Soapwort is a versatile plant is easy to grow, harvest, and use around the home. It will clean skin, lace, quilts, hair, bodies, even household cleaning can be done with a strong enough brew! It is also known as Saponaria Officinalis, Wild Sweet William, Sweet Betty, or Bouncing Betty. I don’t know who Betty is, but she sounds like fun! *wink*
Soapwort is a self-seeding, prolific perennial. It can get up to three foot high, and spreads like mad! Don’t plant it near a fish pond or other water fixture unless you want dead fish. Many aquatic creatures will die from exposure to too much saponin, and in fact, people sometimes use saponin-rich plants to disable or kill fish for easy capture. That being said, wild soapwort can often be found near lakes and riverbanks, moist ditches, and waste places.
Bouncing Betty can easily tolerate poor soil and drought conditions and can become invasive if you aren’t harvesting from it regularly. You can plant it in a container garden to mitigate the insane growth rate. For fun, plant soapwort near peppermint and watch the battle for territory commence!
You can start soapwort from seeds, or propagate by splitting the rootstock. Once it is settled, good luck getting rid of it!
The roots contain the most saponins, but any part of the whole plant will work to get you clean!
Collect the leaves and stems when the plants are in full flower for optimal saponin content. You can harvest these parts a few times each year. If you trim the plants back once during flowering, you might even get a second round of blooms.
Collect soapwort roots when you thin the plant in the fall. Scrub the roots well and chop them up small so you won’t have to smash them later. Let them dry completely before storing them. You can also dry soapwort using the oven or a dehydrator.
How to Use Soapwort:
Soapwort contains saponins which create the soap-like cleaning action. Saponins are the part of the plant chemistry that creates an effective cleaning foam, a lather that has can dissolve fats and grease! Even though it works like a powerhouse, soapwort is gentle enough to use on old fabrics, the bodies of wee tiny babies, and sensitive skin – trust me, I’m the poster child for sensitive skin. It is fine for external use, but like other saponin-heavy plants, soapwort is not recommended for internal use!
If you don’t have any soapwort to harvest for yourself, get some roots, seeds, or plants from Richter’s Herbs, or check in my shop to see if I have any extra for sale!
Heavy Duty Household Cleanser:
- 2 Cups of fresh chopped soapwort leaves, stems, and/or roots (or 1 cup dried)
- 1 Quart water
Add soapwort leaves to boiling water and cover the pan. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, let cool, and strain it through cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. You can also add a drop or two of rosemary, mint, or citrus essential oil for a pleasant scent, if you like.
Gentle Cleanser for Delicate Fabrics:
This is fantastic for real wool, old silk, grandma’s quilt, lace, embroidery, or tatting.
- 1 Cup of fresh soapwort leaves (or half a cup of dried)
- 1 Quart distilled water
Add soapwort leaves to boiling water and cover the pan. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, let cool, and strain it through cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. Do not add any essential oils to this, just leave it plain.
Soapwort Shampoo and Body Wash:
Soapwort shampoo is a little less concentrated than the all-purpose cleaner. It is a gentle cleanser for problem hair, as it doesn’t strip all of the oils away. This recipe is more than just shampoo – it also makes a good face wash for sensitive skin and helps with acne and psoriasis.
This recipe is for a single use, but you can triple or quadruple this recipe and store the rest in the fridge for up to a week! Just give it a good shake before use, and brace yourself for the nice cool wash!
Soapwort infusion is not as bubbly as regular shampoo, so it takes some getting used to. It definitely does the trick, though, and with way fewer chemicals, fragrances, and unnecessary additives. Try a Foaming Pump Soap Dispenser and you might get a more familiar foam to put on your hair or face.
- 3 Tablespoons fresh soapwort (1 tablespoon dried)
- 1 Cup water
Add soapwort leaves to boiling water and cover the pan. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, let cool, and strain it through cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. Use this to get a gentle wash. You can also use any of the following herbs to add to the pot with the soapwort for skin and hair:
- Rose Petals
- Hibiscus (red hair)
- Chamomile (fair hair)
- Rosemary (dark hair)
And there’s so many more to choose from!
You can follow it up with a nice conditioning vinegar rinse, or use any of the above herbs brewed as a tea for a conditioning rinse.
You can get soapwort seeds or plants from Richter’s Herbs.