Soapwort

Scientific Name(s): Saponaria officinalis L. Family: Caryophyllaceae

Common Name(s): bruisewort , bouncing bet , dog cloves , fuller's herb , latherwort , lady's-washbowl , old-maid's-pink

Uses

Soapwort is generally used to make “natural” soaps and in brightening and cleaning delicate fabrics.

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage of soapwort. Classical use of soapwort was at doses of 1 to 2 g daily of extract or 1.5 g daily of root in coughs and bronchitis.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Soapwort adverse effects are usually experienced only if taken internally, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Toxicology

Saponins tend to be highly toxic (usually hemolytic) only if injected.

Botany

Common to pastures and roadsides from coast to coast, soapwort is a perennial herbaceous plant growing to a height of 1 to 2 feet, with a single smooth stem and lanceolate leaves. Its five-petaled flowers appear during late July through September in the form of fragrant clusters varying from white to pale lavender in color. 1

History

Soapwort was originally native to northern Europe and was introduced to England during the Middle Ages by Franciscan and Dominican monks who brought it as “a gift of God intended to keep them clean.” 2 By the end of the 16th century the herb had become widespread in England, where it was used as a soap for cleansing dishes and laundry. John Gerard's Herbal (1597) recommended it as a topical disinfectant for “green wounds” and “filthy diseases.” 2 Soapwort also has been administered topically for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, eczema and boils. An extract of the roots is still a popular remedy for poison ivy. While an exact time of its arrival in North America cannot be established, there is little doubt that the Puritans brought it with them to the New World. Once established, the herb spread and can now be found wild throughout the United States and southern Canada. The herb was used extensively in the early textile industry as a cleaning and sizing agent. This process, known as fulling, accounts for the name “Fuller's Herb.” Another use for the product was found by the Pennsylvania Dutch who used it to impart a foamy head to the beer they brewed. To this day some beer makers use saponins from the plant, to provide and maintain a foamy head. 1

Chemistry

Soapwort contains water-soluble steroidal saponins, which allow it to form a soaplike lather. These active principles are found in all parts of the plant 1 and act as surface active agents to facilitate cleaning.

Dosage

There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage of soapwort. Classical use of soapwort was at doses of 1 to 2 g daily of extract or 1.5 g daily of root in coughs and bronchitis. 3

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Saponins are relatively innocuous when ingested orally, unless there is an underlying disease of the mucosa (ie, ulcers). Ingestion of soapwort has led to severe vomiting and diarrhea. 4 For this reason, ingestion is to be avoided.

Toxicology

Saponins tend to be highly toxic (usually hemolytic) only if injected.

Bibliography

1. Meyer JE. The Herbalist . Hammond, IN: Hammond Book Co., 1934.
2. Sculley FX. God's gift, nature's soap. The Herb Quarterly 1989;Spring:7.
3. Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs . Boston, MA: American Botanical Council, 1998.
4. Dobelis IN, ed. Magic and Medicine of Plants . Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1986. p702.

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