Plant Description: Grows to about 75cm high and has a sprawling habit. It has branching, jointed stems and mid to dark green, opposite, lanced-shaped leaves. The leaves have a distinctive vein on either side of the midrib. It has pale pink, five-petalled flowers in terminal clusters.
Folk Names: Bouncing Bet, Bruisewort, My Lady?s Washbowl, Soaproot,
Latherwort, Fullers Herb and many more.
In the middle ages, Soapwort was used to full wool. (Fulling was a way to increase the weight of wool by shrinking and beating.) It was called ?Fullers Herb? because of this.
During the 15th century, liquid soap was a fairly important commodity. While some product may have been made by dissolving castile soap in rose water, it is not impossible that liquid Soapwort was also traded. The tax on castile soap was very expensive and lye soap was not used, so Soapwort was the only alternative for many people.
Thomas Johnson added in the 1633 edition of Gerard?s ?The Herbal? that decoctions of Soapwort were used in the treatment of syphilis, articularly amongst the poor who couldn?t afford mercury. He also noted, ?Some have commended it to be very good ? applied to greene wounds, to hinder inflammation, and speedily to heale them?.
Culpepper?s ?Complete Herbal?
(1653) states that it was used to wash greasy spots out of clothes and that a decoction of it applied externally cured the itch and that the Germans made use of it to cure veneral disease like virulent gonorrhoea. Mrs Grieve in ?A Modern Herbal? (1931) recommends using Soapwort for veneral disease particularly where mercury has failed.
When the plant was taken to America by early settlers it was used in soaps, balm and sheepdip. It was used to wash everything from pottery to fabrics to hair. The native Indians used it in a poultice for spleen pain and as a hair tonic.
For many years Soapwort was added to beer to produce a foamy head. The constituent saponin is now produced commercially to add to this beverage. John Palaisal in his book ?Grandmother?s Secrets? says Soapwort is a plant that cleanses everything from linen (with which it is boiled in place of soap); woolen materials before dyeing; fabrics of delicate colour; to the human body, where there is distension with an accumulation of toxins that seek a way out through the skin. It is a homeopathic remedy used in the treatment of skin complaints. Arabic doctors similarly prescribe it for scabbing ulcers and leprosy.
Today, textile restorers and museum conservators use Soapwort to restore fragile items such as old tapestries and paintings. Thanks to the absence of harsh chemicals, the plant is prized as a benign cleanser.
Soapwort is also gaining recognition as a gentle, safe shampoo and body wash. It appears as an ingredient in some of the more expensive commercial toiletry products. With the public becoming more informed and concerned about what goes into their personal care products, Soapwort is again taking its place as part of our everyday lives.
Saponins: Saponins are natural detergents found in quite a few plants, including Soapwort. Detergents are water soluble substances that are different to soap. They can mix with both water and oil at the same time, hence their cleansing ability. The name ?saponin? comes from the soapwort plant (Saponaria). Studies show that saponins are the plant?s immune system.
They have long been known to have a strong biological activity.
The common uses of saponins today are mainly in cough remedies and diuretics. They are also used in toothpaste, gargles, shampoo, cosmetics and as foaming agents in soft drinks and beer. Saponins are used industrially in fire extinguishers as a foam producer, in photographic emulsions and in the mining industry.
Saponins are presently being studied in over 100 universities in 14 countries. They are showing promise medically for such diverse benefits as lowering cholesterol levels and fighting cancer.
Soapwort is a mild cleansing agent and is commonly used in shampoo. It is quite gentle for use on inflamed scalps and fragile hair.
As soapwort only produces a very mild lather, it needs help from other surfactants to help it foam, especially if the shampoo is being made up rather than using a base and adding oils and extracts to it.
Soapwort can be added to commercial shampoos or a shampoo base like the one New Directions has formulated in our toiletry base range. Use only 5% soapwort so the integrity is not compromised.
If making up a shampoo from scratch, try substituting 10-15% of the water needed for soapwort extract.
Here is a basic formula that is popularly used in the DIY workshop that is offered at our New Directions Institute:
15% soapwort extract
1.5% xantham gum
2% hydrolysed Soya protein
1% essential oil of choice
3% herbal extract of choice
Approximately 1.5% preservative depending on which one is used
Make up to 100% with a mix of water, floral water or herbal infusion
Mix the xantham gum in the water, when fully dissolved and thickened; gently blend in by hand the soapwort, cocobetaine and polyglucose.
It is important to be gentle so as not to create too much foam.
When fully blended add in the other ingredients and blend thoroughly.
The shampoo is now ready for use.
Choose your favourite bottle and preferred cap from our extensive range and enjoy.
Please note that guar gum is not suited for use with soapwort as it separates.
Other surfactants may be used instead of cocobetaine and polyglucose. These two are readily available from retail suppliers.