Saponaria - How to care for and cultivate your Saponaria plant

Saponaria - How to care for and cultivate your Saponaria plant



Saponaria ocymoides

It is a very rustic plant that is found almost everywhere in Italy and Europe, producing splendid pink flowers.






: Angiosperms


: Eudicotyledons











: see the paragraph on "Main species"


The genre Saponaria of the Caryophyllaceae family, includes hardy or semi hardy plants, native to the meadows and rocky places of Europe and south-western Asia. In Italy it is found almost everywhere, up to 1600 m above sea level.

They are annual, biennial or perennial plants, provided with a rhizome creeping, branched, red on the outside and white on the inside. The stem it is erect and cylindrical. The leaves they are opposite, whole and close. THE flowers they have 5 petals, mostly pink in color in various shades, pedunculated, often gathered in panicle or peeping inflorescences and emanate a very delicate perfume.

Scheme Saponaria officinalis

Root system

They are plants suitable for adorning rock gardens, for embellishing flower beds or as a border.


There are about 20 species in the genus Saponaria among which we remember:


There Saponaria ocymoides it is a perennial, vigorous, rustic and creeping plant that develops from the center of the plant in a circular manner. The leaves are hairy, ovate-lanceolate of a beautiful bright green color reaching up to 1 cm in length. The flowers are of a beautiful bright pink color that appear in summer producing abundant flowers gathered in inflorescences similar to panicles.

The plant forms creeping cushions, which spread out quickly. so much so that it can become invasive by suffocating the smaller plants it encounters along its way.

It is also known under the name of red soapstone or rock soapstone.

There are several varieties among which we remember the Saponaria ocymoides 'Alba' less vigorous than the others and with white flowers and the Saponaria ocymoides 'Rubra compacta' with dark red flowers and very compact.


There Saponaria officinalis it is a perennial, rustic plant with very large pink flowers that even reach 4 cm in diameter, gathered in compact buds and bloom from June to September.

Note 1

Varieties are widely cultivated S. Officinalis 'Alba-plena' (photo below) with three double white flowers; the variety S. officinalis 'Roseo-plena' with double pink flowers similar to carnation (photo below).

Saponaria officinalis 'Alba plena'

Saponaria officinalis 'Rosy-plena'

In Italy it is a very widespread species that is found quite frequently in the meadows.

It is a medicinal plant of which both the rhizomes and the leaves are used for their different properties. In this regard, see the paragraph "Medicinal uses".


There Saponaria lutea (photo below) is a perennial, bushy species that we find in stony areas, at high altitudes where it forms beautiful flowering cushions. It has woody stems at the base no more than 10-15 cm high wrapped in sessile leaves. The white-yellowish flowers gathered in inflorescence on the top of the stems.


The Saponaria they are easy to grow plants, quite rustic and do not require special care

They are plants that must be grown in full sun and withstand the summer temperatures of our climates well.


There Saponaria it should be watered only when the soil dries up. In general, rainwater is sufficient and only in periods of drought it is advisable to intervene.

If you are dealing with newly planted plants, you need to water them regularly, in order to allow the root system to develop.

Beware of water stagnations that are not tolerated and could lead to the death of the plant.


It is a plant that adapts quite well to any type of soil even if it prefers well-drained, loose, neutral to slightly alkaline soils.

Some species, such as the Saponaria caespitosa they prefer gravel soils but always well draining as they do not tolerate water stagnation.


From the vegetative restart, fertilize regularly every two weeks using a complete fertilizer that is to say that in addition to having nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) they also have microelements such as magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn), boron (B), all essential for plant growth.


There Saponaria it blooms between June and September. To prolong flowering, it is advisable to remove the flowers as they wither.


After flowering, in autumn, they should be pruned vigorously to keep the habit compact.

The cuts should be made immediately above a knot and cutting obliquely in order to avoid the accumulation of water on the surface. It is important to use a blade that is well cleaned and disinfected, possibly with a flame, to avoid the transmission of parasitic diseases.

If you want to prevent the plant from self-disseminating, it would be preferable to eliminate all the aerial part in mid-autumn to make room for new shoots when spring arrives.


Saponaria propagates by seed, by division of the plant or by cutting.

