Wavy-leafed soap plant or California soaproot was well-used by First Nations of California and southwest Oregon. Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany has over a half page documenting its utility. Some examples, in the format of “First Nation | Type of Use | Summary”:
- Cahuilla | Dermatological Aid | Saponaceous material used as a dandruff shampoo
- Pomo | Dermatological Aid | Plant juice rubbed on area affected by poison oak
- Wailaki | Gastrointestinal Aid | Decoction of bulbs taken for stomachaches
- Miwok | Winter Use Food | Stored, dried bulbs used for food
- Costanoan | Brushes & Brooms | Fibrous bulb covers tied in bundles to make brushes
- Luisenõ | Brushes & Brooms | Bulb fiber made into small brushes used for sweeping up scattered meal after pounding acorns
- Mewuk | Caulking Material | Made into a white mucilaginous paste and used to coat baskets
- Cahuilla | Hunting & Fishing Item | Saponaceous material used as a stupefying ageny and placed into streams to catch fish
- Karok | Soap | Bulbs pounded, mixed with water, and used as a detergent for washing clothes and buckskin blankets
- Mendocino Indian | Decorations | Green leaves formerly pricked into the skin to form tattoo marks
- Mendocino Indian | Fasteners | Bulbs roasted and the juice used as a substitute for glue in attaching feathers to arrows
Or, if you prefer a written narrative: you can either visit Wikipedia’s entry on Chlorogalum pomeridianum or visit Wayne Armstrong’s page on soap lilies in California. I recommend the latter because it contains additional photographs of the flowers and plants, as well as an image of the fibre-covered bulbs of Chlorogalum pomeridianum. Wayne also explains the physical chemistry and biochemistry of saponins, responsible for the soap-like properties associated with this species and its relatives.
Botany resource link: I updated the science weblogs listing yesterday (bottom right of the main Botany Photo of the Day page). Most were deletions, but I also added Kew Blogs, so I thought I might point out the link here as well. On that note, if you have suggestions for science weblogs I should add (particularly plant-related ones), post a comment with a link and I’ll consider adding it to the list in early August.