Michael gets in “soapy bubble”* with Amanda

24 Oct
Soapwort is also known as Bouncing Bet, a nickname for the washerwomen who used it

History lesson: Soapwort is also known as Bouncing Bet, a nickname for the washerwomen who used it

If TV presenter Michael Buerk thought it was tough learning to be a Georgian manservant under the beady eyes of trainer Alex, he didn’t know what had hit him when my boss, Amanda, took him under her wing.

After spending the first three episodes of Inside the National Trust – the behind-the-scenes ITV series focusing on six National Trust properties, including my home, Wordsworth House and Garden – working indoors, this week Michael is moving outside.

He wasn’t amused when Amanda set him to digging up soapwort roots, as he was wearing some very smart and expensive looking trousers.

Once they had obtained the roots – with Amanda telling him off in the process for not giving his spadework enough welly – they moved back indoors to the Georgian kitchen to turn the roots into liquid soap.

To protect his shirt, Amanda very generously let him wear a replica 18th-century gardener’s smock. Strangely, he didn’t seem particularly impressed.

The results were not very impressive either – the kitchen is so grubby they ended up with a mixture that was more sooty than soapy.

If you want to try making your own soap, here are Amanda’s tips…

“Saponaria officinalis, or soapwort, is a lovely garden herb. It will grow in full sun or part shade, in any fertile moist soils. It is a bit of a thug, but if you’re prepared to plant it with other vigorous herbaceous perennials, it’s well worth growing.

“It yields a soapy sap which is ideal for laundering, especially delicate or precious fabrics.

“Gather the leaf stem and roots (the latter are best as they contain the most saponins).

“Clean the roots thoroughly and chop into small pieces. Cover with rain or soft water (not chemically treated tap water) and boil for 30 minutes, then use the soapy liquid. You can also wash your hair with it.

“Please note, however, that the roots are poisonous and shouldn’t be consumed, or grown near fish ponds – the excretions can poison the fish.”

Inside the National Trust is showing on ITV1 on Sundays, usually at around 12.25pm, over the autumn and winter – or you can follow the link to catch up on your TV or PC.

(*That’s Cockney rhyming slang for “trouble”.)


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