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Soapwort

Saponaria officinalis 

Other Names: Soaproot, Bouncing Bet, Latherwort, Fuller’s Herb, Bruisewort, Crow Soap, Sweet Betty

Soapwort Herb Use and Medicinal Properties  

Soapwort root has been used as an alternative medicine since the time of Dioscorides. It is medicinal as an alterative, antiscrophulatic, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, mildly diuretic, expectorant, purgative and tonic. A decoction of the herb is applied externally to treat itchy skin. One of the saponins in this plant is proving of interest in the treatment of cancer.

A soap can be obtained by boiling the whole plant (but especially the root) in water. It is a gentle effective cleaner, used on delicate fabrics that can be harmed by synthetic soaps. The best soap is obtained by infusing the plant in warm water. Soapwort is sometimes recommended as a hair shampoo, though it can cause eye irritations.

Caution is advised, when taken in excess, this plant is POISONOUS, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor center.

Soapwort Plant Description

The fragrant flowers have five white to pinkish or red showy petals, each notched and refluxed, about an inch in diameter and are borne in large clusters in the axils of leaves and at the tip of the stems. Flowers bloom from June to October. The leaves are opposite, sessile, slightly hairy, simple and entire, the stem is smooth and swollen at the joints. It forms colonies from underground rhizomes.

Soapwort Native Habitat    

Soapwort is a perennial European native herb which has become thoroughly naturalized in the United States. Found growing in moist ditches, along roadsides, waste places, near old home sites, in meadows, and as a planted ornamental.

How to Grow Soapwort

Propagate Soapwort with seeds or by division done in early spring. Soapwort spreads vigorously it has many attractive and aromatic flowers and can be used as a ground cover. Succeeds in any moderately fertile well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Prefers a neutral to alkaline soil. The root is harvested in the spring and can be dried for later herb use. Use flowers and leaves fresh as body soap.

Soapwort Pictures Copyright Karen Bergeron 2006

Article by Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron

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