By P. L. SIMMONDS.
Many plants in different countries furnish useful substances for soap to the natives, where there are no conveniences or materials for manufacturing the ordinary soap of commerce. Prominent among these are the soapworts, tropical plants belonging to the genus Sapindus. The Hindoos use the pulp of the fruit of Sapindus detergens for washing linen. Several of the species are used for the same purpose instead of soap, owing to the presence of the vegetable principle called saponine. The root and bark also of some species are said to be saponaceous. The capsule of Sapindus emarginatus has a detergent quality when bruised, forming suds if agitated in hot water. The natives of India use this as a soap for washing the hair, silk, etc. The berries of Sapindus laurifolius, another Indian species, are also saponaceous. The name of the genus Sapindus is merely altered from Sapo-indicus, Indian soap, the aril which surrounds the seed of S. saponaria being used as soap in South America. According to Browne, the seed-vessels are very acrid; they lather freely in water, and will cleanse more linen than thirty times their weight of soap, but in time they corrode or burn the linen. This assertion, however, requires confirmation. Humboldt tells us that, proceeding along the river Carenicuar, in the Gulf of Cariaco, he saw the native Indian women washing their linen with the fruit of this tree, there called the Para para. Saponaceous berries are also used in Java for washing. The fresh bark of the root Monnina polystachia (R. and P.), called Yalhoi, pounded and moulded into balls, is used by the Peruvians in place of soap.
Saponine exists in many other seeds and roots—in the legumes of Acacia concinna, in which a considerable trade is carried on in some parts of India, and in the root of Vaccaria vulgaris, Agrostemma Githago, and Anagallis arvensis. It also occurs in various species of Dianthus and Lychnis, and in the bark of Silene inflata.
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