Saponaria: medicinal properties, much more than to make soap

Rheumatism, gout, muscle pain, mucus, bronchitis, gout…. The saponaria or soap dish is a medicinal plant with a multitude of therapeutic uses. If you want to know them, we will tell you what saponaria is good for, how it is used and its contraindications.

¿ What is Saponaria?

The Saponaria ( Saponaria officinalis ), also known as Jabonera is a species belonging to the Caryophyllaceae family, native to central and southern Europe that has become acclimated in Southwest Asia and North America, where it grows on slopes, banks, wet ditches, sandbanks, hedges, wastelands and roadsides.

It is a perennial herbaceous plant with an underground rhizome and lateral roots. The stem is robust and erect, reaching a height of 30-60 cm, thickened at the nodes where the leaves emerge in pairs in a lanceolate shape and taper to form a short stalk. The leaves are 3-5 cm long and pale green. The flowers are pale pink or purple, aromatic. The corolla consists of five tubular petals and the calyx is cylindrical. The fruit is an oblong capsule with numerous seeds. Saponaria flowering takes place between June and September.

In popular language it is also known as: albata, herbada, fuller grass, lanaria grass, soap flower, soap grass, soap grass, soap grass, soap grass, soap dish, official soap dish, soap stick, saponaria, siabuneira, xabonera, sabonera, among other names.

The word “saponaria” refers to its ability to make soap , due to its high content of glycosides, which in contact with water, produce foam.

The Saponaria officinalis has been used as an alternative medicine since the time of Dioscórides in ancient Greece. Its medicinal uses include its use as a cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, slightly diuretic, expectorant, purgative, tonic, against infectious processes that affect the lymph nodes and externally to treat itchy skin. Also the Arab doctors in ancient times used it in leprosy, malignant ulcers and herpes.

From the saponaria you can use the whole plant, the roots, the leaves and the flowers, and at present it has uses not only in the manufacture of soaps, but also in pharmacy, herbal medicine, making toothpastes and as an emulsion for fats.

Composition and active principles of Saponaria

The main phytochemicals of Saponaria officinalis are saponins (2-5%) which foam when extracted with water and give it its soapy quality.

The root of the saponaria contains the highest amount of saponins, 4 to 5%, a glycoside that causes salivation, sweating and is a diuretic. The soap dish leaves also contain saponosides, vitamin C and flavonoids.

Other compounds that contribute to its uses in herbal medicine are gypsogenin heterosides, essential oils, resins, saporubin, vitexin, saponarin, among others.

Properties and therapeutic benefits of Saponaria

Traditionally this plant is used at the respiratory level as a mucolytic, expectorant and antitussive , which is why it is used in the treatment of bronchitis, emphysema and asthma .

In small doses, the saponaria causes an increase in secretion in the mucous membranes causing salivation and sweating.

Due to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties , Saponaria has been used externally to relieve rheumatism, gout, myalgia (muscle pain), osteoarticular inflammation, eczema, dermatitis, especially seborrheic and exfoliative, acne, tonsillitis and stomatitis .

This plant is used in the prevention of arteriosclerosis due to its lipid-lowering properties (saponosides combine with bile acids and inhibit the intestinal absorption of cholesterol ).

Soap dish is also used for some urinary tract conditions as a diuretic and cleanser in oliguria (low urine output), kidney stones and cystitis . It has also been used for hepatobiliary dyskinesias, jaundice, and gallstones.

Here are some local uses for this plant:

Canary Islands, Spain: balsamic, béquico, choleteric, diuretic

Cuba: antirheumatic and dermatic

Argentina: expectorant and depurative (especially diuretic).

Aragon, Spain: antirheumatic wound and ulcer disinfectant in compresses applied to painful areas.

Scientific studies have shown a strong antimicrobial activity of saponaria extracts and thus we have to:

  • The aerial parts of Saponaria officinalis exhibit antibacterial activity against a number of bacteria. The therapeutic value of extracts from this plant may be due in part to their antioxidant activity . These properties propose that such extracts could possibly be used as natural preservatives in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
  • The direct fungicidal / fungistatic properties of Saponaria officinalis phytochemicals were demonstrated against the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans . These properties appear to be very promising in the context of the use of derivatives of this plant as a potential new antifungal agent to support classical drugs or as ingredients in disinfectants.
  • A lyophilized infusion of Saponaria officinalis roots exhibited an antiviral effect . It inhibited the replication of different strains of influenza virus types A and B, both in vitro and in vivo, and herpes simplex virus type 1, in vitro. The preparation contains flavonoids, triterpenic saponins, phenolic acids, tannins and polysaccharides that could be responsible for its antiviral properties.

