this makes sense

Soapwort recipes

Posted in Uncategorized by thismakessense on July 23, 2009

In these days of bewildering choice when it comes to soap, why would anyone want to grow the herbal alternative, soapwort? Well, if you have sensitive skin and find most soaps too drying (and those you can use too expensive) soapwort may be the perfect choice. It is certainly the best choice for the environment – clean, green soapwort comes from nature and can be returned to nature when you are done with it. It has no harsh chemicals or environmentally destructive additives. It’s also very easy to grow. Saponaria Officinalis tolerates both drought and poor soil, and a little healthy neglect. Soapwort contains saponins, which create the soap like cleaning action. Soapwort is not recommended for internal use, but the many ways it can be used externally make it a very useful herb in your garden. The simplest way to use soapwort is to boil the leaves and stalks in water, and strain. You will need about a cup of fresh soapwort leaves (half a cup of dried) to a pint of water. The resulting liquid is a valuable wash for expensive fabrics. Just steep your precious real wool or silk articles in the soapwort liquid and wash gently. You will find this simple herbal soap alternative invaluable if you need to clean delicate old fabrics or embroideries. It has been used this way for centuries and is still used today for fragile, priceless fabrics such as the Turin Shroud. You will find that soapwort really does foam even in this simple recipe, but if you want a more commercial look to your home made soapwort products, you can purchase a special pump bottle from herbal suppliers (called foamy or foamer bottles) which will pump us a rich thick foam for you. You may prefer to use soapwort shampoo this way, although using the basic boiled liquid will get your hair just as clean. For shampoo you will need to boil your soapwort leaves in distilled water. Cool the boiled liquid and strain well. Add a few drops of citrus, rose or lavender oil for fragrance, and bottle. If you want to make up enough shampoo and cleansers to store longer than a week, you will need to add some bacteria inhibitor like Germall Plus to your recipes. Use the shampoo as you would a commercial variety, massaging it into your hair and rinsing out. If you have fair hair, use chamomile tea for a rinse, if you have dark hair, use sage or rosemary. Your soapwort liquid can be used for the face and bath as well, with the addition of aromatic essential oils in your favorite fragrances. Using soapwort has other benefits besides cleanliness – as a medicinal herb, it can help heal acne and skin rashes and soothe sensitive skin. Around the home, soapwort makes an efficient cleaner for floors, paintwork and fabrics. Try adding lavender or peppermint oils and you can use the liquid to clean pet baskets, kennels and hutches, discouraging fleas at the same time. You can also use it to wash your pets, and it will not irritate their skin as commercial pet shampoo often does. Soapwort is clean, green and good for you, your pets and the environment. Why not try it!

Soapwort is an easy to grow herb that contains beneficial saponins which make a gentle and effective cleansing agent as clearly indicated by its early usage for laundry and its continued usage as a natural source for shampoo.

History of the Herb

Soapwort originally comes from Europe and the Middle East where its cleansing attributes have been utilized for centuries. The Latin name for soapwort is Saponaria officionalis, the Latin name saponaria is from the Latin word for soap.

All parts of the plant can be used for making a soap-like decoction: however, the roots have the highest concentration of saponin. The Syrians used it for washing wool products while the Swiss used it to bathe their sheep before shearing. Medieval fullers would use soapwort during the finishing process for cloth.

The effectiveness of soapwort for fabrics was recognized by the National Trust in Britain who for decades continued to use soapwort to clean delicate tapestries and linens because most modern detergents were too harsh.

Common Names

Saponaria officionalis has a long list of common names including bouncing bet, bruisewort, farewell summer, fuller’s herb, joe run by the street, hedge pink, dog’s clove, old maid’s pink, soaproot, and of course, soapwort.


The name “fuller’s herb” obviously recalls the Medieval fullers who used it while finishing cloth.

The name “bouncing bet” refers to the washerwoman’s attributes being bounced around while the soapwort’s cleansing properties were applied to clothing.


Soapwort is an extremely hardy perennial herb that can be invasive. It spreads through the creeping efforts of the rhizomatous rootstock. It can reach 2-3 feet tall and has bright-green, oval leaves which are surmounted by clusters of petite pink flowers.


It prefers a sunny location and rich soil.

Some herbalists recommend planting it in poor soil to hinder the ‘undisciplined habit’ of the plant which causes it to become invasive (McVicar178).

Soapwort is disease and pest free.


Root division is the preferred method for propagation although it can be grown from seed as well.

Medicinal Uses

In the past, it was used as a medicinal herb for treating gout, rheumatism, eczema, cold sores, boils, and acne.

Warning: It should not be taken internally. The high saponin content makes it mildly poisonous and it can destroy red blood cells when taken in large quantities.

Cosmetic Uses

Shampoos can be made by crushing the plant and soaking in hot water to create a mild decoction. Jekka McVicar’s recipe calls for 2 large handfuls of fresh stems roughly chopped and 3 cups of water. Combine the soapwort and water and heat until sudsy. She recommends not boiling the plant as the heat decomposes the active ingredients. However other recipes recommend boiling it. (McVicar 178). It must be used immediately as it doesn’t store well.


Use to clean delicate fabrics.


Houdret, Jessica. PracticalHerbGarden Hermes House, 2002.

McVicar, Jekka. The Complete Herb Book. Kyle Cathie Limited, 1994.

This article reports the common medicinal uses of the herb known as soapwort. Any herbal remedies attempted by the reader are done so at his or her own risk.

The copyright of the article History and Culture of Soapwort in Plants & Bulbs is owned by Melissa Howard. Permission to republish History and Culture of Soapwort in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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