Monday, May 30, 2011


Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

Solanine: a toxic saponin found in the nightshade family

Saponins are plant chemicals are used for their detergent-like or cleaning properties. Some of the better known are Saponaria officinalis from Europe and Quillaja saponaria from South America. Saponin molecules have two parts; a sapogenin attached to a carbohydrate molecule. These two part types of molecules are collectively called glycosides. The sapogenin portion alone, without the carbohydrate or sugar is an aglycone rather than a glycoside. Sapogenins are generally of two types; a steroid like form and a triterpenoid form.

Besides being able to produce a froth in water, saponins have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The sapogenin is hydrophobic (water hating) and the glycoside or carbohydrate is hydrophilic (water loving). This makes saponins in general a natural surfactant as well as a mild emulsifier.

Other plants that produce saponins include yucca, soapwort (Saponaria), licorice, ginseng, yarrow, viola, and soap nuts. Some saponins are also phytoestrogens and react with the estrogen receptor to provide skin benefits.

While I’ve never actually been able to work up a froth from agitating licorice, yarrow or viola, I do think they make nice additions to a mix of bath herbs for their cleansing properties.

Do you ever use saponin containing herbs

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Violet Ice

I love when violets and violas start to bloom. Some think of them as weeds, but I love the way they look. In some areas the purple violets grow in the grass, but here in Colorado they don't grow that well because of the arid climate.

There are many flowers in the violet family including pansies, but I especially like Viola tricolor, also known as violas, Johnny Jump ups and heartsease. Violets are edible and can be used in salads. They are also used in skin care and contain soothing mucilage, flavonoids, salicylic acid and saponins used for cleansing. Historically it has been used to treat wounds, itching, rashes and eczema. Some people use it in their skin care products. I use it in my foot soak because of its ability to cease an itch and for its saponins. Saponins are glycosides from plants that have the ability to foam so are often used for cleansing.

My favorite thing to do with violas do is to make ice cubes! To do this, first put a layer of water into the ice cube tray (about ¼ full) and then place the violas on the water surface face down and submerge as much as possible. Put into the freezer until well frozen. Now remove the trays and fill the rest of the way with water and put in the freezer again. This will allow the flower to be completely encased in ice instead of it floating to the top.

Enjoy your violet ice cubes in a glass of sparking soda.

Here are two blog posts friends have written on violets that I've enjoyed:

Do you have a favorite thing to do with violets?


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