Common Soapwort
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Common Soapwort
aturalized Photo: Thingnam Girija
Common name: Common Soapwort, Bouncing Bet, Sweet William
Botanical name: Saponaria officinalis    Family: Caryophyllaceae (Carnation family)

Common Soapwort is a perennial herb which derives its generic name saponaria from its utility as a soap. The plants possesses leafy, unbranched stems, often tinged with red. It grows in patches, attaining a height of 70 cm. The broad, lanceshaped, stalkless leaves are opposite and 4-12 cm long. Its sweetly scented pink or white flowers are radially symmetrical. Each of the five flat petals have two small scales in the throat of the flower. Flowers are about 2.5 cm wide. They are arranged in dense, clusters at the end of the main stem and its branches. The long tubular sepal tube has five pointed red teeth. Soapwort's native range extends throughout Europe to western Siberia. It is cultivated in Kashmir, and often found growing wild. 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. Flowering: June-October.
Medicinal uses: Soapwort root, has been used as an alternative medicine since ancient times. 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.

Identification credit: Gurcharan Singh Photographed in Pelling, Sikkim & Srinagar, Kashmir.

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