The Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) grows commonly in
England near villages, on roadsides, and by the margins of woods,
in moist situations. It belongs to the Caryophyllaceoe, or Clove
and Pink tribe of plants; and a double flowered variety of it is met
with in gardens. This is Miss Mitford's Spicer in Our Village. It
is sometimes named Bouncing Bet, and Fuller's herb.
The root has a sweetish bitter tast
, but no odour. It contains resin
and mucilage, in addition to saponin, which is its leading principle,
and by virtue of which decoctions of the root produce a soapy froth.
Saponin is likewise found in the nuts of the Horse-chestnut tree, and
in the Scarlet Pimpernel.
 A similar soapy quality is also observed in the leaves, so
much so that they have been used by mendicant monks as a
substitute for soap in washing their clothes. This saponin has
considerable medicinal efficacy, being especially useful for the
cure of inveterate syphilis without giving mercury. Several writers
of note aver that such cases have been cured by a decoction of
the plant; though perhaps the conclusion has been arrived at
through the resemblance between the roots of Soapwort and those of
Gerard says: Ludovicus Septalius, when treating of decoctions in
use against the French poxes, mentions the singular effect of the
Soapwort against that filthy disease; but, he adds, it is somewhat
of an ungrateful taste, and therefore must be reserved for the poorer
sort of patients. He employed it soepe et soepius.
The Pharmacopoeia Chirurgica of 1794, teaches: A decoction of
this plant has been found useful for scrofulous, impetiginous, and
syphilitic affections. Boil down half a pound of the bruised fresh
herb in a gallon of distilled water to two quarts, and give from one
to three pints in the twenty-four hours.
Formerly the herb was called Bruisewort, and was thought of
service for contusions. It will remove stains, or grease almost as
well as soap, but contains no starch.
Saponin, when smelt, excites long-continued sneezing; if injected or
administered, it reduces the frequency and force of the heart's
pulsations, paralyzing the cardiac nerves, and acting speedily on the
vaso-motor centres, so as to arrest the movements of the heart, on
which principle, when given in a diluted form, and in doses short of
all toxic effects, it has proved of signal use in low typhoid
inflammation of the lungs, where restorative stimulation of the heart
is to be aimed at.
 Also, likewise for passive suppression of the female monthly
flow, it will act beneficially as a stimulant of the womb to incite its
In a patient who took a poisonous quantity of Saponin at Saint
Petersburg all the muscular contractile sensitiveness was completely
abolished; whilst, nevertheless, all the bodily functions were
normally performed. Per contra, this effect should be a curative
guide in the use of Soapwort as a Simple.
Saponin is found again in the root and unripe seeds of the Corn
Cockle, and in all parts of the Nottingham Catch-fly except the
seeds; also in the wild Lychnis, and some others of the Pink tribe.