Saponins. Plants That Lather: Amole Lily, Soapwort, and Yucca

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*.

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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?

Kendra
About Kendra 1117 Articles
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.

21 Comments

  1. I’ve been experimenting with yucca for a short while now. There are two main types: yucca shidigera (sword like leaves) and yuca (also known as the Joshua tree). They often get confused. The former is rich with saponins and the latter is not. I just wanted to share that here so your readers know what to look for.

  2. I am very interested in learning to make my own shampoo and facial scrubs using all natural ingredients. Could you tell me where i could buy some Soapwort/bouncing bet? Also could you tell me how much it would cost?

  3. Yucca grows in a surprising variety of climates. My mother hated it in rural Indiana because she could not, no matter how carefully she extracted the roots from a garden bed in our yard, get rid of it. She would always miss one little side shoot and it would pop right back up. It was beautiful, though. The winters then (and now) were really harsh – often getting well below zero for several days at a time. As long as the roots are a bit deeper than where the soil freezes, I think they’re able to keep growing. It’s probably still growing there today, and was all over that neighborhood.

  4. Hi Kendra! Life’s been nuts, so this comment is so late! I haven’t been to visit your blog in ages, sorry! I had to tell you, though, do NOT plant yucca. It is extremely invasive and almost impossible to get rid of once it gets out of hand. It is prickly, annoying, and just a major pain. I dug one up to get to the roots to attempt the soap thing…It didn’t work, not even one little bit, and it destroyed my food processor to boot! I’d read several tutorials that all seemed to say the same thing, but all I ended up with was a bunch of grossness. I did manage to make an incredible face wash with Castile soap, though, that you can find here if you would like to give it a shot. I have crazy sensitive skin and it has cleared it up in a way NO store-bought face washes do.
    http://wookiewifey-crafts.blogspot.com/2013/07/soaps-pt-2-facial-cleanser-body-washand.html

  5. i read a lot of excellent information on the internet when i searched, plants that contain saponin.many of them are edible,are antioxidants,reduce cholesterol,inflammation,and are used to make many pharmaceuticals.some of which fight cancer and tumors.as well as psoriasis,internal parasites,candida,the list goes on and on.one site that i was particularly impressed with was “define saponin,dictionary and theosaurus,saponin.askdefine.com so its not just to wash with,saponins are an important part of healthful eating,and living.i am thankful for . the information that you shared about where to buy soap lily and soapwart seeds and plants.i have already ordered them,and am very anxious for them to arrive.happy healthing.

  6. Well I’m so excited. I thought I’d better double to be certain that the yucca’s mentioned here are the same ones that we have growing. Indeed, they are. I am amazed to think that we had such a wonderful natural resources right here – and have even dug them up and transplanted them for my parents in East TN where they are thriving. The flowering portion grew to over 12 feet tall this past summer. Thank you, again, so much sharing.

  7. Why thank you! We have an abundance of yucca’s right growing in West Tennessee as well. Looking forward to giving this a try.

  8. Just thought I’d let you know that yucca can be more temperature tolerant than you might think. I thought it was a strange landscaping choice when we found it growing on our new farm a few years ago, but it seems to do just fine. And we’re in southwest Michigan! I’ll have to try out some of it’s soapy uses – thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. I’ve grown soapwort (Saponaria Ocymoides) off and on over the years and love it. It’s really beautiful, and a great addition to tumble over a rock wall. It’s easy to find and easy to grow.

    It can reseed easily, but I didn’t have much issue with it spreading a lot. It was a bit more tender than the resources lead you to believe. It lasted well for a few years then died out. Just a heads up on the possibility that it can be a bit tender with more severe conditions.

    Some sources list the seeds as poisonous, FYI. Never was an issue at our house.

  10. I have a soapnut tree that I planted from a seed and its about 3 years old. Its about 10 feet high. Its a beautiful plant. Unfortunately, I was told I will have to wait about 5 years for the soapnut to use in my laundry

  11. Oh my goodness, when i think of how ugly yucca plants are and yet how they thrive in my region, i will most definitely reconsider putting them in my back yard. Any thoughts on how best to treat them (boiling, etc) to make use of their saponins?

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