Medicinal plants

Soapbark Tree – Application & Treatment for Health


The soapbark tree is an evergreen plant found in two different species in the warm to temperate areas of South America. The saponin-rich bark is traditionally used as a soap substitute in the Andes. In folk medicine, extracts of the soap bark tree are used both internally and externally.

Occurrence & Cultivation of the Soapbark Tree

Also known under the botanical name Quillaja , the soap bark tree is native to South America, particularly Chile, Peru and Bolivia. It has two subspecies and belongs to the plant order Butterfly Flower-Likes. The evergreen tree can thrive well under different temperature and humidity conditions.

Therefore, it occurs both in warm and humid areas and on dry Andean slopes up to an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level. It grows between 15 and 18 meters high. Its oval leaves are leathery and arranged in a spiral on the branches. Between them sit hermaphrodite flowers arranged in racemes, each with five petals, from which star-shaped seed heads of follicles form after fertilization.

Of economic importance is the eponymous bark of the soap bark tree, which has a high content of saponins and was used commercially early on. Today the soap bark tree is also cultivated in the Mediterranean region as well as in India and California.

Effect & Application

The natives of South America traditionally use the soap bark tree as a substitute for soap for body cleaning and for washing textiles. Accordingly, the botanical name Quillaja was derived from an indigenous term for washing. The cleansing effect of the soap bark tree is based on the saponins contained in the bark .

These form a stable, soapy foam when mixed with water. The bark of the soap bark tree, also known as Panama bark, has been exported to Europe and processed into commercial products since the first half of the 19th century. Products made from soap bark were also often marketed under the names soap wood , soap root , wash bark and wash lye herb .

In powdered form, soap bark is still used today as a detergent. It is also processed into various cosmetic products such as shower gels and shampoos. Due to its foam-forming properties, the bark of the soap bark tree is also used to produce extinguishing foam and as an additive in photo development.

As an approved food additive, soap bark is used to froth beverages. Extracts from the soap bark tree are also used as an adjuvant for vaccine solutions. In addition, the ingredients of the soap bark tree itself also have a proven medicinal effect.

The plant was therefore already used by the natives of South America to treat respiratory diseases and skin diseases . When used internally, soap bark has an expectorant effect. This promotes expectoration in the case of colds and flu-like infections as well as asthma and bronchitis .

Any breathing difficulties are alleviated and recovery accelerated. The popular name cough root alludes to this. In addition, soap bark has a stimulating effect on both metabolism and digestion. Therefore, soap bark extracts can also be used as a light laxative .

When used externally, extracts from the soap bark tree are useful in treating psoriasis , eczema , scalp disorders, athlete’s foot , and various other skin conditions. The soap bark also has an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect. In addition, extracts from the soap bark tree are used to make mouthwash.

Importance for health, treatment & prevention

The soapbark tree is excellent for producing a wide range of household and healthcare products. It is of particular importance as an ecologically degradable soap substitute, which is not only extremely environmentally friendly in use, but also in cultivation.

This means that it can easily be used on a large scale in the household, especially for laundry cleaning. Detergents based on soap bark are considered to be particularly gentle on colors and fibers. Since the soap bark is also very kind to the skin, care products such as liquid soaps, shower gels and hair care products made from it are not only ecologically sensible.

They are also suitable for the care of particularly sensitive skin. Existing skin problems such as dandruff and dry skin can be improved and prevented from getting worse. This also applies to medicinal products made from soap bark that are used externally.

In addition to various washing solutions and ointments, mouthwash based on soap bark is particularly useful in the area of ​​prevention. The antibacterial effect of the soap bark suppresses harmful germs and normalizes the oral flora. This can prevent oral problems such as bleeding gums and periodontal disease .

In the form of tooth powder, soap bark can also counteract tooth decay. When used internally, soap tree extracts are also a mild natural remedy that can be used not only for acute illnesses. By regulating digestion and loosening up bowel movements, flatulence and abdominal pain can be counteracted.

The metabolism-enhancing and diuretic effect can help to alleviate symptoms due to existing illnesses or prevent such illnesses from occurring in the first place. In the case of chronic bronchitis and asthma, soapbark tree extracts ensure that breathing becomes easier.

Soap bark is even suitable for mild vaginal douches. However, it is important to note that soapbark tree-based products are not suitable for everyone. Occasionally, external use can cause allergic skin reactions . If soap bark is ingested in large quantities, digestive system disorders cannot be ruled out. Stomach complaints, diarrhea and bladder irritation can occur.

Dizziness can also occur. After discontinuing the preparations containing soap bark, however, the symptoms usually subside quickly. In addition, there are no known interactions with other medications or home remedies. There are also no contraindications.

Lisa Newlon
 | Website

Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.