Soap plant or Amole
This plant is part of the Hyacinth or Hyacinthaceae family.
Distribution and Habitat
All zones except the high mountains and deserts. Dry and open slopes up to about 5000 feet. From Oregon to San Diego.
Description of Plant
This plant grows from a bulb and has long leaves which are strap-like, looking like a wide grass. In late spring and summer the flower stalks range from four to eight feet tall and can form small colonies of plants. The flowers are one inch wide, scattered along the stalk and evening blooming. The flowered open over a period of several weeks and each lasts for a single week.
Description of Plant Uses
The Native Americans used this plant for many different uses including for fiber, soap, adhesive, food and to stupefy fish.
The bulb is stripped of its outer fibrous layer and then crushed to make a soap. The soap was used to create a lather to clean clothes as wells as hands. It was also considered to be an excellent shampoo.
If slow roasted in a pit oven this bulb could also be used as a food source. Usually the bulbs would be placed in a pit oven at night and they would be ready for use in the morning. This slow cooking method made the bulb lose its soapy properties. The left over fibers were used as brushes, usually to brush the fine flower made from various nuts and seeds such as acorns out of baskets.
Young leaves were often harvested and cooked in a pit oven. This slow roasting process made these leaves sweet and therefore very delicious. The young leaves were also often eaten raw while the older, larger leaves were used to wrap breads before placed in ovens.
When cooked the bulb produces a thick substance. This was commonly used as a type of glue to attach feathers to arrows. Juice from the leaves were used as a type of tattoo ink, producing a green color.
One of the most interesting uses for this plant was its use as a fish poison, which is now illegal in California. Large numbers of fish were caught by damming streams and then by throwing in the crushed bulbs. This would stupefy the fish which would then float to the surface and could easily be picked out by hand. This process would stupefy fish and eels but not frogs. The poison also did not affect the fish as a food source.
Ornamental Value in the Landscape
This plant can be used for its ornamental value in the landscape. It is easy to cultivate and may multiply into a small colony in the garden. Plant it amount shrubs or at the edge of an oak canopy. It prefers sun to partial shade and is drought tolerant. It is adaptable to many different soil types.
Ethnobotany / Medicinal Uses
The soap plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, was also used medicinally. It was commonly used as a poultice for sores and rheumatism.