Herb: Soap Lily

Latin name: Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Synonyms: Loathoe pomeridiana

Family: Hyacinthaceae

Medicinal use of Soap Lily:

Soap lily bulbs contain saponins, a medicinally active ingredient that is of particular value as an antiseptic wash. Saponins are somewhat toxic (see the notes above on toxicity) and so any internal use of this plant should be carried out with great care. The bulb is antiseptic, carminative, diuretic and laxative. A decoction has been used to treat wind in the stomach. Externally, the bulbs have been rubbed on rheumatic joints. The pounded bulbs were mixed with water and used as a hair wash in the treatment of dandruff, to prevent lice and also to treat skin irritations including that caused by poison oak. A poultice of the baked bulbs has been used as an antiseptic on skin sores.

Description of the plant:


2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Dry open hills and plains, occasionally in woods, below 1500 metres.

Edible parts of Soap Lily:

Bulb - cooked. A slow baking in its skin will remove any soapiness in the taste. The bulb should be peeled before being eaten since the skin is fibrous. The bulb can also be peeled and then boiled, though the water it is cooked in should be thrown away. Although wholesome and nutritious when thoroughly cooked, the raw bulb should not be eaten because it contains saponins. The bulb is very large and can be up to 15cm in diameter. Young leaves - raw or cooked. Used as a potherb when harvested in the spring, they are very sweet when slowly baked.

Other uses of the herb:

A glue can be made from the sap that is expressed from baking bulbs. The bulbs can be boiled into a liquid starch which can then be used to twined baskets to close the interstices so that seeds do not fall through. A soap is obtained from the bulb. The bulb is stripped of its outer fibrous covering and rubbed on clothes or hands in water to produce a lather. It is very good for delicate fabrics and has a gentle affect upon the skin. The bulb can also be dried for later use, it can then be grated as required and used as soap flakes. A fibre obtained from the outer covering of the bulb is used to make small brushes or as a filling for mattresses etc.

Propagation of Soap Lily:

Seed - sow spring or summer 2mm deep in a peat/sand mix. Germination usually takes place within 1 - 6 months at 15C, but it can be slow and erratic. Sow the seed thinly so that the seedlings do not need to be thinned and grow them on in the pot for their first year of growth, giving an occasional liquid feed o ensure that they do not become mineral deficient. When dormant, pot up 3 young bulbs per pot and grow them on for at least another 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the spring. Division of offsets when the bulb dies down in late summer. Larger offsets can be planted out direct into their permanent positions but it is best to pot up the smaller bulbs and grow them on for at least a year in the greenhouse.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry open hills and plains, occasionally in woods, below 1500 metres.

Known hazards of Chlorogalum pomeridianum:

The bulb contains saponins. Although fairly toxic, these substances are very poorly absorbed by the body and most of them simply pass straight through. Saponins are found in a number of common foods, including many beans. They are destroyed by thorough cooking. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.