the laundry, dishes and our hair.

Using plant based cleansers like Shikakai, Soapberry, Desert Date are extremely beneficial both to human health and the environment.Because of the relatively low level of surfactants in both these soapy herbs, the skin and hair is always protected from excessive stripping of natural oils, breakage of hair and destruction of the acid mantle. Both these herbs also have a naturally mildly acidic pH which again makes them both ideal cleansers to used on human skin and hair. In addition, cleansing herbs like Soapberry and Shikakai offer a huge host of other benefits, which make them “cleaning plus” herbs.

benefits of shikakai : cleansing plus herb

Ayurvedic properties and benefits of Shikakai

Shikakai is called “Satala” in Sanskrit. Its synonyms are “Virala”, “Sari”, “Tatphala” “Charmasahva”, Dipta and also “Bahu phena” (extremely foam generating_ and “Phena” (foam generating).

Madanapala nighantu text tells us that Shikakai has Tikta and Kashaya rasa (bitter and astringent taste), katu vipaka (pungent after digestion), Cold in veerya (potency), laghu (light). Shikakai has multiple benefits like being Shopha hara (anti inflammatory), Kaphahara and Pittahara (reduces Kapha and pitta), Udvartahara and Raktadoshahara (heals Rakta dosha / blood tissue disorders).

The Raj Nighantu text tells us in addition that Shikakai has other benefits like being useful in Visharpa (erypiselas), Kushta roga , Vishpota (eruptive blisters) and in Vrana Sopha (oedema due to ulcers or wounds).

In folk medicine, Shikakai’s analgesic, anti bacterial, insect repellent and wound healing benefits are very effectively utilised. For non specific pain in the leg, hips and joints, Shikakai is sprinkled on the affected area after a hot castor oil massage and then wiped away, providing great relief to the aching area.

Shikakai is also very well employed in traditional medicine as an oral rinse to help cure halitosis, dental caries, mouth ulcers and gum bleeding. Its kasaya (astringent) properties helps reduce oral inflammations, stops excessive bleeding and also helps flush out oral pathogens.

Shikakai is also very well used to fight any manner of skin infection. The Shikakai is used as a tincture / infusion to bathe and frequently wash stubborn skin infections which accumulate pus and clear exudates like psoriasis, skin rashes etc. Here the herb’s cleansing and inflammation reducing properties are used.

Benefits of Shikakai: How Krya uses this herb

We have seen how Ayurveda teaches us that the benefits of Shikakai lie in its skin cleansing, anti inflammatory, pitta and kapha healing properties. It is also an excellent anti fungal herb. Krya uses Shikakai for its Kaphahara properties and anti fungal properties in the Krya Anti dandruff hair wash, the Krya Anti Dandruff Hair Mask. These 2 products along with the Krya Anti dandruff hair oil are excellent in treating even very chronic cases of fungal dandruff and holistically. Our Anti dandruff products are able to work on even very long term and chronic cases of dandruff within a short period of time and this is due to the powerful herbs we use like Shikakai.

Shikakai is used by Krya in the anti dandruff range for its unique ability to cleanse without irritating the scalp and its ability to control fungal spread – this is extremely important when dealing with chronic dandruff because we always see small lesions and wounds on the scalp which have formed due to the inherent itchiness because of this condition.Together the Krya anti dandruff system helps effectively clear the scalp and promotes healthy hair growth.

Krya Anti Dandruff Hair system

Being called “Bahu phena” and “Phenila”, Shikakai is also an excellent cleansing fruit. The cleansing action, unlike synthetic surfactants like SLS and SLeS is extremely mild, of acidic pH and does not damage hair and scalp condition. So we use Shikakai across our range of hair cleansing products to help effectively clean dirt and grease from hair without altering its structure and damaging it. In fact, the use of Shikakai in our hair cleanser formulations helps us deliver hair cleansing that is both effective yet gentle on hair. The consistent use of this herb also helps improve hair volume and texture.

benefits of shikakai - shikaki is an excellent effective and gentle scalp cleaner

Krya also has a range of “Sensitive” skin products formulated for Kushta roga like eczema, contact dermatitis and psoriasis. Many of these skin conditions do not have an exact causative factor in allopathy and are usually managed with the use of topical steroids (both ingested and applied locally). Stopping the use of such chemical steroid based products even for a day triggers the condition and it is extremely difficult to live with.

