Natural Surfactants - Soapwort
|One wouldn't think it possible to wash anything with a plant.|
In the last installment on natural surfactants I discussed a bit about how plants can have the built-in ability to cleanse – because of their saponin content. Today, I'll discuss a saponin-rich herb that I have worked with for many years, and although it isn't a star ingredient in any one product I do, I would be hard pressed to bid it farewell.
About the Name(s)This herb (INCI: Saponaria officinalis) has an impressive list of common names. I normally refer to it as Soapwort, but you can choose your favorite from any of the names on this list. They all refer to the same plant:
Wild Sweet William
Old Maids’ Pink
There may actually be more – this is what I found on a quick search of the INCI name. The Officinalis part of the INCI name means this herb has a history of medicinal use. Soapworts' saponin content is concentrated in its roots, measuring in at levels of up to 20%, placing it among the more saponin rich plants.
Medicinal Uses Throughout History
External use: Soapwort has been used throughout history for treatment of skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and boils, where a decoction* was applied to relieve itching. American settlers used the same decoction as a wash to soothe rashes from exposure to poison ivy. An old gypsy remedy consisted of applying a soaproot-soaked poultice to a bruised area or black eye to reduce disoloration. (I've never tried this, but it would be an interesting experiment).
And it'll Even Do Your Face, Hair and LaundrySoapwort is both a gentle and powerful cleanser. It doesn't take a very strong concentration to function as an effective shampoo, face cleanser or even laundry detergent. For laundry, soapwort is particularly suitable for delicates. Even today, soapwort decoction is used by textile restorers to cleanse and revitalize fragile fabrics. Soapwort is also (still) cultivated and used in the Middle East for washing woolens.
Soapwort for Skin Care in This CenturyThe first few years I worked with soapwort, I experimented quite a bit with the decoctions, trying out different concentrations, boiling times, filtering methods and preservatives. My goal was to create the perfect addition to a face cleanser.
Soapwort produces a light brown liquid and smells quite pleasant in a 'down-home, old-fashioned' kind of way. The best way I can describe the scent is as 'a mixture of wood and unperfumed soap'. Although it's quite appealing and smells, well.... clean, the soapwort scent is dominant enough to have to be 'worked with' in a mix.
Even though it is not a key ingredient in any of the products I do, it is nonetheless noticable when missing. I have tried replacing it with floral water a couple of times – just to see if I could 'slim down the work process' of doing a cleanser, but I always go back to including it.
*Boiling dried soapwort root in demineralized water for 15-20 minutes will produce a decoction.