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Our ancestors used to use it instead of soaps, shampoos, and washing powders. Bodies and clothes were washed with its foamy juice. Nowadays, it is an ornament of naturalistic gardens and a component of seed mixtures for growing native flower meadows. Wild, non-cultivar seeds.
Polish name: medical soapweed
Latin name: Saponaria officinalis
Family: the pink family Caryophyllaceae
Status in Poland: native
A stout medium-sized perennial often growing as a field.
Underground it develops crawling rhizomes, long and thick simultaneously, with numerous thin roots. Aboveground, oppositely foliaged, cylindrical in cross-section, stiff and erect shoots grow to a height of 30-80 cm. They can be completely bare or visibly tomentosed (slightly hairy) to the touch.
The lower leavesgrow on short petioles, while the upper leaves are completely sessile, moreover they’re fused with leafbases. Like the stem, they tend to be bare or slightly hairy. However, all of them are characterized by an ovate shape, rough margins, and a three-vain blade.
Growing in whole bunches on short stalks from the leaf axils or at the apex of the stem, the flowers are actinomorphic, five-parted, divided into calyx and corolla, as well as relatively large for a representative of the pink family. The common soapwort calyx is cylindrical, tomentosed, it takes on various shades of green or red. The corolla is white, creamy or pink, with petals incised at the apexes. Due to the elongated shapes of these flowers, the optimal pollinators will be the insects with the longest tongues in our fauna: hawk moths. The bunches of flowers form an inflorescence called a dichasium.
The fruit in the form of an ovoid capsule, typical for the pinks, opening with four lobes. The seeds are rough to the touch, gray or black, spherical or slightly kidney-shaped, up to 1.5 mm long, orthodox type with a TSW of 1.7 g. Germination rate varies from 5.9 to 16%.
The common soapwort grows best in light places, in fresh or slightly moist soil with an alkaline or neutral reaction.
It can be expansive, regenerates perfectly from self-seeding or rhizomes, and therefore requires regulation by the gardener. The optimal spacing for planting is 45 x 60 cm.
It looks great in historical and naturalistic gardens, over ditches and ponds, it is more and more commonly used in urban flower meadows and flower margins in orchards or along roads.
It is considered a perfect plant for lazy people, as it is not very sensitive to drought, wind and cold.
Common soapwort is an primeval medicinal and cosmetic herb. Due to its strong expectorant and laxative effects, it had been used through the centuries for poisoning food, removing bronchial and tracheal phlegm, and also as an antidote for snake bites.
As indicated by the generic name, our ancestors used to use it to wash the body, wash clothes (especially the most delicate ones like laces), and degrease animal fibers: silk and wool. Today, soapwort is returned to soaps, masks and shampoos, because it is gentler for the skin and less allergenic (however, it can excessively dry the hair). Museologists and reconstructors use it to preserve antique fabrics.
Nevertheless, you should not cure yourself by it on your own. Also, washing wounds with soapwort ends badly. Seeds of S. officinalis are so toxic to vertebrates that they were formerly used to poison fish.
In the contemporary literature, there is no data on pollen and honey yield of this species. In the past, it played some role in farmstead beekeeping.
Protandrous flowers secrete a fragrance in the evening luring the nocturnal butterflies with the longest tongues in our fauna: hawk moths.