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Soapwort

Scientific Name(S): Saponaria officinalis L. Family: Caryophyllaceae

Common Name(S): Bruisewort, Bouncing Bet, Dog Cloves, Fuller's Herb, Latherwort, Lady's-Washbowl, Old-Maid's-Pink

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is a common perennial plant from the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae). Other common names are Bouncing Bet and Sweet William.

Botany

Common to pastures and roadsides from coast to coast, soapwort is a perennial herbaceous plant growing to a height of 1 to 2 feet, with a single smooth stem and lanceolate leaves. Its five-petaled flowers appear during late July through September in the form of fragrant clusters varying from white to pale lavender in color.

Uses

Soapwort is generally used to make "natural" soaps and in brightening and cleaning delicate fabrics.

Side Effects

Soapwort adverse effects are usually experienced only it taken internally, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. Soapwort is purgative and mildly poisonous in large doses, and should only be used as prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Long-term use may cause gastric irritation.

Dosage

Soapwort is taken orally. The usual daily dosages are:

Gypsophila: 1.5 grams
Rubra: 30 to 150 milligrams

History

Soapwort was originally native to northern Europe and was introduced to England during the Middle Ages by Franciscan and Dominican monks who brought it as "a gift of God intended to keep them clean." By the end of the 16th century the herb had become widespread in England, where it was used as a soap for cleansing dishes and laundry. John Gerard's Herbal (1597) recommended it as a topical disinfectant for "green wounds" and ''filthy diseases." Soapwort also has been administered topically for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, eczema and boils. An extract of the roots is still a popular remedy for poison ivy. While an exact time of its arrival in North America cannot be established, there is little doubt that the Puritans brought it with them to the New World. Once established, the herb spread and can now be found wild throughout the United States and southern Canada. The herb was used extensively in the early textile industry as a cleaning and sizing agent. This process, known as fulling, accounts for the name "Fuller's Herb." Another use for the product was found by the Pennsylvania Dutch who used it to impart a foamy head to the beer they brewed. To this day some beer makers use saponins, a component of the plant, to provide and maintain that foamy head.

Chemistry

Soapwort contains a natural source of water-soluble steroidal saponins, which allow it to form a soaplike lather. These active principles are found in at parts of the plant and act as surface active agents to facilitate cleaning.

Summary

While once used internally as a diuretic laxative, and expectorant, soapwort lacks these pharmacological actions once attributed to it by herbalists or pharmacologists. Its chief use today is as a source of natural saponins to be used in making "natural" soaps ana shampoos. These soaps are extracted from the rhizomes and leaves of the plant and find their chief use in brightening and cleaning delicate fabrics.


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