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Saponaria officinalis - L.

Common Name Soapwort, Bouncingbet
Family Caryophyllaceae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards The plant contains saponins[13]. Although toxic, these substances are very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm. They are also broken down by thorough cooking. Saponins are found in many plants, including several that are often used for food, such as certain beans. It is advisable not to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K]. Do not use for more than 2 weeks. Avoid during pregnancy.
Habitats Fields, roadsides and along the banks of streams[7].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to Spain and temperate Asia.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (1 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Saponaria officinalis Soapwort, Bouncingbet

Saponaria officinalis Soapwort, Bouncingbet


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Bloom Color: Pink. Main Bloom Time: Early summer, Late summer, Mid summer. Form: Upright or erect.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Saponaria officinalis is a PERENNIAL growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 4 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from July to September, and the seeds ripen from August to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Bootia saponaria. Bootia vulgaris. Lychnis officinalis. Silene saponaria.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Ground Cover; Meadow; Hedgerow;

Edible Uses

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Alterative  Antipruritic  Antirheumatic  Antiscrophulatic  Cholagogue  Cytotoxic  Depurative  Diaphoretic  
Diuretic  Expectorant  Purgative  Skin  Sternutatory  Tonic

Soapwort's main medicinal use is as an expectorant. Its strongly irritant action within the gut is thought to stimulate the cough reflex and increase the production of a more fluid mucus within the respiratory passages[254]. The whole plant, but especially the root, is alterative, antiscrophulatic, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, mildly diuretic, expectorant, purgative, sternutatory and tonic[4, 7, 9, 13, 21, 218]. A decoction of the whole plant can be applied externally to treat itchy skin[4, 201, 238]. The plant has proved of use in the treatment of jaundice and other visceral obstructions[4], but is rarely used internally in modern herbalism due to its irritant effect on the digestive system[238]. When taken in excess, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor centre[238]. See also the notes above on toxicity[4, 7]. The root is harvested in the spring and can be dried for later use[7]. One of the saponins in this plant is proving of interest in the treatment of cancer, it is cytotoxic to the Walker Carcinoma in vitro[218]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Saponaria officinalis Soapwort. Bouncingbet for coughs/bronchitis (see [302] for critics of commission E).

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


A soap can be obtained by boiling the whole plant (but especially the root) in water[6, 13]. It is a gentle effective cleaner[7, 95], used especially on delicate fabrics that can be harmed by modern synthetic soaps (it has been used to clean the Bayeaux tapestry). It effects a lustre in the fabric[171]. The best soap is obtained by infusing the plant in warm water[169]. The roots can be dried and stored for later use[169]. The plant is sometimes recommended as a hair shampoo, though it can cause eye irritations[238]. The plant spreads vigorously and can be used as a ground cover when planted about 1 metre apart each way[208].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest  Ground cover  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Border, Rock garden. Succeeds in any moderately fertile well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade[200]. Prefers a neutral to alkaline soil[238]. Hardy to about -20°c[187]. A very ornamental plant[1], soapwort is often grown in the herb garden and is sometimes cultivated for the soap that can be obtained from the roots. There are some named forms, usually with double flowers, that have been selected for their ornamental value[187]. Plants can be very invasive when grown in good conditions[K]. Soapwort should not be grown next to a pond with amphibians or fish in it since if the plant trails into the water it can cause poisoning[238]. The flowers are slightly scented with a sweet aroma that has an undertone of clove[245]. Hybridizes with other members of this genus[200]. A good moth plant[13, 24]. Special Features:Edible, Fragrant foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, Attracts butterflies, Suitable for cut flowers, Fragrant flowers.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best if given a short cold stratification. Sow autumn or late winter in a cold frame. The seed usually germinates within 4 weeks. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in early summer. Division in spring or autumn. Very easy, it can be successfully done at any time in the growing season if the plants are kept moist until they are re-established. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native Range

TEMPERATE ASIA: Turkey, Russian Federation-Ciscaucasia (Ciscaucasia), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation-Western Siberia (Western Siberia (south)) EUROPE: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Russian Federation (European part), Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine (incl. Krym), Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Croatia, Italy (incl. Sardinia, Sicily), North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain (incl. Baleares), France (incl. Corsica), Portugal

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Gentiana saponariaHarvestbellsPerennial0.8 4-8  LMHSNMWe03 
Quillaja saponariaSoap-Bark Tree, SoapbarkTree18.0 9-11 SLMHNM032
Sapindus saponariaSoapberry, Wild Chinaberry, Florida Soap Berry, Soap Nut, Soap TreeTree10.0 10-12 MLMHNDM024
Saponaria ocymoidesTumbling Ted. Rock Soapwort, Rock soapwortPerennial0.1 2-7 FLMHNDM003

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

[email protected]   Fri Aug 29 00:16:38 2003

Very invasive. In my garden it ropagated itself through rizmos to neaby rose garden coming out right near the rose canes. I cannot fine any information about getting rid of the deep in ground roors & rizmos. Nurseries should warn clearly about its invasive nature. A statement like 'somewhat invasive' is not helpful.

Diana Barnes   Sun Jun 24 2007

Horrendously invasive!! Plant only if you have acres of poor soil where not a lot else will grow!I suppose if you were into natural soaps or living in an iron age settlement and you were the owner of a celtic laundrette then there would be a use for this plant!! It is pretty and attractive enmasse but be advised that the deep-rooted ,adventurous rizomes are as bad as couch grass!

Toni Tanskanen   Sun Nov 16 2008

Any information how many percent there's saporins. (Indian soapnuts have 15%)

david   Fri Aug 28 2009

Bremness (Eyewitness Handbook Herbs) says the flowers can be added to salads, but also says they are used to give a head to beer which suggests bubbly toxic (apparently mildly in moderate does) saponins. Bremnes is rarely wrong but it is odd virtually none else lists this use.

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