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, we're looking at a saponin-rich herb 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:
  • Bouncing Bet
  • Sweet Betty
  • Wild Sweet William
  • Dog Cloves
  • Old Maids’ Pink
  • Fuller’s Herb
  • Fuller’s Grass
  • Foam Dock
  • Gill-Run-By-The-Street Saponary
  • Lady-By-The-Gate
  • Crow Soap
  • Hedge Pink
  • Farewell Summer
  • Soap Root
  • Latherwort
  • Bruisewort
  • Soapwort

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).

Internal use 

Soapworts anti-inflammatory properties made it a popular tea for ailments such as gout and rheumatism. The root was believed to 'encourage bile flow', reducing pains in connection with gallstones. Even today, dried soapwort leaves are sold in a nationwide drug store chain in Denmark as an herbal tea to aid digestion (complete with warning not to exceed 3 cups a day).

And it'll Even Do Your Face, Hair and Laundry

Soapwort 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 Century

The first few years I worked with soapwort, I experimented quite a bit with 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.

More About Soapwort

Wikipedia on Soapwort
Overview of articles on Science Direct
Where it grows in the USA
Phytocehmical analysis of Soapwort by NCBI


Anette said…
Du gør os altid klogere, Lise. 1000 tak.
LisaLise said…
Du er noget så velkommen Anette! :)