Soap wort is native to Europe and the Middle East where its cleansing attributes have been utilized for centuries.The Latin name Saponaria means soap and refers to the content of saponines, which in connection to water lathers and achieves some cleansing properties. Other names are Bouncing Bet, Latherwort, Fuller's Herb, Sweet Betty. The name Bouncing Bet refers to the washerwoman's attributes being bounced around while the soapwort's cleansing properties were applied to clothing. Its aromatic light pink star-shaped flowers remind about carnations. In Denmark the plant is feral from klostergardens and hospitals and grows by villages and ditches near cities. All parts of the plant can be used for making a soap like decoction but the roots have the highest concentration of saponine.
Medicine and Soap:
The plant was used in the tratment of abdomunal diseases if the mercury treatment failed,decoction was used to wash itchy skin and to drink to treat breathing difficulties.In the Middle Ages the plant was used to calm down buzzing on the ears and chest pain. The plant is also known for killing toxines in the liver.
The crushed leaves of soapwort officinalis have been used as a soap since the Renaissance. The medieval fullers would use soapwort during the finishing process for cloth. The Syrians used it for washing wool products, while the Swiss used it to bathe their sheep before shearing. The early American settlers used it as a wash to counter poison ivy rash.
The soap wort was once considered a gift of God to the humans.
Today soapwort is used as a cleansing means for delicate linen and silken. Museum conservators still use the soap made from its leaves and roots for claning the delicate fabrics - and it also makes a fine shampoo, which is recommended, thoughh it might irritate the eyes. Soapwort officinalis is also used in the food industry , especially in the making of halva, a sweet made using tahini and sugar and honey.
Warning. Caution is advisable. Soap wort should not be taken internally. The high saponine content makes it mildly poisonous, and it can destroy the red blood cells.
Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001.
photo Bølling sø 2008: grethe bachmann