Soapwort plant how to grow and take care

Know in one minute about soapwort

  • Soapwort is a beautiful, multipurpose plant that is often a weed, and sometimes cultivated as an ornamental plant.
  • This plant is rich in saponin which is used as a household detergent and for medical purposes.
  • It is an invasive plant that contains white or light pink flower that blooms from May (June) to September
  • Easy to grow by seeds, rhizomes, stem cutting, and reseeding itself.
  • Grows well in sandy soil with full or partial light and a moderate amount of water.
  • It helps to treat a skin problem and fight against various infections.
  • This plant protects from cold stress and lowers cholesterol levels.
  • Soapwort possesses the ability to indicate pollution and extract heavy metals from soil.

Introduction

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis L.) is an attractive ornamental plant belonging to the Caryophyllaceae family that can be found all over the world. This plant is growing in various habitats, usually along roadsides, in hedges, close to the water, and as a planted horticultural.

This plant is characterized by a high content of saponins found in the rhizomes (roots) of this plant. Due to this, it has been used through the centuries as a cleaning agent and medicinal plant. It also contains saporubin and saprubrinic acid, gums, flavonoids, Vitamin C, and vitexin (1).

Common name

Soapwort is known by many other common names including bouncing-bet, crow soap, wild sweet William, coven, fuller’s herb, and soapweed. It is also known as farewell summer, lady’s washbowl, latheroot, and old maid’s pink.

Geographical distribution

Widely distributed in the European part of the CIS, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Western Siberia, as well as throughout Central and Southern Europe. 

Botanical description

  • Height and Stem– This plant is 30-100 cm tall and strongly branched at the top. The stem is ribbed, round, and hairless. 
  • Rhizome or root– The root produces abundant reddish-brown or orange rhizomes which are inside yellowish and thick as a finger.
  • Leaves– They bear simple leaves that are roughly oval, smooth along the margins, and tapering in shape. The leaves may be waxy or covered in fine hairs. 
  • Flower– The flowers are small, white or light pink, glossy, and contain five petals that begin to curve backward when flowers ages. This flower form clusters at the ends of branches and has a pleasant floral scent that tends to attract butterflies. It blooms from May (June) to September. 
  • Fruit– The fruit is a capsule that produces numerous dark brown seeds (2).

How to grow soapwort plant

Soapwort plants can be easily propagated by various ways like reseeding themselves through underground rhizomes.  It can also be grown using stem cuttings or division or by seeds. Sow seeds in spring, they sprout easily (three weeks) in warm, moist sandy soil. Make sure to space plants at least a foot (3 m.) apart as they will spread. The young plant thrives best in partial shade or bright filtered light to sunny locations. 

How to care for soapwort plant

Soapwort is a hardy, vigorously growing plant that requires little maintenance and often forms colonies. Let’s discuss each of requiring conditions of this plant in detail 

1. Planting

Soapwort is typically not ideal for planting in pots because it can get out of control and become invasive. So this plant grows best outdoor or in the garden.

2. Light

Soapwort plant needs bright direct sunlight to encourage more compact growth and maximize blooming. It also does well in a partially sheltered position. 

3. Soil

This plant requires well-drained, sandy, and slightly rockier or gravelly soil for best growth. 

4. Water

The herb prefers a moderate amount of water, but it can tolerate some drought. Irrigate often when the top of the soil becomes dry in summer. 

5. Temperature and Humidity

This plant doesn’t like temperatures below 41°F (5°C). Soapwort plant does so well in normal humidity, but it also tolerates dry climates.

6. Fertilizer

Soapwort plants are friendly and easy to grow and can grow for years with little maintenance. It doesn’t require a lot of nutrients fertilize about once per year in the spring. 

7. Pruning

Pruning is necessary to maintain its size and limit invasive spreading. The best time for pruning is when the plant is finished blooming in the autumn. 

8. Blooming

After blooming of soapwort plant deadhead blooms once they have died out to encourage more blooms. 

9. Harvesting and storing

Soapwort plants (flower, young stem, roots, and leaves) can be harvested as needed throughout the season.  It can be used in either fresh or dry form. However, to remain the importance of them they should be kept in airtight containers at room temperature.  

