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.

[523] 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.

[524] Also, likewise for passive suppression of the female monthly

flow, it will act beneficially as a stimulant of the womb to incite its

periodical function.

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.