The soapwort is a perpetual plant, which is also popularly known as the bouncing bet in America. It also has several folk names like the latherwort that are derived from the herb's distinguished feature to produce lather like the soaps. The herb has rich content of saponins that are nature's cleansing agents and hence it is widely used to get the body rid of toxins.
The soapwort herb usually has a single straight stem grows up to a height of two feet or higher. Normally, the plant grows in bunched and has oval shaped leaves that grow opposite to each other on the stem. The leaves are pointed at the end, but the borders are even and smooth. Between the period July and September, the plant bears flowers that have five petals. The colors of the soapwort flowers vary from whitish pink to rose and are approximately one inch in width. The soapwort flowers grow in bunches at the pinnacle of the stems.
The early European settlers in America brought soapwort from their native land and used the herb to wash virtually everything ranging from fine fabric like handmade lace to utensils made from tin or alloys. Employees of the New England textile used the soapwort for cleaning as well as thickening freshly woven cloth in a method that was known as ‘fulling'. Owing to this practice, the plant is also known as the fuller's herb. On the other hand, the lather of soapwort was used by the Pennsylvania Dutch to add a foamy head to beer. In addition, the soapwort was cultivated commercially for its saponin content and the practice continues to this day.
Apart from the utilities of soapwort mentioned above, the herb is also effective in curing several disorders and has a long therapeutic history. While the herb is taken internally for its diuretic, laxative and expectorant properties, externally it is used to cure skin problems like psoriasis, eczema, acne and even boils. Decoction prepared with the herb's roots or its extract is a common and widely used as a medication to cure poison ivy or itching rashes caused by any vine. This home therapy is perhaps popular as the application of the herb cleans the skin comprehensively.
Root, aerial parts.
Although soapwort has multiple therapeutic benefits, it is primarily taken internally as an expectorant or a remedy for coughs. It is believed that the herb's function as a potent irritant in the alimentary canal or gut invigorates the cough reaction and induces the secretion of more liquid mucus inside the respiratory tract. As a result of this property of soapwort, the herbal medical practitioners recommend the use of the aromatic plant to cure bronchitis, coughs and even some conditions of asthma (a respiratory disease caused by allergies). The herb has other therapeutic advantages too and is used to treat rheumatic and arthritic pain. Decoctions prepared with the roots of the herb are effective in treating skin conditions such as eczema and itchiness. Even infusions prepared with the soapwort parts above the ground helps in washing the skin and bringing relief from irritations.
The entire soapwort plant, barring the root, possesses alternative, gentle diuretic, diaphoretic, chalogogue, antiscrophulatic, and depurative, expectorant, tonic, laxative as well as sternutatory properties. A decoction prepared using the entire plant may be applied topically for treating skin itchiness. In addition, it has been proved that soapwort is effective for treating jaundice as well as other different visceral obstructions. However, in contemporary herbal medicine, this plant is seldom used internally because it causes irritation to the digestive system.
Excessive use of soapwort not only devastates the red blood cells (erythrocytes), but also paralyzes the vasomotor center. The root of soapwort is unearthed during spring and may be dried up and stored for future use. One saponin present in the soapwort plant has generated a lot of interest in cancer treatment - in laboratory tests (in vitro) it has been found that this saponin is cytotoxic to a form of cancer called Walker Carcinoma. Soapwort has been granted the German Commission E Monograph, a remedial guide to herbal remedies, indication for bronchitis and coughs.
Boiling the soapwort plant in water, particularly the root, yields a type of soap, which is a mild cleaner that is especially used to clean delicate fabrics which may be damaged when they are washed with the present-day synthetic soaps. It is worth mentioning here that this soap has been utilized to cleanse the Bayeaux tapestry. Use of this herbal soap brings a shine to the fabrics. The best quality soap can be obtained when you infuse the soapwort plant in tepid water. The roots of this plant may be dried up and stored for use afterward. Occasionally, herbalists prescribe the use of soapwort in the form of a hair shampoo. However, using this plant as a shampoo may cause irritation to the eyes. As the soapwort plant spreads very rapidly, it may be utilized in the form of a ground cover. For this use, the soapwort needs to be planted at a distance of one meter from one another.
Habitat and cultivation
The soapwort is indigenous to the temperate clime zones in Europe, Asia and North America. The plant grows and flourishes in the open forested regions as well as the sides of the railway tracks. Normally, the soapwort is extensively grown as a garden herb. While the flowers of soapwort are collected in summer, the roots of the herb are dug out in autumn.
Soapwort has the ability to thrive in any soil that is reasonable fertile and has a proper drainage. In addition, this plant can succeed in complete sunlight as well as partial shade. Soapwort has a preference for a soil pH that ranges between neutral and alkaline and can withstand temperatures as low as -20°C. Soapwort is an extremely ornamental plant that is occasionally cultivated in an herb garden, and at times grown for soap that is obtained from the plant’s roots. A number of named varieties of soapwort exist, some of them bearing double flowers, and are preferred for their ornamental worth. In fact, soapwort plants may turn out to be extremely invasive when cultivated in favourable conditions.
It is important to note that you should never grow soapwort close to any pond having amphibian life or fishes, because these plants may lead to poisoning if they go into the water. Flowers of soapwort have a light fragrance - a sweet aroma which reminds one of clove. While it is an excellent moth plant, soapwort has the ability to hybridize easily with other plants belonging to the same genus.
Generally, soapwort is propagated by its seeds, which are ideally kept in cold stratification for a brief period. It is best to sow the seeds in a cold frame either during autumn or in the latter part of winter. In normal circumstances, the seeds germinate in four weeks. When the seedling have grown sufficiently large to be handled, prick them and plant them in separate containers/ pots during the early part of summer.
Soapwort can also be propagated by means of root division undertaken either during spring or in autumn. Propagating soapwort through root division is very simple and it can be done successfully any time during the growing season of the plant, provided it is kept wet till the time it re-establishes itself. If the root divisions are comparatively large, you may plant them directly into their permanent positions outdoors. It has been found that the smaller root divisions grow excellently when they are planted in a cold frame and grown in a place having some shade. Transplant these seedlings in the ensuing summer when they have established themselves properly.
The soapwort may be taken in various forms - both as a decoction and also as tincture.
Side effects and cautions
The soapwort plant encloses saponins. Notwithstanding the fact that saponins are toxic, our body does not absorb them in large amounts and they are excreted without resulting in any harm to us. In addition, saponins disintegrate when they are cooked. Several plants, counting many that are used in the form of foods - for instance, beans, contain saponins. Hence, consuming foods containing saponins in excess is not recommended. Although saponins do not cause much harm to humans, they are much more toxic to a number of creatures like fish. It may be mentioned that many tribes that survive by hunting have traditionally added large amounts of saponins in lakes and streams with a view to stagger or kill fish. It is advisable that you should never use soapwort for over two weeks. In addition, this plant should be avoided by pregnant women.
Collection and harvesting
The root as well as the tuber or bulb of soapwort is of high therapeutic value and it is advisable that they be dug out between September and October and dehydrated in the sun for future use. The leaves of the herb are also of medicinal use and they are gathered between July and August.