Herb Profile: Soapwort

Lithuania, Dzukija National Park, Saponaria officinalis (Soapwort)
Nigel Hicks/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Soapwort is a multi-purpose herb, that has a place in any herb garden. The Romans were said to use soapwort as a water softener, and it was grown by the American Shakers as a remedy for skin ailments such as poison ivy and other rashes.

Latin Name

Saponaria officinalis

Common Name

Soapwort

USDA Hardiness

Zone 3-9

Exposure

Full sun to partial shade

Harvest

Pick flowers, leaves and stems as needed. Roots are harvested in the Fall.

Uses

Soapwort is a wonderful herb for many uses. As an ornamental, the highly fragranced blooms add a heady scent to the air. The tall growth habit makes a striking specimen and for just plain usefulness, soapwort can't be beaten.

Soapwort gets its name from the soapy sap that is excellent for washing fabrics and is gentle enough for sensitive and irritated skin. The root is decocted and used as a wash for acne and psoriasis, the leaf, stem, and boil can all be boiled in water to create the perfect hair washing solution. This same solution is soothing and cleansing for the most delicate of skin types.

Soapwort even has some ties to the culinary world. The flowers are said to be used in brewing beer to create a foamy "head", and they make a lovely garnish for fruit salads.

Note that although soapwort has a multitude of uses, the root is poisonous if ingested. It is safe as a skin wash, however.