Krya’s line of Sensitive skin products are formulated with toddlers with sensitive skin and adults with chronic skin issues. The Adult range has a Sensitive skin bodywash and a sensitive skin oil – Krya uses Shikakai in both these products and the Toddler sensitive bodywash. Here Shikakai is used for its inflammation healing, wound cleansing and Kushta roga (skin disease) healing benefits. Switching from a synthetic soap (even those recommended for these skin conditions) and using one of the Krya sensitive skin products along with the oil recommended, usually gives people an almost immediate relief from these conditions.

Krya sensitive skin system

Krya also has a small line of Men’s skin care products. Our Men’s skincare line is carefully formulated and uses various pitta balancing, sebum balancing and skin clearing herbs. The Shikakai is occasionally used in the Men’s Classic Face wash , Men’s Zingy Bodywash and the Men’s Classic face mask for its shothahara (anti inflammatory) and pitta hara (pitta reducing) , and deep skin cleansing properties.

Apart from skin care and hair care, Shikakai finds a very important place in Krya’s line of home cleaners. Home care today is fraught with risk as the synthetic cleansers we use at home are highly toxic, and pollute the air, affect human health, trigger skin sensitivities and respiratory illnesses and also pollute the water and soil. We launched our line of home care products as an alternative to these chemical pollutants.

Krya’s line of home cleaners uses plant based surfactats like Arishtaka, Shikakai, Desert date instead of LABSA and SLS and SLeS and other Chemical surfactants. Along with these surfactants we use a wide variety of anti bacterial, anti fungal, astringent and aura cleansing herbs to make various home care products like floor cleaners, detergent products, etc.

The Krya Dishwash classic variant and the Krya Dishwash Brass and Copper variant is one such example where we use Shikakai. Chemical dishwash products are highly irritating on skin and can trigger minor forms of Kushta roga like contact dermatitis. Using a multi purpose herb like Shikakai in these formulations helps us do the basic job of cleansing, while taking care of the skin and also ensuring that the discharge from the housework does not pollute soil and water.

Krya brass & copper dishwash is a whole herb , toxin free dishwash product esepcially formulated for brass and copper vessels

Shikaiai is also used in Krya’s Anti lice products. Shikakai and herbs like Vacha, Neem, Babchi have very well document insecticidal properties. We use these herbs in the Krya Anti Lice system which comprises of the Krya Anti Lice Hair Oil, the Krya Anti Lice Hair Mask and the Krya Anti Lice Hair wash. This anti lice system is a safe and effective lice repelling system made completely from natural herbs – these products are safe enough to use even on babies and repel and stun lice, but do not kill.

Krya 3 part anti lice hair system that safely and naturally repels lice and soothes the scalp

Ayurveda tells us how the properties of Shikakai gives rise to these skin benefits. Its kashaya (astringent) nature shrinks the thickened growth and brings down inflammation. Because of its tikta (bitter) nature, it is ideally suited to tackle both vitiated pitta and vitiated kapha, so it stops the redness and itching associated with pitta and the skin thickening and expanding nature of kapha vitiated skin diseases. In cases of dandruff and psoriasis where high scaling and thickening is observed due to Kapha vitiation, Shikakai is able to cut down this excessive growth and reduce oozing, pus and sebum in these cases due to its Kaphaghna property.

For sensitive skin conditiosn and dandruff, it is important to follow a balanced diet. A diet that is low in pitta and kapha based triggers will help the condition heal faster. For skin disorders, please download and read our free ebook on food triggers which can aggravate Kushta roga conditions.

