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Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis): Benefits, Uses and Possible Side Effects

The soapwort plant, also known as saponaria, whose scientific name is Saponaria officinalis, is a plant native to southern and central Europe and Southeast Asia. Today, it is also cultivated in North America and a wide variety of other countries, where it is used as a garden plant or to make cleansers and remedies.

In particular, it is an herbaceous perennial that has rhizomes, an erect stem, lanceolate leaves and flowers in white, pink or violet tones. It does not usually exceed 60 centimeters in height and is characterized by being easy to grow. It even has a high tolerance to drought and can grow in sandy soils.

According to an article published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, soapwort stands out for its high concentration of saponins, substances that give it the ability to foam. Likewise, purifying, expectorant and tonic qualities are attributed to it. What are its benefits?

Properties and medicinal uses of Soapwort

The composition of the soapwort includes substances such as saponins (up to 5%), flavonoids, sugars, resin, vitamin C and small amounts of essential oil. Due to this, it is not surprising that it is attributed surfactant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antifungal and expectorant properties.

And while the evidence is still limited, some in-vitro and animal studies support several of its effects. Of course, it should be clarified that it is not a miracle remedy or something similar. It is simply believed to have potential as an adjunct to some health-related issues. We detail them below:

1. Infection Candida albicans

Because of its potential as a natural antifungal, soapwort has been studied as a possible therapeutic agent against Candida albicans infections. In an investigation published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, the saponin-rich fractions obtained from this plant were used alone and in combination with various antifungal agents.

The researchers found that although this extract did not have direct antifungal activity, it did help inhibit germ tube and biofilm formation. In addition, it also demonstrated high cytotoxicity, which constitutes a relevant immune response against infectious agents of this type.

2. Cough and bronchitis

Soapwort is not a first-line remedy for bronchitis or coughing. Even so, in traditional medicine doses of 1 or 2 grams of extract of the herb have been used to control these symptoms. For the same purpose, 1.5 grams daily of the root have been indicated. Evidence is lacking to corroborate its expectorant effects in humans.

3. Skin health

The saponins contained in this plant make it a natural cleanser, ideal for skin care. By generating foam, and incidentally providing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents, it stimulates the deep cleansing of the skin. In this way, it favors the relief of conditions such as dermatitis, acne and seborrhea. It is usually found in some commercial cosmetic products.

4. Other possible benefits of Soapwort

  • A study shared in Protein & Peptide Letters suggests that soapwort has anti-HIV effects that would be explained by its apoptosis-inducing activity and its cytotoxic potential. Despite this, there is no solid evidence to support its use as a therapy for this disease.
  • This plant has also been investigated for its antitumor potential. In this regard, a review details that saporin-S6, a type 1 ribosome-inactivating protein, has given interesting results when used in cancer therapy, especially in hematological tumors.
  • Given its potential as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, soapwort is also used as a supplement to relieve pain caused by rheumatism, gout, muscle disorders and osteoarticular inflammation. As in the previous cases, the evidence is scarce.

Risks and possible side effects

To date, there is not enough data to prove the safety and efficacy of soapwort. For now, it is known that its consumption in high doses or for long periods causes hemolysis and severe irritation in the digestive tract. Thus, it can lead to symptoms such as cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Among other things, its external use should be done with caution, as it can cause irritation to sensitive skin or when it comes into contact with the eyes. It should not be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. It is also not convenient to use it if you suffer from an underlying disease or are under drug treatment. If so, it is essential to consult the doctor.

How to use the soapwort?

There is no clinical evidence to support a specific dose of soapwort. In general, it is recommended to follow the recommendations of the product, whether in tea or in extract. Do not exceed the consumption of 1.5 grams of dry soapwort for internal use.

In natural cleaners, it is convenient to use 30 to 100 grams of rhizome per liter of water. The mixture is boiled for 5 or 10 minutes and then left to rest for an hour.

What is there to remember about the soapwort?

Due to its detergent effects, soapwort is popular in the manufacture of cosmetic and household cleaners. Beyond this, some medicinal properties are also attributed to it.

However, many of these properties come from anecdotal data and there is not enough evidence to support them. Therefore, its use should be done with caution, without overlooking that it can be harmful if used in excess.

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