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Soapbark

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  • Botanical: Quillaja saponaria
  • Family: Quillajaceae
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Soapbark

Botanical

Quillaja saponaria

Family

Quillajaceae

Known as

soap bark tree, soapbark, Quillaja

Old Use

medical, industry

Parts Used

bark, wood

Medicinal

coughs, eczema

Respiratory System

catarrh, cough, nasal congestion, respiratory

Skin & Hair

acne, eczema

Properties

expectorant, stimulant

Description

It can grow to 15–20 m (50–65 ft) in height. The tree has thick, dark bark, smooth, leathery, shiny, oval evergreen leaves 3–5 cm long, white flowers 15 mm diameter borne in dense corymbs, and a dry fruit with five follicles each containing 10-20 seeds.

Properties & Uses

Soap bark tree has a long history of medicinal use with the Andean people who used it especially as a treatment for various chest problems. The saponin content of the bark helps to stimulate the production of a more fluid mucous in the airways, thus facilitating the removal of phlegm through coughing. The tree is useful for treating any condition featuring congested catarrh within the chest, but it should not be used for dry irritable coughs. It has been used internally as a stimulating expectorant, though it can cause irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract and so is no longer considered safe. The internal use of this plant needs to be carefully overseen by a professional practitioner. Sap bark tree is used as a source of compounds for the pharmaceutical industry. It is still used externally as a cutaneous stimulant in the treatment of skin ulcers and eruptions, dandruff etc.

Other Uses

The fresh or dried inner bark is a soap substitute. It contains about 9% saponins and is a very gentle and effective cleaner. It is used for cleaning textiles and the skin. It can also be used as a hair tonic. The saponins are also used in anti-dandruff shampoos and exfoliant cleansers. They are used as a foaming agent in fire extinguishers. The bark also contains considerable quantities of carbonate of lime

Cautions

The plant is toxic if taken internally, tending to dissolve the blood corpuscles. The bark, and possibly other parts of the plant, contains saponins. Although toxic, saponins are very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm, they are also destroyed by thorough cooking. Saponins are found in many plants, including several that are often used for food, such as certain beans. It is advisable not to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. 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

Distribution

This tree occurs at altitudes to 2000 metres. The species is drought resistant, and tolerates about -12°C (10°F) in its natural habitat. Examples of specific occurrences are in central Chile in the forests of La Campana National Park and Cerro La Campana, in which locales it is associated with the Chilean Wine Palm, Jubaea chilensis. It is often used for reforestation on arid soils. It has been introduced as an ornamental in California. Trees have been acclimatized in Spain but are rarely cultivated there. 

Constituents

The inner bark contains about 9% of complex saponins, known collectively as 'quillajasaponin'. It also contains calcium oxalate and tannin

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.