Things to keep in mind if you want to use Shikakai to make your own shampoo:

Many people write to us asking about how Shikakai can be made into a d.i-y shampoo powder. An ayurvedic herb based hair wash powder is the best no-poo shampoo option that you can find, and it hands down beats Western no-poo shampoo ideas like using baking soda, and apple cider vinegar or castille soap on hair.

However, all plant surfactants like Reetha, and Shikakai MUST be used only on WELL OILED hair. So before trying these options, ensure that you oil the hair generously, preferably with a good ayurvedic hair oil.

Classic plus hair oil and wash Natural hairwash powders MUST be used on well oiled hair (preferably an ayurvedic hair oil)

Also, remember that all synthetic shampos are loaded with artificial conditions like silicones, and other thickeners and chemical coating agents. When you use a purely herbal hair wash power, such ingredients are missing – so you will notice the ACTUAL texture of your hair – if you have been using synthetic shampoos for sometime, it is very likely that your hair is actually dry, coarse and brittle in nature. This is NOT due to Shikakai or Reetha but this is the actual condition of your hair. So don’t panic and continue with the natural hairwash. With regular hair oiling the texture will improve.

Also ensure that your formulate your hairwash powder properly. Conditioning herbs, acidic herbs and astringent herbs must be added to balance the cleansing effects of surfactant herbs like Shikakai, Reetha etc. If you merely use plain Shikakai or Reetha to wash the hair, the hair will feel slightly dry.

To sum up: the ayurvedic properties and benefits of Shikakai

Shikakai is an important ayurvedic herb with specific properties like having bitter and astringent taste, kapha and pitta balancing properties, being anti inflammatory, wound healing, etc. Shikakai is therefore extensively used across India in both Ayurvedic  and Siddha medicinal systems and in folk lore for its multiple benefits. We explored the properties of this important herb through various Ayurvedic canonical texts and also saw how we harness these benefits at Krya in multiple formulations in skin, hair and home care.

Our work at Krya is part of our larger mission to bring in more awareness of traditional Indian medicinal systems like Ayurveda and Siddha, inculcate a sense of pride in India’s deep historical, cultural, spiritual and medicinal traditions. We also exist to bring in a sense of balance: there are too many products and companies out there recklessly and thoughtlessly endangering human health, water and soil health by using highly toxic and dangerous chemicals to formulate everyday consumer products. We exist to provide you with safe, holistic and sustainable alternatives using India’s divine and sacred herbs.

We do herb related posts at Krya to give you a glimpse into just how potent, powerful and good for us the plants used in Ayurveda are and to help you understand how safe and effective hair, skin and home care products can be easily formulated using these healing herbs. We hope you found this post inspiring and useful. Please go through our other herb posts on other ayurvedic herbs like Bael, Arishtaka, Vacha, Daruharidra, Mulethi, Mushta, Durva, etc. Do also go through our posts on Hair care herbs around the world.

If you too would like to transition to our holistic sustainable goodies and need help choosing products, please call us (0-75500-89090) or write to us.


srinivas krishnaswamy

srinivas krishnaswamy

Srinivas is Krya's Co-Founder. He brings in a unique perspective to Krya with his dual Masters in Physics & Management. At Krya, Srinivas is motivated by the challenges of crafting the company's DNA - products that delight consumers, manufacturing excellence, a winning team and sustainable profitable growth. He is deeply committed to defining the first principles of Dharmic Entrepreneurship in order to build a world class organisation rooted in Indian Knowledge Systems.

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0 thoughts on “Ayurvedic herbs: properties and benefits of Shikakai (Acacia concinna)

  1. Nice write up Preethi. Indeed this had taken me to my voluminous hair days and myself crying to my grandmom on Sunday mornings.
    Also could you do you write on the herb “liquorice”?

  2. […] due to the addition of natural deodorizing herbs and cleansing herbs like Nutgrass, Shikakai, Katsura and Cassia auriculata, the Krya bodywashes and ubtans help remove sweat and odour much […]

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