Soapwort - It's Good Clean Fun!
SOAPWORT - Saponaria officinalis
FOLK/COMMON NAMES: Bouncing Bet, Bruisewort, Crow Soap, Dog Cloves, Fuller’s Herb, Latherwort, Old Maid’s Pink, Soap Root, Sweet Betty, Wild Sweet William
PARTS USED: Historically, the root and leaf have been used; currently, only the root is used.
Soapwort is aptly named for the ability of the crushed root and stems to produce suds and lather when rubbed in water, a discovery quite clearly made several hundred years ago by cultures across Europe. The common appellation of ‘Bouncing Bet’ is derived from an old country term for washerwoman. Soapwort was a staple in textile making from the earliest days of the trade, used to wash the wool and yarns before processing and dyeing.
Even in the home, Soapwort was a mainstay in garden beds and was used in all aspects of cleaning, from linens and clothing to the house itself to the people within! The lather (and most likely, antibacterial qualities) made Soapwort a natural shampoo and bathing lotion as well.
Some references state that Soapwort was once used - by the Pennsylvania Dutch in particular - to create the frothy head on beer...I’m sure the suds were impressive, but I can’t help but wonder what cut the soapy taste!
Cautions: While there are no known serious risks associated with Soapwort in small doses, it can cause irritation to the stomach and mucous membranes and even become mildly toxic at high intake levels. Most people have no trouble with Soapwort at customary usage levels, but it is STRONGLY urged that any internal use of Soapwort be under the supervision of a professional homeopathic practitioner.
M. Grieve in A Modern Herbal lists Soapwort as a common treatment for jaundice, itching, as a cure for venereal complaints and syphilis, as well as being "a valuable remedy for rheumatism", while the root was recommended for these as well as "liver affectations". While the use of Soapwort as in internal medicine today are not as widely recommended, studies show that Soapwort does have antibacterial qualities as well as expectorant properties, thus Soapwort is sometimes prescribed by Herbalists for treatment of Upper Respiratory Inflammation, Cough, Bronchitis and as a treatment - some would say cure - for Colds.
Externally, juice from the leaves or the root can be used to combat eczema, acne, and other persistent skin problems. (The leaf can cause irritation to those with sensitive skin; test a small area before applying to the entire affected area.)
AROUND THE HOUSE
Soapwort can be used as a mild detergent for fine fabrics or upholstery and is especially effective as a mild cleanser for old or antique fabrics, including rugs and tapestries.
Try this Soapwort Fabric Shampoo:
½ ounce (15g) dried Soapwort root, or
2 large handfuls of fresh Soapwort stems
1 ½ pints (3/4 l) of water
If you are using dried root, soak it overnight. Crush the roots with a rolling pin, or chop the fresh stems into 1' pieces or smaller. Place in water in an enamel pan, bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to stand until cool, then strain.
For upholstery, lightly dampen a sponge or soft brush with the cooled solution, rub lightly and allow to dry. Apply again if necessary.
For fragile or delicate fabrics, allow the piece to soak in cool water until thoroughly moistened, then soak in the cool Soapwort solution, and rinse again in cool fresh water.
Note: Always test on a small piece of fabric first. Consider using distilled or Spring water if you live in hard water areas.
GARDENING WITH SOAPWORT
Soapwort is one of my favorite plants in my own garden and looks lovely in any naturalized setting, where it will thrive in full sun to light shade. The blooms are clustered and showy on erect stems that reach up to 2 feet tall and range from white to purple, depending on variety. Soapwort flowers consistently from early Summer through Fall and self-sows readily in almost any soil.
PLANET: Jupiter, Venus
Soapwort is a useful herb in workings of cleansing, healing and protection.
At the time of this article, I have not found many specific magical applications for Soapwort. If you know of any, please join in the Discussion and share!
Consider adding Soapwort to your list of "required" herbs in your herbal collection. It’s a beautiful spot in the garden, a handy non-chemical helper around the house, and an excellent addition to the medicinal herb cabinet. You could say that Soapwort is, quite simply, good clean fun!