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Bouncing Bet

The leaves and rhizomes of saponaria officinalis can be boiled in water to make a soapy lather.

 Saponaria officinalis

Photo: TeunSpaans (wikipedia)

The flowers of Saponaria officinalis.

The common names of this plant include soapwort, latherwort, lady’s washbowl, and bouncing Bet, said to refer to the way a washerwoman walked.

The early American colonists brought this plant from England and used it for many different kinds of cleaning. The Pennsylvania Dutch even used it for foam on their beer. It has been used medicinally for centuries for skin problems such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and boils. However modern pharmacists and most herbalists nowadays do not value it as a medicine except as an astringent.

It is native to Eurasia but now grows wild throughout the US and southern Canada. It grows in clumps with stems about 2 feet tall. It flowers July till September with pink flowers in clusters at the top of each stem. It enjoys full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Since bouncing Bet likes to bounce around in my garden at an alarming rate, I grow it in a large pot and use it for cut flowers. It comes back in the pot each year as it is very vigorous. Be careful of this plant if you do not have a lot of space.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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