I’ve been thinking about the coolness of having some saponin rich plants which I could use as a body wash and laundry soap. Wouldn’t it be so great to be able to go out into your yard and pick a handful of roots or flowers, and rub them between your palms to wash up? There are quite a few plants that contain enough saponins to produce a nice lather, but I’m going to highlight a few that have particularly caught my eye.
You might remember that I wrote about the Soapberry Tree a while back. Soapberry Trees produce those well knows Soap Nuts that lots of people enjoy washing their laundry with. But trees take a long time to grow to maturity. Planting a nice cluster of small, fast growing soap flowers is a great alternative.
The Amole Lily, also known as the Soap Plant, Soap Lily, or California Soaproot, is an amazingly useful plant.
“Both the Indians and the early pioneers used it as a soap. They stripped the outer coating from the bulb and used the crushed pulp to wash with. It makes an excellent lather. As a shampoo, it leaves the hair soft and silky. Baking destroys the soapy character of the bulbs, making them edible. The spring shoots are very sweet when cooked. The juice from the baking bulbs makes good glue. The large bulbs are covered with a thick, fibrous, coconut-like husk, which was used for brushes by the Indians. Also used as a poison oak remedy. In the past (and still in use in some cultures, notably rainforest tribes) saponin containing plants were used as a fish poison. ”
“The Costanoan, Mendocino, Pomo and Wailiki used soaproot as a gentle wash for the hair that conditioned the scalp and reduced dandruff and lice, as a fish poison, a glue, a (very well cooked) food, a treatment for cramps and rheumatism, an antiseptic rub for treating wounds, infections and sores, and an internal remedy for treating stomachache and gas. ~Horizon Herbs”
These perennials typically grow between 24-36 in tall, and should be spaced 18-24 in apart. They prefer to grow in full sun, in rocky soil or clay. It’s native to California and Oregon, but it will grow anywhere where it doesn’t get below -15*.
Photo at Horizon Herbs
Soapwort or Bouncing Bet is a beautiful flower used in many English gardens. If you soak the whole plant, but particularly the root in warm water, it will produce a gentle, sudsy wash water. You can also boil the plant and roots to produce a nice soapy solution. For a quick wash, rub the leaves or root with water for a reasonable lather. This plant is great for washing delicate items and baby clothing, but it would not be suitable for bathing a baby as the suds will irritate the eyes, and it should not be swallowed.
Grows best in full sun, and well drained soil. Hardy in all zones. Spreads readily.
Yucca (Soaptree)- The trunk and crushed roots of the yucca are exceptionally concentrated with saponins, and make a fine soap or hydrating shampoo. The dried leaves can also be made into baskets, sandals and rope.
Yucca thrives in the Southwest region of the US, in dry climates. It can only tolerate temperatures down to 20*. Requires full sun and fast draining soil. Can grow as tall as 18′.
You can order all of these plants/seeds from Horizon Herbs. Personally, I’ll be ordering the Amole Lily and the Soapwort. I’d like to experiment with them both, and see which I like the best. Unfortunately, Yucca probably wouldn’t grow too well here in the Southeast.
These are just a couple of the plants you can get a lather from. There are many others you can research, if you’re interested in growing saponins.
Have you had a chance to play with getting a soapy lather from any plants? What’s your favorite saponin rich greenery?