Saponaria Officinalis

Soapwort, Bouncing Bet, Latherwort, and Soapberry

Botany

The soapwort is a perennial1. The flowers are fragrant and have 5 petals of a pinkish color2. The flowers are found in clusters within the leaf axils along the stem of the plant. The leaves of this plant are oval shaped and slightly hairy where as the stem is smooth3. The stems can grow anywhere for 3-24 in tall and 6-30 in wide and the plant is generally found in a colony2

Soapwort can grow in a variety of places including ditches, meadows, and along roadsides. It requires well-drained soil and can survive in both sun and partial sun environments. The flowers bloom between June and October4. This plant is fairly easy to grow and decently drought tolerant5. This plant tends to grow better in neutral or high alkaline soils that contain sodium bicarbonate creating a higher pH1

Chemistry

Saponins are the active ingredient found in soapwort. These molecules are amphipathic and create a foam which ultimately reduces the surface tension of water. They can be extracted from the plant parts using either water or alcohol9.  It has been observed that these chemicals are composed similarly to hormones. In humans, the saponins affect the mucus membrane, which explains their historical use for treating upper respiratory infections in the hope to break up mucus. The saponins are also responsible for the diuretic properties observed in the soapwort plant7. It is advised that this plant not be taken in excesses because it can cause damage to red blood cells in addition to paralysis in the vasomotor center of the brain1

Fun Fact

This natural soap is best to be used on delicate fabrics because it is less harmful than synthetic soaps. Because it is gentler on delicate fabrics, museum conservators sometimes use this solution for cleaning artifacts and tapestries5. Also soapworts foaming characteristic has led to its being used to produce the foamy head of brewed beer8

History

Soapwort use dates back to the time of the Roman Empire when it was used as a water softener. Colonists who used the plant as a soap substitute brought soapwort to the United States from Europe2. While it has always been used for its cleansing property, civilizations throughout history have used it differently. For example, the Syrians used it to wash wool, the Swiss used it to bathe sheep before shearing, and Medieval fullers used it during the finishing process of cloth making6. Aside from the soap, it has been recorded to be useful for treating such medical problems as rheumatism, cold sores, boils, and achne5.

Uses/Pharmacology

The root is dried to be used medicinally. The leaves and flowers are used fresh as a body soap. A decoction can be applied externally to treat itchy skin. In order to make the soap the whole plant is boiled in water1. The dried root can also be made into a tea to treat upper respiratory infections7

Dosing/Recipes

1)Shampoo (Jekka McVicar’s recipe)- 2 large handfuls of fresh stems that are roughly chopped. Add 3 cups of water. Mix and heat (but do not boil) until it becomes sudsy. Use immediately because it doesn’t keep well in storage5.

2)Shampoo- 2 cups distilled water, 1 ½ tablespoons dried soapwort root (chopped), 2 teaspoons Lemon Verbena or Catnip. Bring water to boil and add soapwort. Cover for about 20 minutes then remove from heat and add the other herbs. Strain and allow to cool6

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions

References Cited

1. Jackson, D., and Bergeron, K. ( 2011). Soapwort. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from             http://www.altnature.com/gallery/soapwort.htm

2. Bouncingbet or Soapwort: Saponaria officionalis. (n.d.). Virginia Tech Weed           Identification Guide. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from     http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/sawof.htm

3. Burrell, C. (2012). Soapwort, Bouncing Bet. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from             http://home.howstuffworks.com/soapwort-bouncing-bet.htm

4. Soapwort. (2012). Better Homes and Gardens. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from             http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/soapwort/

5. Howard, M. (2008). History and Culture of Soapwort. Retrieved March 13, 2012,   from http://melissahoward.suite101.com/history-and-culture-of-soapwort-   ... a55802

6. Natural Soapwort Shampoo Recipe. (n.d.). Easy-homemade-recipes.com.     Retrieved March 13, 2012, from http://www.easy-homemade-           recipes.com/soapwort-shampoo.html

7. Kirchofer, K. (2009). Toxic Plants and the Common Caprine. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/goatlist.html

8. Unterholzner, A. (2009). Soapwort-What is soapwort used for? Retrieved March   13, 2012, from http://herbgardens.about.com/od/ornamentalherbs/p/Soapwort.htm

9. Felter, H., and Lloyd, J. (1898). Saponaria.-Soapwort. Retrieved March 26, 2012     from http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/kings/saponaria.html.

10. USDA. (n.d.). Saponaria officinalis L. bouncing bet. Retrieved March 26, 2012       from             http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=SAOF4&photoID=saof4_002_av p.tif

11. steroid. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 16, 2012 from         http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/565825/steroid