Washing with weeds

Some animals roll in dust or dirt to clean themselves. The dust absorbs excess oil and scrapes off parasites. Humans, on the other hand, keep clean by washing the dirt away. How did early humans remove grease, dirt, and whatever else was stuck to skin and hair? Before the invention of soap (see story on page 22), humans used parts of trees, flowers, roots, berries, and weeds to wash themselves.

Imagine discovering a tree bark that produces enough lather to get you clean. One such plant is soapbark, or soaptree (Quillaja saponaria). Native to South America, the tree grows up to 60 feet tall. The inner bark is used to wash clothing. People cleanse their skin and hair with it, too. Since it froths so well, it has been added to fire-extinguisher foam.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), a common weedy plant found along roadsides in North America and Europe, was used widely as a cleaner. Two to three feet tall, the sap from its pinkish-white flowers, stems, and root produce a good lather. In fact, it cleans so well that some museums still use it to gently wash pictures and furniture.

Leaves from a 30-foot-tall, fruit-bearing tropical tree are also used in shampoos and toothpastes. Some clothing manufacturers still use it to clean wools and silks to 'shrinkproof' them before they are dyed. You can find the edible fruit of this tree in your grocery store: It's the papaya (Carica papaya).

Another common landscape plant, yucca (Yucca schidigera), was a popular cleaner used for centuries by native Americans.

Substances called 'saponins' in the leaves and roots of this and other 'soap plants' create a natural foaming action. Those who have tried it say yucca shampoo leaves their hair soft and smooth. The plant continues to be used in 'all natural' shampoos.

Not only that, but the Mojave yucca is also used to help create foam in carbonated drinks. Check the label: Is there yucca in your root beer?

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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