When choosing the technique to adopt, keep in mind that multiplication by seed has the disadvantage that, almost certainly, you will not get seedlings equal to the mother plant as genetic variability takes over. Therefore, if you want to obtain a precise specimen or you are not sure of the quality of the seed, it is good to do the multiplication by cuttings.

As for the MULTIPLICATION FOR SEEDS it is carried out in early spring (March) by distributing the seeds evenly directly in the home as it is a plant that does not like repotting. When the plants start to grow it is advisable to thin them at a distance of 15-20 cm from each other. Sowing can also be done in autumn to subsequently have an earlier flowering.

If you intend to plant the Saponaria in a rock garden and then sow in the small broken rocks, it would be preferable to sow in small pots placing a few seeds per pot. Once the seedlings are born, it will be left the most vigorous and very gently, as soon as it has developed enough, it will be planted in the slot you intend to use.


The plants of Saponaria they can also multiply by dividing the plant, dividing them in October or March and replanting them immediately.


Branch parts about 10 cm long are taken in spring. The lower leaves are eliminated and they are put to root in a compote formed by peat and sand in equal parts. The pots are placed in the shade, in a warm area and must be kept constantly humid. When the first sprouts begin to appear, it means that the cutting has taken root.At that point, the plant is expected to become stronger and they are planted, usually before autumn.


They are plants particularly resistant to diseases and parasites. If you take care to have well-drained soil so that the water can drain smoothly, the plant will have no problem.


The name Saponaria comes from the Latin I know which means "soap" for the juice contained in the plant, including the rhizome. In contact with water, it forms a foam thanks to the presence of saponins (glycosides). In fact, when soap was still unknown, the rhizomes of these plants were used as soap, to degrease and do laundry. Says Francesco Maria Coli in his Elementary information on pharmacy, chemistry, natural history and botany for the use of young students, For the prints of Ulisse Pamponi, Bologna 1804, (fifth volume): "The soap etymology was taken to saponem because the fresh plant fricated on the epidermis cleanses the stains as soap would, and in fact the saponaceous principle of this plant , which exists in the leaves, foams with the water, and removes the oily stains of the linen cloth ».

The ancient Greeks gave this root the name of struthion and besides using it to whiten wool, they used it following the indications given by Hippocrates, that is as emmenagogue (note 2), while Dioscorides attributed it purgative properties. Pliny gives it the name of radicella or radicula and mentions the use that the Greeks made of it to whiten and soften wool.

The plant has numerous synonyms such as: common soapwort, saponella, savonella, savona grass, red soapwort and many others.


The plant was known to Hippocrates as an emmenagogue drug (note 2). Even the ancient Arabs knew its therapeutic use as they used it against leprosy, some dermatoses and ulcers.

The plant is also used in medicine. The parts used are the stem and leaves (before flowering) and the rhizome. All these parts are used dried.

Its main constituents are: saponins, resin, and vitamin C.

Its properties are: purifying, tonic, liver stimulant, sudorific, choleretic (increase bile secretion).

Be careful not to ingest any part of the plant as it is as it is toxic and should only be used under strict medical supervision.

A water obtained by boiling the whole plant is used to wash particularly fragile hair.

1. Image licensed under the Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

2. Emmenagoga: able to stimulate the blood supply in the pelvic area and uterus and in some cases promote menstruation.

Rock soapwort - Saponaria ocymoides

The leaves of this plant are oval or lanceolate, dark green in color, in spring they are almost hidden by the many flowers, which bloom in clusters, of an intense pink color despite the spring flowering is intense and explosive, subsequently the plant continues to bloom until the first cold, producing sporadic bunches of flowers that tend to blend into the thick leaves of this plant.

Widely used for rock gardens, soapwort can be easily found even in nature, in medium altitude pastures it is also used to cover dry stone walls, given the ease of development, even in less than ideal conditions. To maintain a more compact development and to encourage further blooms, it is advisable to prune the stems with the withered flowers. There saponaria ocymoides it is used in herbal medicine, the name derives from the high content of vegetable saponins present in the roots of this plant.

