Tuesday, 9 July 2013


Soapwort Saponaria officinalis (saponaire officinale in French) is a member of the carnation and campion family. It grows throughout Europe and Asia Minor, on damp uncultivated soils.
It's called soapwort because it contains saponins. If you soak the plant, especially the roots, in warm water you can produce a soapy lather, and this liquid soap was used for centuries in the processing of wool. The plant is sometimes called the fullers' herb, because they would use it to clean woollen cloth (fulling is a stage in woollen cloth manufacture). In some places the whole sheep was washed with soapwort prior to shearing. Even today it is sometimes used by textile conservators when cleaning tapestries. It would also have been used in the local lavoirs (public laundries) but there doesn't seem to be any real truth to the story that if you see soapwort growing it indicates there was once a laundry or a fulling mill or field close by. The plant is common and widespread, and whilst it would have been encouraged to grow near these facilities, it would also grow and spread in any damp undisturbed place. Until last year, before the farmer sprayed the hay meadow in front of our orchard with herbicides and ploughed the field up, there was a substantial patch on the ditch by our gate. Now, to photograph it for this blog post, I had to walk around the corner to the Moulin de Chanvre, where there is a lovely patch growing by the culvert.
The Ports of Ile de Ré: The small island of Ré, just off the western coast of France near La Rochelle has several picturesque small harbours. This one is Saint-Martin-de-Ré, where we stayed recently, taken at dusk.
In Our Kitchen Yesterday: 5kg of sweet red cherries stewed and frozen. I stoned half with the cherry stoning 'machine'. Now I have a couple of cherry seasons under my belt I have got to grips with the various idiosyncracies of this device, and have managed not to spray indelible cherry juice all over the kitchen. The other half I left with their stones in. Not only is this less work, but in theory the cherries should taste better by gaining that hint of almond flavoured cyanide from the stones. The ones with stones in are for pudding type desserts, the ones without stones for cake type recipes. Any excess juice I will jelly.
Swimming: Has commenced in earnest. The weather is conducive, the water in the Preuilly pool is 28° and Laurent has returned in fine form. Antoinette, Pauline, Simon and I met up for a morning's swimming yesterday.
Orchard News: Something has eaten all the flowers on the peppers and chillies!
Farming News: Haymaking continues apace and the harvest has started. Headers are on the move and it's the barley first by the look of it.


Sheila said...

As is so often the case, learned
something new from one of your
posts: soapwort. Looks like
plumbago could be a relative.

Just read a post from a blogger
south of you where the entire
"area" has been declared an
organic farming zone. He said it's
the first time in their 3 summers'
residence that he heard the loud
humming of masses of bees in their
lime tree. Interesting I think.

Susan said...

Sheila: Plumbago is in a family of its own, so not related.

Can I have a link to the blog you mention please? I'm interested by the idea of an area going organic, but I think the guy just wasn't switched on to insect activity in his lime tree if he hasn't noticed it in the past. I find it very unlikely that an unpollarded lime tree in France wouldn't be humming at flowering time.

Sheila said...

Susan, the blog is "bobnsophie.
blogspot.com." The remark about
the organic designation occurs in
the Comments, a reply Angus writes.
He writes about the bees in the last paragraph of the blog.
Btw, the dog is wearing a t-shirt
because she's recovering from her
spay surgery.

Sheila said...

Forgot to mention that they live in
the Tarn-et-Garonne. Angus, a Scot,
seems pretty tuned in to nature,
knows all the birds, etc.

the fly in the web said...

We had soapwort in the soggy areas near the river but I never thought to use it.

Susan said...

Sheila: many thanks.

Fly: I've never used it either.

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