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Soapwort

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Soapwort Seeds (Saponaria officinalis)

Soapwort Seeds (Saponaria officinalis)

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Above is a picture of a beautiful soapwort flower enjoying the summer sun.

Soapwort or, to give it its Latin name, Saponaria officinalis, is a hardy perennial wildflower native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae) and produces white or pink flowers from May to September.

It is also known by other names, including bouncing-bet, soapweed, wild sweet William, common soapwort, latherwort, bruisewort, fuller's herb and crow soap.

Both the Latin name Saponaria (sapo means soap in Latin ) and the common names soapwort, latherwort, soapweed and crow soap give a clue to this herb's historic use. The leaves and roots produce a lather when mixed with water and provide an effective cleaning agent for textiles and fabrics.

Interestingly, it is believed that soapwort was used to clean and preserve the Shroud of Turin and Pliny, a Roman historian living in the first century A.D., mentions the use of soapwort for washing wool.

In some parts of the world, soapwort is used as an culinary ingredient; it can be found in halvah, which is a sweet treat from the Middle East, and in some beers where soapwort helps create a foamy head.

Soapwort seeds are best planted in autumn to allow natural stratification (the changing of temperature from winter to spring which triggers the seed to germinate). If planting the seeds at other times of year, a few weeks in the fridge can usually replicate the process, although it is not always reliable. Soapwort seeds can take a long time to germinate even when the conditions are right.

When choosing a location for the soapwort, bear in mind that it makes a great addition to rockeries, borders and containers. However, some people advise against planting the seeds near pond-life, since the saponins in soapwort's leaves and roots can leech into the water; in high levels these chemical compounds can be detrimental.

Other considerations include the levels of shade and soil condition. Soapwort likes a fairly sunny location and a well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline ph. It is not overly keen on very hot weather.

Once established, soapwort can grow to a night of approx. 70 cm. The leaves are sessile (stalkless) and range in size between 4 and 12 cm. The flowers have five petals and are approx. 2.5 cm wide. They will open between May and September in the northern hemisphere and usually stay open for three days attracting a number of insects including hoverflies, butterflies and bees.

Soapwort can grow vigorously (hence the name bouncing-bet), so be prepared to cut it back every now and then.


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Online Catalogue | Seeds | Herb Seeds | Herb Seeds S - Y |  Soapwort