The effects of triterpenic glycosides (saponins) extracted from Saponaria officinalis L. radices , on innate, cellular and humoral immunity factors, have been experimentally studied . Saponins stimulate the phagocytic, bactericidal, and adhesion activities of polymorphonuclear leukocytes, showing good prospects for their practical use to boost the immune system and fight disease .

Recently, bisdesmodic saponins with highly specific structural features of S. officinalis have been shown to strongly enhance the efficacy of antitumor antibodies , in vitro and in vivo, synergistically.

Triterpenoidal saponins are synthesized in the roots of Saponaria officinalis L. The same plant is also a source of the toxin Saporin, which is a ribosome-inactivating protein. Triterpenoidal saponins are known to increase the cytotoxicity of saporin, which is a new strategy to potentially improve the cytotoxicity and therapeutic efficacy of the immunotoxins in the drug rituximab for the treatment of B-cell lymphoma, a type of cancer.


How to use Saponaria

Internal use :

  • Infusion: 15 grams for each liter of water, boil for two minutes. Drink one cup a day, half an hour before eating. Prepare and drink immediately, do not marinate (toxic).
  • Tincture (1: 5): 30 to 50 drops, one to three times a day.
  • Fluid extract (1: 1): 10 to 30 drops, 1 to 2 times a day.
  • Syrup (5% fluid extract): 1 to 3 tablespoons per day.

External use:

  • Infusion: 60 to 80 grams per liter of water, boil for 10 minutes. Apply in the form of compresses or lotion on the affected part.
  • Fluid extract (1: 1): 50 to 100 drops diluted in half a glass of water. Apply in the form of mouthwashes or gargles for the throat.
  • Extract (1: 5) in the form of creams or gels, applied to the area to be treated.
  • The best preparation according to Dr. Leclerc is the aqueous extract of the root at a rate of 1 or 2 grams per day. The aqueous extract of saponaria at 5 per 1000 (5 grams in 1 liter of water), is the most commonly used form.

Important precautions 

We recommend that this plant be taken exclusively under the supervision of a professional.

Saponaria preparations for internal use should be administered in well-defined doses. At doses higher than those indicated, and / or due to individual susceptibility, they may present certain toxicity manifested with gastric discomfort due to irritation in the intestinal mucosa that leads to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Saponins can also cause depression of the respiratory and cardiac nerve centers and cause paralysis.

In addition, saponins increase the permeability of cell walls, promoting bleeding.

Due to its toxic effect on the mucous membranes, pulverized saponaria causes nasal irritation, to be taken into account when preparing this plant for use.

Contraindications of Saponaria

It should not be consumed in case of pregnancy, lactation or in children under 14 years of age,

The use of Saponaria is contraindicated in individuals with gastritis and gastroduodenal ulcers due to the irritant action of saponins on the digestive mucosa.

Do not prescribe oral dosage forms with alcoholic content to children under two years of age.

Consulted bibliography

  • Toxic plants for medicinal use in the Aragonese Pyrenees

Acta biol. mont., 1984 (IV): 497-514

  • Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS ‐ 174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra , aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses

Phytotherapy Research, Volume 4, Issue3, June 1990

  • Herbal resources of San Luis (Argentina). Part two: cultivated, adventitious and / or naturalized exotic plants

Multequina, no. 7, 1998, pp. 29-48

Argentine Institute for Arid Zones Research Mendoza, Argentina

  • Medicinal, aromatic or poisonous plants of Cuba. Juan Tomás Roig


  • Comparative analysis on the use of medicinal plants in the traditional medicine of Cuba and the Canary Islands

Rev Cubana Plant Med v.9 n.1, 2004

  • Antioxidant, Antimicrobial Activity and Total Phenolic Content within the Aerial Parts of Artemisia absinthum, Artemisia santonicum and Saponaria officinalis

Iran J Pharm Res. 2011 Winter; 10 (1): 49–56.

  • New pharmacological properties of Medicago sativa and Saponaria officinalis saponin-rich fractions addressed to Candida albicans

Journal of Medical Microbiology, Volume 63, Issue 8, 2014

  • High-speed countercurrent chromatographic recovery and off-line electrospray ionization mass spectrometry profiling of bisdesmodic saponins from Saponaria officinalis possessing synergistic toxicity enhancing properties on targeted antitumor toxins

Journal of Chromatography B, Volumes 955–956, April 2014, Pages 1-9




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