Soapwort extract uses

1. This plant is grown commercially for its saponin content. All parts of the plant like flowers, leaves, stems, and roots can be used in making mild soaps, detergents, and beer.

2. Detergent obtained from soapwort extract can be used for cleaning sheep wool before shearing, washing newly-woven cloth to thicken it.

3. The plant Soapwort has been used in traditional medicine in various diseases like roots as blood purifiers and diuretic (increase production of urine).

4. Soapwort saponins are active ingredients of many cosmetics and medical products. 

5. The decoction of the roots is used in head washing to prevent hair loss (3), (4).

Benefits of Soapwort plant

1. Act as a natural detergent

The juice of the flowering stems and rhizomes is high in saponins which have cleansing and foaming properties (5).  It can be used as a very gentle liquid soap, produced by boiling in water for household and cosmetics purposes (6).

2. Antimicrobial properties

Soapwort contains a phenolic compound that shows antimicrobial activity. It helps to fight against bacteria like  Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typmiruim, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus thermophilus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Klebsiella pneumonia (7). Furthermore, its root contains saponin that is effective to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans thus showing antifungal activity (8), (9).

3. Treat cancer

Soapwort is a source of saporin, which is one type of protein that can be applied in cancer therapy (10). This protein is effective to inhibit the growth of human cancer cells like blood cells, brain breast, and prostate cancer cells (11), (12).

4. Protect from cold stress

Saponin-rich soapwort helps to enhance the antioxidants and decrease the lipid peroxidation in the blood. Thus soapwort is effective in preventing or slowing the detrimental effects of cold or any associated oxidative stress. However, further study is needed to confirm this effect on the human (13).

5. Treat skin problem

Acne is one type of inflammatory disorder, which is caused by Acne vulgaris.  However, soapwort leaf, stem, and root can be used by boiling in soft water to wash for acne and psoriasis. Thus soapwort acts as a surface-active agent to facilitate cleansing of the skin (14).

6. Lower cholesterol level

Saponin found in soapwort form an insoluble complex with cholesterol which prevents its absorption from the small intestine. It also effective to increase in the fecal excretion of bile acids thus it creates an indirect route for the elimination of cholesterol (15)

7. Valuable as a pollution indicator and phytoremediator

Soapwort has the ability to monitoring environmental conditions that indicate the pollution of heavy metals in soil. It is also effective to absorb heavy metals such as laid and arsenic from the soil. Thus soapwort may be considered as a suitable herb for phytoextraction of laid and arsenic in polluted areas (16).

8. Useful as pesticides 

Soapwort root extract (30 g for at least 25 min in 1litre of water) can reduce the number of spider mite Tetranychus urticae. These mites may affect the tomato and cucumber plants thus this extract also helps to increase their yields (17).

9. Presence of antioxidants

Soapwort root is an excellent source of carbohydrates, phenols, saponin, and glycosides. Its leaves contain alkaloids, ascorbic acid, and flavonoids. It is known that phenolic compounds and flavonoids are natural antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and protect from various diseases (18).

10. Use in cooking

Soapwort contains saponin that has a foaming effect, which is used in the making of some dishes like Turkish halvah, cake, etc.

It can use as a natural emulsifier that helps to fix the oils in the mixture. Also, form a unique, smooth, airy texture of the dish. Also used in place of egg white proteins in the formulation of sponge cakes. Soapwort improves the chewiness of the baked cakes (19).

Q&A

1. What is soapwort?

Soapwort is a perennial herbaceous plant that has been widely used for centuries as a household detergent and for medical purposes.

2. How to grow soapwort?

Soapwort plant grows well by seeds, rhizomes, stem cutting, and reseeding itself. 

3. What is soapwort extract?

Soapwort extract is a traditional additive, produced by extracting soapwort roots, leaves, flowers, and stems in boiling water (20).

4. Where to buy soapwort?

Soapwort can be found in herbal pharmacy and online. It is available as a fresh, dried, liquid, powder, or frozen form. It is easy to grow so you can purchase the seed or root and can grow at home.

5. How to care for the soapwort plant?

This plant requires full to partial sun, well-draining sand gravelly soil, and a moderate amount of water. Fertilize this plant about once per year in the spring. Pruning is good to control its look.

6. When to plant soapwort seeds?

Germinate the seed in spring for best growth.

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