Saponins are cleansing substances that have been known since very ancient times. Because of these properties, the rock soapstone was grown in abundance, in order to be able to wash the laundry and in particular the wool. In addition to this aspect, soap products were also widely cultivated in the past for their particular therapeutic properties. This plant was in fact considered a medicinal and medicinal plant capable of fighting various diseases.

Saponaria officinalis

The common Saponaria, also known as Saponella, Carnation in bunches, Mad Jasmine, Savonea (Saponaria officinalis L.) is a perennial herbaceous species of the Caryophyllaceae family.

Systematics -
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Kingdom Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Caryophyllales Order, Caryophyllaceae Family and therefore to the Saponaria Genus and to the S. officinalis Species.

Etymology -
The term Saponaria comes from sápo, sapónis soap: because all parts of the plant and especially the roots (up to 20% in the flowering period) contain saponins that can be used for washing. The specific epithet officinalis derives from offícina, medieval laboratory: usable in pharmaceuticals, herbal medicine, liquor, perfumery and the like.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat -
Saponaria officinalis is a typically Eurasian entity: it is found from Europe to Japan in cold and temperate-cold areas. The species is widespread throughout continental Europe, in Italy it is very common and is present throughout the territory. Its habitat is that of fresh and humid soils, the banks of waterways, ruderal environments, fields and man-made areas. 0 ÷ 1,000 m a.s.l.

Description -
The common Saponaria is a perennial herbaceous species that can reach 1 m in height and is equipped with a creeping, branched reddish brown rhizome, the stem is erect or ascending, glabrous or slightly pubescent, sometimes woody at the base. The sterile or simple stems have opposite, oval, oblong and curved leaves, the lower ones briefly petiolate, the upper sessile and opposite to the nodes, covered with short or glabrous hairs, wrinkled on the edges, with 3 (5) raised ribs.
The flowers are gathered in compact buds at the apex of the stems and are of a more or less intense pink color, with 5 slightly fringed petals, a purplish, tubular and pubescent calyx. They have a delicate scent that manifests itself especially in the evening.
The fruits are oblong-pear-shaped capsules, dehiscent for 4 apical teeth which contain numerous reniform seeds, black, with a tuberculous surface.
The antesis is in the period from June to October.

Cultivation -
The cultivation of Saponaria is quite simple, it is a plant that adapts to any soil, as long as it is placed in a sunny position. It is sown from early March to mid-June, then thinning out at a distance of 15-20 cm. If you sow in autumn you will be able to have an earlier flowering. Sowing at home (does not like transplanting) presents some difficulties when you want to grow plants in cracks in walls and in rocks, as in the case of S. pumila, caespitosa and especially Calabria, very suitable for this destination. In this case it is advisable to sow in small pots of peat, placing a few seeds in each when the seedlings have grown, you will leave 1 per pot, and then gently try to compress the pot inside the slot. For the details of the cultivation technique you can consult the following sheet.

Customs and Traditions -
The common soapwort was already used as soap by the Assyrians in the eighth century BC. Five centuries before Christ, soapwort was spoken of to degrease the wool that the nomadic populations of Asia used to weave their famous carpets.
Around 400 a. C., the great physician Hippocrates cited the therapeutic possibilities attributed to the roots of soapwort "capable of purifying the body and giving women a rosy skin, worthy of that of Venus". The ancient Romans used it in thermal baths, while in the past Arab doctors used it in the treatment of leprosy.
In The English Physitian Enlarged (1653) Nicholas Culpeper states that this plant "is an excellent cure for syphilis". Its use in treating the symptoms of this disease and other venereal diseases was also recommended by Greve (A Modern Herbal 1931), especially in cases where it had failed the treatment with mercury, used for about 400 years.
The species belonging to the genus Saponaria were imported in ancient Europe to bring a note of color in the gardens of the castles, in the conventual gardens and in the cloisters of the monasteries only later they became widespread and naturalized. Today Saponaria officinalis is frequently found in the wild in the sites of the old wool factories, where it was once cultivated to wash the fabric.
The properties of this plant are mainly purifying, diuretic, expectorant, sweat and tonic and in medicine it is adopted for internal use in case of gout and dermatitis, bronchial congestion and jaundice although today it is rarely used for its irritating effect on the digestive system. . In fact, used in excess it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor centers. For external use, the decoction is useful in case of dermatitis and for skin affected by acne or psoriasis. Although sometimes recommended as a shampoo, it can cause severe eye irritation.
The active ingredients are saponins (gustubinic and saprubrinic acid), mucilages, resins, flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, gum, vitessin. Saponins are contained in all parts of the plant, especially in the roots, which can contain up to 20 percent during the flowering period.

