As functional members of our modern society, we are somehow accustomed to take things for granted and we become dependent of stores and the items we buy. Soap is one of the many items that we take for granted and if stores would stop selling this item tomorrow, we would have no clue how to make do without it. Luckily for us, there are soap plants that we can use as substitute when soap runs out. Sanitation will become an important task during a crisis scenario and although you may have stockpiled enough soap to last you for a lifetime, it is always better to learn about the alternatives we have. Learning how to make soap is a skill that will come in handy and it will help you stay clean when stores will close. However, in today’s article I will share some of my knowledge regarding a natural, cost free alternative; the soap plants that can be found in the wild!
Interacting with nature and using all its resources is an important aspect of preparedness and off-grid living. If you are familiar with this site, you’ve probably noticed by now that I encourage people to get back into nature and learn about foraging and every other skill that will help them survive when our modern society will collapse. Foraging for wild plants is a forgotten skill that will prove very useful if you are forced to leave your home and head for the woods. Nature provides all sorts of plants that can help you survive and thrive in a harsh environment. Besides the medicinal plants and the wild edibles, there are quite a few plants that contain saponins (steroids that dissolve in water and create a stable froth). These plants will help you stay clean when exploring the great the outdoors.
Most of the soap plants that you can find in the wild were used by the Native Americans and the first pioneers. Although they are different from the old fashioned soap that your grandma used to make on the farm, these plants work just as well and they are a great substitute for the traditional soaps.
Some of the soap plants listed in this article are found everywhere in the wild and they can be prepared very easily.
Soap plants – Yucca (Yucca spp.)
Yucca is one of the soap plants used by the Native Americans and there are numerous species of yucca spread throughout the plains and western States. This is one of the arid edibles I wrote about in a previous article and it is very easy to identify it. The plant produces a stemless cluster of long, rigid leaves which end in a sharp point. The leaves are 8 to 35 inches long and have a gray-green color. This is a versatile plant and the Native Americans used it extensively for various purposes. Besides being used for soap, the plant produces several good foods, quality fiber that was used to make sandals. It was also used as tinder and it helped improvising carrying cases or quivers from the mature, hollowed-out flower stalks.
Although many prefer to use the root to make soap, digging up the root is an intense labor and you may even get fined for doing so because some Yucca species are listed as endangered. To make soap easily you can cut the leaves (even one would do) and strip them into fibers until you have a handful of very thin strands. Add water and agitate between your hands until soap forms. You will need to pay attention when cutting the lives because you can hurt yourself with the sharp tips or you can slice your fingers on the edges of the leaf. Make sure you snip off the sharp tip before you strip the leaves. Yucca soap has extremely good cleansing properties and the leaf fiber helps in scrubbing. It provides medium to rich lather depending on the species, but since the leaves are available year-round and the plant is widespread it makes Yucca one of the soap plants that can be used the most.
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Soap plants – Mountain Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
This plant is also known as soap bush and there are over 50 species of shrubs or small shrub trees. Most of the species are confined to North America. The soap bush is common throughout the southwest and if you go hiking in the spring, you will notice a spot of white, blue or purple along the trail and on the hillside. Many species can be used as soap plants even though their botanical properties will sometimes be different. To make sure you have mountain lilac that can be used as soap you can do a simple test. Take a handful of blossoms, add water and rub them between the hands. If you get a rich lather with a mild aroma, you got the right plant! The plant will lose its flowers early summer and it will form some sticky green fruits. Don’t worry if you missed the flowering period of the mountain lilac because the fruits can also be used to make soap. The early pioneers used to dry the fruits and used them for soap when needed. If you decide to dry the fruits and store them for later use, you must know that the fruits will get very hard and you will need to ground them into a fine powder before using it as soap. Once you have the powder, add water and rub vigorously. The soap doesn’t have the same quality as the one made from the fresh fruits, but it is a good alternative when nothing else is available. Mountain lilac has good cleansing properties and it’s worth traveling to the difficult terrain to collect its flowers and fruits.
Soap plants – Soaproot (Blitum californicum)
This is a plant that was used by the Native Americans both as medicine and as a food source. The leaves of soaproot can be cooked, drained and used as you would use spinach. This is often confused with lamb’s quarter by many foragers, but if you pay attention, you can notice that soaproot has a large taproot. This is the part that can be used to make soap and it is often similar to a ginseng root or an overgrown carrot. Getting the root requires some effort and in hard soil it can be a foot deep, making it impossible to be harvested without a good shovel. The first pioneers learned to make soap from the Native Americans and they used to preserve the root in a dark, cold place for later use. In order to make soap you will need to grate the root with a sharp knife. Add water and rub between the hands to obtain a soap that many consider superior to store-bought soaps. The taproot produces a frothy lather that has very good cleansing properties. This plant is harder to find since most of those who know about its cleaning properties would take entire taproots and store them for later use. It can be found only in isolated patches and if you plan to use Soaproot, make sure you only use small taproots and leave the rest.
Soap plants – Amole (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)
Amole is widespread plant that is part of the lily family and it can be identified easily due to its long liner leaves growing from the base of the plant. It develops flowers on a long stem and it grows a large brown bulb. To reach the bulb, which is the part used for making soap, you will sometimes have to dig down up to a foot deep. The bulb is usually covered in layers of brown fibers and you will need to remove these fibers until you reach the white bulb. The white bulb is stick and has many layers, just like an onion. You can take some of these layers, add water and agitate between your hands. As a result, you will obtain a rich lather that can be used for any sanitation operation you might need. You can use it to take a bath, to wash your hair and even to clean your clothes. You can also dry the bulb for later use, but just like for all other soap plants, the soap made from the fresh parts is far superior. The bulbous root of the Amole plant can be dug year-round if you know where to look for it. In the fall the plant is dormant and although it is widespread in various areas, it will be harder to find compared to the other soap plants.
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Soap plants – Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima)
This plant can be found in the central and southwestern United States and northern Mexico and it even grows in urban vacant lots. Some people know it by the name of coyote melon and based on its form, you can notice that it is a relative of squash and pumpkins. The Native Americans used the plant as rattles, but also as soap to for washing clothes. In order to make soap, they used the tender growing tips or the leaves of the plant. Adding water and agitating between the hands will result in a green frothy lather that has satisfactory cleansing proprieties. If you decide to use buffalo gourd to make soap, you have to handle the leaves with care as they are covered with tiny rigid spines. These tiny hairs are known to cause irritation to the skin for some people and many survivalists will use this soap plant as a last resort.
Soap plants – Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis)
Many people know this plant as soapweed or crow soap and it is widely available since many gardeners will plant it for its pink flowers. This is an introduced plant and it is mostly used by European countries as soap substitute. Although the leaves and the roots can be used, it is much easier to use the leaves since it will also help maintain the plant alive. There are various ways you can use the leaves to make soap. You can agitate the fresh leaves between your hands with water or you can boil them to produce a lather liquid that has the ability to dissolve fats or grease. Take a handful of fresh leaves, bruise and chop them for 30 minutes in 1 pint of water. Strain the liquid and use it as you would use liquid soap. This plant has satisfactory cleansing proprieties and it is a good alternative if it grows abundantly in your area. You can plant it in your off-grid garden as a useful ornamental and use it as soap substitute year round if no snow has fallen.
Soap plants are just another proof that Mother Nature will take care of your needs and it can provide you with viable alternatives to commercial products. The plants listed in this article will help you stay clean when your soap supplies run out and this is knowledge worth knowing. For every plant, I’ve also added the Wikipedia link so that you can research them furthermore if you wish.
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