Soapwort……..what on earth is that?

We like to grow something different every year on the allotment and this year we grew soapwort. I sowed some from seed for a Roman herb garden I planted up with primary school children and had a bit left over. Some founds its way into a sunny space  on the allotment and the rest was planted guerilla-style onto a barren and neglected spot in a secret location. As you see, it’s doing well and looks divine.

In gardening, as in life, I am like William Morris and have nothing that I do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. In my case it should be both if at all possible and soapwort fulfils the criteria. In spite of its unfortunate pink hue it IS useful. The Arabs used it for skin conditions and the Romans for washing clothes. Culpepper suggests it is beneficial in the treatment of  gonorrhea and ‘the itch’. I wouldn’t know anything about that but the Romans were right and it has been used for centuries as a detergent, particularly on delicate fabrics and upholstery. We thought we’d give it a whirl. In a house with three outdoorsy children we do a lot of washing!

Jekka McVicar’s recipe for soapwort shampoo

You will need 15g dried soapwort root or two large handfuls of whole fresh stems and 750ml water. Crush the root with a rolling pin or roughly chop the fresh stems. If using dried soapwort prep by soaking overnight. Put the soapwort into an enamel pan with water and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 mins, stirring occasionally. Allow to stand and strain through a fine sieve.

It’s fully hardy so it’ll be an allotment fixture from now on. It needs a well-drained poor soil away from water. If your soil is too rich it can be a bit of a bully and the rhizomes secrete a poison so that’s why it’s best kept away from water.

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