Soapwort, botanically known as saponaria officinalis, is a herbaceous, perennial, flowering plant that is easy to grow and is rarely fussy of soils. It is a hardy plant and withstands diseases and harsh weather quite well. As a result, it proliferates aggressively and can form dense colonies crowding out other plants.
[Note: The Right Flowers is not a medical site. Knowledge of and information about the therapeutic benefits and applications of flowers, while known through the ages, does not constitute medical advice. If you are having health issues, you should consult with a physician.]
The plant was initially brought to the US from Europe for horticultural uses but due to its aggressive nature, it escaped from gardens, which explains why the herb is now found growing in the wild along stream banks, gravel bars and along roadsides.
Soapwort is a member of the pink family and easy to identify due to its dense foliage and large, pink blossoms. One of the distinctive ways of identifying the plant is by looking out for the pair of claws at the base of the flower petals.
Soapwort gots its name from the soap-like characteristics of the juice in its flower stalks. The juice is known to have high saponin content which, when mixed with water, produces a soapy lather that laundry women in ancient civilizations used to wash clothes. To date, the plant is known to be one of the best natural sources of saponins in the world.
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Ancient records show that soapwort has been used as a cleaning agent for more than 12,000 years, meaning that its use dates as far back as the Stone Age. During this period, people would simply crush the aerial parts of the plant growing along stream banks and use the poultice as a washing agent.
When soapwort roots, stalks, leaves and flowers are crushed and mixed with water, they make a herbal bath additive. If you allow the mixture to steep in hot water, you get an enhanced bath additive which gives bath water a soapy feel that gives your skin a smooth, clean feel. Apart from being used for washing and bathing, the herb is also great for conditioning the hair and skin.
Today, soapwort’s leaves, roots, and flowers are still used to make herbal soaps and provide foam for beverages such as the Turkish lokum. Apart from the above purposes, the plant is used as a herbal remedy for various conditions including respiratory conditions such as coughs, congestion, and bronchitis. While its mechanism of action is not yet known, it is held that the herb has mucolytic compounds. These are compounds that help in thinning mucus, which make it easier to cough up and eliminate from the body.
Unlike most herbs that were highly esteemed in ancient days for culinary or herbal uses but waned with the advent of new rivals, soapwort has never lost ground as it is still a great source of saponins.