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-known 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.
Here are some of the top plants that are high in saponins – as well as some tips for making your own soap with them.
Saponins are a class of naturally-occurring chemicals that have a wide range of effects.
They are glycosides that can be found in a wide variety of plants, including several species of soapwort. When these compounds are mixed with water, they form a soapy lather.
This surfactant action is due to the saponins’ ability to lower the surface tension of water. Saponins are also thought to have some insecticidal and herbicidal activity.
For many years, soapwort was the primary source of saponins for commercial soap production.
However, today, most soapmakers use other plant-derived or synthetic saponins.
When used in this way, the saponin-rich roots or leaves are boiled in water to extract their surfactant properties.
And soapwort isn’t your only option! Below, I’ll detail a few other saponin-rich plants you can use to make your own soap.
Top Plants Highest in Saponins
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.
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.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*.
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.
The trunk and crushed roots of the soapweed yucca or yucca glauca 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.
English Ivy (Hedera helix) is a widely planted evergreen vine that is prized for its dense foliage and ability to climb walls and other structures. However, English Ivy is also high in saponins.
Horse Chestnuts are a type of tree that is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa. The tree produces large, spiky fruits that contain large seeds. These seeds are rich in a compound called saponins, which can be used to make soap.
Horse chestnut soap is thought to be particularly beneficial for people with sensitive skin, as it is gentle and non-irritating. In addition, the saponins in horse chestnut soap may help to kill harmful bacteria and fungi.
Brackens are a type of fern that contains high levels of saponins. To extract the saponins from brackens, the plants are typically soaked in water for several days.
The resulting solution is then boiled and allowed to cool. The saponins will rise to the surface and can be skimmed off and used in soap recipes.
The ragged robin plant (Silene flos-cuculi) is a wildflower that grows in damp meadows and woods across much of Europe. This plant is easily recognizable by its pink flowers, which have five petals that are deeply divided into ragged lobes.
The ragged robin is also known for its high saponin content, making it an ideal plant for soap making.
The campion plant is a flowering plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the pink family and has pink or white flowers.
The plant grows to a height of about two feet and has a short, stalky root system. The leaves are opposite, oblong, and have toothed margins. The stems are hairy and sticky. The flowers have five petals and are borne in clusters. The fruit is a capsule with many seeds.
Best yet, campion plants are incredibly high in saponins!
Soap nut plants are a natural source of saponins, which are a class of compounds that have soap-like properties. For centuries, saponins have been used as a natural alternative to conventional detergents and soaps.
These days, soap nuts are commonly used in eco-friendly laundry detergents and shampoos. However, soap nuts can also be used to make homemade soap.
To do this, simply boil the soap nuts in water to release the saponins, then add the resulting liquid to a base of olive oil or coconut oil. The saponins will act as a surfactant, creating a foamy lather that can be used to cleanse the skin.
Clematis plants are also high in saponins. Clematis saponins are also thought to have some insecticidal properties.
While clematis plants can be found in many parts of the world, they are most commonly associated with Asia.
In traditional Chinese medicine, clematis plants are used to treat a variety of ailments including skin infections and wounds. Clematis plants can be difficult to grow, but once established, they are relatively low maintenance.
When harvesting clematis plants for soap making, it is important to harvest the saponins from the leaves and stems. The flowers of the plant can be used for decoration but do not contain high levels of saponins.
Mountain lilac (Ceanothus velutinus), also known as snowbrush, is a shrub native to the western United States. It grows in mountainous regions from California to Alaska.
The plant has lance-shaped leaves and clusters of white or blue flowers. Mountain lilac saponins are among the highest of all plants tested for soap making.
In addition to being a good cleanser, mountain lilac soap is also thought to have medicinal properties. Some people use it to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Baby’s breath plants (Gypsophila paniculata), often used in bouquets and arrangements, are one source of saponins.
These pretty flowers are native to Europe and Asia, and they have been used medicinally for centuries. The dried flowers can be added to hot water to make a tea, or they can be steeped in cold water overnight and then used in soap-making recipes.
Baby’s breath plants are not the only source of saponins, but they are a good option if you are looking to make your own soap at home.
Wild mock orange plants are a good source of saponins, and they can be used to make a variety of different types of soap. These plants are also a good choice for making glycerin soap, as the saponins help to emulsify the oils and create a rich, creamy lather.
The buffaloberry plant (Shepherdia argentea) is a shrub native to North America. It is closely related to the soapberry tree (Sapindus saponaria), which is also used for soap making.
Buffaloberry plants are high in saponins, which are natural surfactants that can be used to make soap. The berries can be crushed and mixed with water to create a sudsy solution, which can be used for cleaning clothes, dishes, or skin.
In addition to being a good source of saponins, buffaloberry plants are also nitrogen-fixers, meaning they help to improve the quality of the soil.
California Soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) is a common flowering plant in the western United States. The saponins present in the plant’s roots and leaves can be used to make soap.
In fact, this plant was a primary source of soap for Native Americans and early settlers in California. The plants grow best in full sun and well-drained soil.
California Soaproot typically blooms in late spring or early summer. The white flowers are borne on tall stalks and are pollinated by a variety of insects, including bees, butterflies, and moths.
Wild yam plants are a source of saponins, which can be used to make soap.
Wild yam plants have long been used in the soap-making process. In recent years, however, wild yam plants have also been used for other purposes, such as making food and cosmetics. The plant’s saponin content makes it a versatile ingredient with a range of potential uses.
Last but not least, the Soapbush Tree. This is a species of plant that is indigenous to parts of North and South America.
The tree gets its name from the fact that it produces saponins. In fact, saponin was historically used by Native Americans for this purpose.
Today, the Soapbush Tree is still harvested for its saponin content. The tree’s leaves and bark are boiled in water to extract the saponin, which is then used to create natural soap products.
If you’re looking for a sustainable and eco-friendly option for soap-making, consider using saponin from the Soapbush Tree.
To make soap from these plants, the first step is to extract the saponin. This can be done by simmering the plant material in water for several hours. Once the saponin has been extracted, it can be combined with fat and lye to create soap.
When added to hot oils or fats, they react with the oil molecules to create soap. This process is known as saponification.
The exact proportions will vary depending on the type of plant being used, but a typical recipe would call for 1 part saponin to 2 parts fat to 3 parts lye.
Soap made from saponin-rich plants is often gentler on the skin than traditional soap, making it a good choice for people with sensitive skin.
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.
It’s also important to note that other plants are high in saponins, too, including kidney beans, chickpeas, asparagus, alfalfa, soybeans, and more.
However, these don’t tend to be as useful for soap making due to lower quantities and differing properties (though they do offer their own unique health benefits).
Have you had a chance to play with getting a soapy lather from any plants? What’s your favorite saponin rich greenery?
last update: 07/26/2022 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.