Plants with Saponins

I’m now getting into the gardening stage of being a prepper, and started to learn about different plants that contain saponins. Saponins are a mild soap that help remove dirt, although they aren’t reported to be effective against oils. 

This summer I’m going to grow:

Yucca Glauca: root is best for soap, but videos indicate that the inner parts of leaves can also be used, but you have to scrape away the outside layer of the leaf first.

Soapwort/Soapweed/Saponaria officinalis Alba Plena: both leaves and roots can be used, but it’s best to make “tea” with them first. This plant is reportedly invasive via seeds and roots, so I’m going to keep them in containers and try to deadhead them before they spread seeds.

Mock Orange/Philadelphus x virginalis: leaves and flowers should be possible to use as soap without any preparation step. I actually didn’t know it contained saponins when I bought it.

In addition, I’m also growing several Luffa plants and hope to have a number of Luffas to use for scrubbing dishes and in the shower.

I also read that horse chestnuts contain saponins that can be used as shampoo, so I’ll plan to forage for some next fall, but don’t have space in my garden for a chestnut tree. Do any of you have experience growing and using plants as soap? 


  • Comments (1)

    • 1

      I remember playing with soapwort as a child, using it to make “bubble bath.” I can’t speak to it’s cleaning ability (I wasn’t concerned about that part) but it made lots of suds, which was fun.  

      I’ve tried English ivy as soap because it’s an introduced invasive here, and I was looking for a use for some of the ivy I pull out of nature preserves.  For laundry it was basically a failure.  Things came out looking clean, but it didn’t remove odors as well as real soap.  A handful of crushed up ivy leaves does work great for spot cleaning things, like I’ve used it to get dried blood (deer, not human) off a tarp, scrubbing the spots with ivy before rinsing with a hose, or for a quick cleaning of tools or boots.  I wouldn’t use it as every day hand soap, because repeated exposure can cause skin irritation, even in people who weren’t previously allergic.  It may work well for washing windows, cars, floors, but I’m not a picky cleaner so honestly I just use plain water for cleaning those things.

      I grow yucca but haven’t used it as soap.  I like it too much, and it’s very slow growing.  One warning about yucca – it is poisonous to fish, so don’t use large amounts of it in natural waterways thinking that because it’s natural it’s safe.  Some of the other saponin plants might have the same effect to varying degrees.

      Slightly off topic because it isn’t a plant, but a natural option I do like for laundry is a weak homemade lye water.  Fill a bucket 1/3 with hardwood ashes, then stir in enough water to fill it the rest of the way.  Stir well.  Let settle for a few days, until the water clears – it will be tinted brown or grey, but no longer cloudy – pour into a jug through a funnel, or just dip a cup full off the top as needed.  The ashes, afterward, can still be added to the garden as usual. It works “okay” alone, but better with a small amount of soap added too.  I usually use a cup or two of homemade lye water plus a few drops of Dawn (or similar) dish soap per load of laundry, for a combination that cleans as well as commercial laundry detergent, without creating nearly the plastic waste.

      Good luck with your soap garden – it sounds like an interesting experiment!