Soapwort is a beautiful and fragrant perennial that has high levels of saponins. Saponins are mild cleansing agents. Within the plant, these saponins protect it from all the pests and diseases, and Soapwort grows, worry-free, like a carpet across the ground and rocks. What some gardeners consider an intrusive nuisance has historically proven to be a very handy plant; and it is just as valuable today.
A Gentle Natural Soap
Soapwort originated in Europe and the Middle East and was used primarily as a gentle natural soap. Back when textile production was in its infancy and there was hands-on work with shearing and processing wool, the mild soap from Soapwort was used to gently clean the wool and the finished fabrics. In general, soapwort was one of the first soap sources for people who lived on the land.
Cleansing the Skin and Hair
In addition to cleaning fabrics, the gentle cleansers in Soapwort were found worthy and helpful for safely cleansing the skin and hair. Cases of skin ailments, such as acne, psoriasis and eczema, were successfully treated with these soaps as well.
The Potent Soapwort Root
All parts of the plant were employed for these services, including the potent soapwort root – which has the highest concentrations of saponins in the plant, the stem and the leaves. Bruising the leaves activates the surfactants and releases the saponins. Older recipes call for boiling the plant parts for around 25 minutes and then straining the soap off. However, there are some more modern recipes that advise to only heat them, so as not to destroy the active ingredients.
Do NOT Ingest
Due to the high concentrations of saponins in the root, it is considered mildly poisonous and is not to be ingested. Ingesting the root can destroy red blood cells. These poisons were skillfully used as arrow poisons by Europeans and Native Americans alike. Still, the plant parts found above ground were used to treat gout, rheumatism and arthritic pain.
Safe Alternative to Harmful Chemical Soaps
Soapwart is a wonderful discovery for those of us in search of safe alternatives to the harmful chemical soaps, shampoos and cleaning products that saturate the market. In these health conscious times, here is a gentle cleanser we can use for our fabrics (including baby diapers), as natural shampoo (with our favorite herbs added in), and for safe skin care.
Skin ailments are so prevalent today; so, to have a gentle cleanser that has inherent healing properties is a perfect accompaniment to our efforts to cleanse internally and provide the needed nutrients for healing. Soapwort’s saponins are steroidal, antibacterial and antimicrobial. Soapwort extracts are even used to treat Poison Ivy.
A Daily Aromatherapy Fix
For the small price of a small thriving garden, we can grow carpets of beautiful shades of pink and white delicate flowers that provide a potent fragrance – our daily aromatherapy fix – that are always accessible to just pick and boil up for shampoo or soap. This is an ecologically and economically sound alternative we can enjoy.
Andrea Phillips writes on an array of topics like Health and Nutrition, Organic Agriculture, and Relationships, to name a few. She has also written for a publishing company in Washington, DC, and an organic agricultural newsletter in Israel.