Preparation Method -
The dried root and leaves were used, before the commercial production of soap began, around the early nineteenth century, as a detergent for washing delicate clothes. A decoction obtained by boiling the different parts of the plant in rainwater is indicated to restore splendor to ancient silk fabrics, lace and embroidery, whose colors have been obscured by dust. From the maceration of the root an expectorant liquid is obtained, to be taken with extreme caution.

- Acta Plantarum - Flora of the Italian Regions.
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
- Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord's Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore
- Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
- Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription, therefore we decline any responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

Saponaria | Ideal for borders and rock gardens: variety and cultivation

Belonging to the family of Caryophyllaceae, both the generic name and the common name of this genus refers to the juice of the leaves of the Saponaria officinalis, which in water produces foam like soap. All varieties are excellent border plants, for “wild” gardens and for rock gardens.

Saponaria plant

Often grown singly as a delicate rock garden plant, they are primarily two the most popular and cultivated varieties of this genus. There S.officinalis, known for centuries for its medicinal and detergent properties, used in skin lotions and in shampoos, it is one vigorous perennial, expanded, high up to 60 cm, with racemes of pink flowers, in summer.

An example of S.officinalis grown in a rock garden.

There Saponaria ocymoides, on the other hand, it is a tall perennial up to 10 cm. It has poise creeping and is indicated in rock gardens, on escarpments and on walls. In summer form carpets of small deep pink flowers, with five petals, gathered in racemes.



This plant is exclusive of the places in full sun. We don't try to make it grow in other situations. Withstands up to -18 ° C.

Type of terrain

The chosen soil must be sufficiently fertile but the drainage must be the same perfect, perhaps through skeletal ground.


We take the cuttings atearly summer or we sow the plants in spring or in Autumn.


We water regularly after planting, then let's not exaggerate: it is a plant that suffers water stagnation which can cause root rot.


We do not risk exceeding with too high fertilizations: a soil is enough average fertile.


A decent summer is enough for them to develop deep pink flowers.

Diseases and treatment

The leaf margins can be reduced to shreds from snails and snails except in the case of a particular cultivar, the "Bressingham“, Which, growing in the rock gardens, makes it difficult for them to walk.

Plants for the rock garden

As I said earlier, the choice of plants is a fundamental aspect for the realization of this scenographic garden.

In the next few lines I will present some examples, so that you can have an input to start your adventure without starting blindly.

One thing that you will obviously have to remember is that to reproduce a mountain landscape, you need local plants from the mountain area.

Nature in mind calliopea

(All rights reserved)

Saponaria officinale a plant, a fresh wash

There is no plant with a fresher and more delicate scent that allows us to think about our laundry, giving us the opportunity to make a totally natural and ecological detergent, to be used also for our dishes and for our body. I'm talking about the officinal soapwort.
I know this spontaneous plant along a small country path. She hits me with her beautiful pale pink flowers, gathered in bunches, sweetly scented.
For this I bend down as a sign of respect and see in my memories my grandmother at the stream, intent on doing the laundry.

The name of soapwort is not by chance

The name of soapwort in fact, not surprisingly, comes from the Latin "sapo" that is soap because the leaves and roots of this plant, if rubbed in water they produce a soap-like cleansing foam. The soap effect occurs because the soap products contain saponin which is the element that has made man use it since ancient times as delicate natural detergent.

An ecological message from a flower and the detergent recipe

For this reason, once again, I realize that nature is a precious friend who always advises us in the best possible way in total respect for the environment and for our person.
So we try to abandon chemical products and let us rely on nature that thinks about our skin and our clothes and we do dry the leaves soap to prepare a good ecological detergent. We proceed by pulverizing the dry leaves of the plant and add a drop of vinegar and we will obtain a good detergent for laundry and dishes.

