The common soapwort is a perennial plant that is part of the Caryphyllaceae family and has the scientific name of Saponaria officinalis. The common soapwort grows in the regions with sandy soil near roads and running waters in Europe and Western Asia. It has a straight stem, with a height of 30-70 cm and even 1 m; in the superior part it has several ramifications, especially if it is well developed. The root is crawling, cylindrical and ramified, having numerous thin rhizomes at its surface. The leaves are oval, spread along the stem in opposing groups of two; they have three well emphasized nervures, while their edges are rough. The most beautiful part of the plant is at the tip of the stem – the tubular flowers; these are pinkish and have a very pleasant smell. Each flower has 5 petals that surround two one ovary and 10 stamens. The blooming period is in June-September. The plant multiplies through the parts with buds of the root.
The common soapwort’s root is used in August-November as this is when its active elements are more concentrated; then, they begin to drop and the plant becomes less important, so it is no longer used for therapeutic purposes. The root is removed from the earth carefully, cleaned, washed with water, dried, cut into pieces of about 10 cm and put to dry in a thin layer on white paper sheets in clean, well-aired and sunny places.
The common soapwort root has medicinal applications due to its content of saponin substances, flavonoids, mucilage, glycolic acid, essential oil, resins, sugars and many others, which explain its expectorant, diuretic, depurative, laxative, tonic, anti-acne and diaphoretic properties. The common soapwort root tincture helps treat some diseases and affections, which can be more or less severe, like: psoriasis, acne, gout, herpes, rheumatism, bronchitis and constipation. Also, the root helps obtain some homeopathic products used in cases of cold, skin affections and hay fever. The name of the plant is special and shows the fact that is was used for a long time to replace soap, being used in the shape of decoct to wash clothes and also to replace shampoo with a natural alternative that fits frail hair. More than this, the plant is used in gastronomy.
The root decoct has many applications in traditional medicine, helping ameliorate cough, healing eczema, itches and acne, as well as treating psoriasis, bronchitis and rheumatism. Add a teaspoon of chopped dry root in a glass of cold water, let it macerate for 6-8 hours, then boil it for a few minutes and filter it. Have two glasses of warm liquid per day in cases of cold water. This decoct is mixed with chamomile tea in a 1:1 proportion and thus one can obtain a mixture that helps heal the wounds, being used just externally; it is applied on the skin, locally, just on the affected area.
There is also a perpetually green tree that has similar properties and which originates from South America. The soap bark tree has the scientific name of Quillaja saponaria and is part of the Rosaceae family. This tree reaches a height of 20 m and has simple, green and shine leaves, with slightly dented edges. The flowers are grouped in small inflorescences, having 5 sepals, 5 white petals and 5 yellow-orange stamens. The fruits are arranged in the shape of a star and have many seeds.
This tree’s bark was used since the oldest times to treat some skin diseases or respiratory affections.
The effects of the bark are mostly expectorant, so it helps ameliorate dry cough and eliminate the viscous secretions in the respiratory tract. In the cosmetics industry, it is used in some products that remove dandruff and makeup or treat skin eczema. The South American natives used the bark of the tree for hygiene and washing clothes, as it has a cleaning role that is similar to the one of today’s detergent or soap. The bark is still used as a soap replacement, especially as it helps clean leather products; it is also used in the detergent industry. More than this, the bark is good to obtain a very efficient natural pesticide.
The mark has more active elements, but its saponin and flavonoid substances are the most important as they give it important expectorant properties and thus help heal the affections of the respiratory system. Also, another medicinal use is for treating skin diseases, ameliorating itches and healing irritations, as the bark has anti-inflammatory properties.
Regarding side effects, it seems that the tree’s bark can cause intoxications if consumed in large quantities, due to the substances in its composition. These manifest through problems at the gastrointestinal level, and breathing problems and even hepatic lesions in severe cases. Any product based on soap bark tree, both for internal and external use, needs to be used at the recommendation of a medic, in the small prescribed doses.