Soapwort is a perennial European native herb which has become thoroughly naturalized in the United States. Found growing in moist ditches, along roadsides, waste places, near old home sites, in meadows, and as a planted ornamental. Cultivation: propagate Soapwort with seeds or by division done in early spring. Soapwort spreads vigorously it has many attractive and aromatic flowers and can be used as a ground cover. Succeeds in any moderately fertile well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Prefers a neutral to alkaline soil. The fragrant flowers have five white to pinkish or red showy petals, each notched and refluxed, about an inch in diameter and are borne in large clusters in the axils of leaves and at the tip of the stems. Flowers bloom from June to October. The leaves are opposite, sessile, slightly hairy, simple and entire, the stem is smooth and swollen at the joints. It forms colonies from underground rhizomes. The root is harvested in the spring and can be dried for later herb use. Use flowers and leaves fresh as body soap.
Caution is advised, when taken in excess, this plant is poisonous, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor center.
Soapwort root, has been used as an alternative medicine since
the time of Dioscorides. It is medicinal as an alterative, antiscrophulatic,
cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, mildly diuretic, expectorant,
purgative and tonic. A decoction of the herb is applied externally
to treat itchy skin. One of the saponins in this plant is proving
of interest in the treatment of cancer. A soap can be obtained
by boiling the whole plant (but especially the root) in water.
It is a gentle effective cleaner, used on delicate fabrics that
can be harmed by synthetic soaps. The best soap is obtained by
infusing the plant in warm water. Soapwort is sometimes recommended
as a hair shampoo, though it can cause eye irritations.