An infusion of leaves as a mild shampoo and cleanser

But saponaria officinalis lends itself to experimenting much more, in fact it can be used as an infusion to make a shampoo for brittle hair and damaged in addition to the fact that the infusion could be used as a cleanser for delicate skin.

Soapwort is also a beautiful garden flower

The officinal soapwort, in addition to being a useful cleaner, it is also a beautiful flower to grow.
Her perfume becomes more penetrating in the evening when she concentrates more, to give us wonderful evenings in the garden, with friends who will ask us about her, eager to to stop.
By cultivating it you will discover that with the soapwort also the butterflies that pollinate it and even use it to reproduce will arrive.

For this, sow it in autumn and you will see it born in spring or take cuttings from non-flowering stems from spring to early summer and propagate it.
You will create a beautiful butterfly garden.

Saponaria officinalis family and habitat

Saponaria officinalis belongs to the soap genus.
There are at least forty species of soapwort.
All are annual or perennial plants of the family of the caryophyllaceae.
Saponaria officinalis is a vigorous spontaneous plant, up to eighty centimeters high, which is found in grassy meadows, along paths, in humid places and along streams.

Description of the plant

The flowers fragrant appear in summer, from June to August.
They consist of five light pink, sometimes white, petals and are collected in bunches.
The drums light green in color, they are erect and gnarled and have reddish hues.
, always light green, have three longitudinal ribs and are lanceolate and pointed.
The fruits they ripen in autumn and consist of oval capsules containing lots of pellet-like seeds.
The root main, fragrant especially in the evening and at night, reminiscent of a turnip.

On the saponaria officinalis root and on the flowers

The root it can be found for sale to be used as a detergent for delicate clothing, especially wool. In addition to saponin, it contains mucilage, carbon hydrates and a soft resin.
The flowers instead contain tannins, an essential oil e two dyes, one red soluble in oil and one white soluble in water.

Red soapwort oil is good for the stomach

Red soapstone oil it is prepared by macerating five hundred grams of fresh flowers in olive oil and half a liter of white wine.
This oil is used for stomach pain and abdominal pain.

The other properties of the soapwort root and flowers

The root of officinal soap, in addition to detergent properties, it has aperitif, tonic, purifying and diuretic properties.
THE flowers they have antiseptic, analgesic, balsamic, diuretic and vulnerary properties.

There saponaria officinalis it is used for the treatment of dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, in the form of a decoction, while the root has a purifying, expectorant and diuretic function.

The decoctions

With soapwort root (harvested in early spring) can be prepared decoctions to treat liver, rheumatic pains and dermatosis, while for external use the decoction can be put with gauze on skin affected by dermatitis and psoriasis.

The decoction of root and fresh soapwort leaves it is useful for cleansing and disinfecting sores and wounds.
The use of soapwort, however, must be contained especially the internal one due to the saponin content in order to avoid problems.

Soap shampoo, recipe

The presence of saponins makes soapwort useful for producing one homemade soap shampoo made with 15 grams of dried soapwort root and two handfuls of fresh stems that will be chopped and mixed with the root powder and boiled for 20 minutes to then be filtered to obtain a cleansing lotion.


Flowers of Liguria, G. Nicolini A. Moreschi, Siag Genoa Editions, 1970
Encyclopedia of herbs recognition and medicinal, aromatic, cosmetic use, Edizioni del Baldo, 2012
Recognizing the spontaneous flowers of Italy and Europe, Margot and Roland Sphon, Ricca Editore, 2013
The herbarium by jekka Mc Vicar, Logos 2009

Who is behind Chlorophyll?

Giulia: I am the daughter of agronomists and I grew up between the countryside and the city. When I was little, in the car, we used to guess what the fields we were crossing were cultivated for ... Growing up, this interest in plants remained. I did a PhD in botany in Denmark.

Now I have launched into this new adventure, Chlorophylls, because I think it is fun to discover everything that is possible to produce with plants. My studies led me to adopt more sustainable behaviors: eating organic, moving around by bike, cultivating my balcony.

Bianca: I am the daughter of an agronomist and a father with a terrifying green thumb! The bathroom at home in Milan has always been a jungle and my windowsill a savannah of succulents.

I am a graphic designer and this new project by Clorofille allows me to combine my passion for the arts and design with my constant attention to the environment.


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