Saturday, February 20, 2010

Winter Harvest - Ceanothus blooms

My ceanothus just bloomed for the first time.  In honor of that a ceanothus post.  Ceanothus blooms are rich in saponins, which produce lather when rubbed with some water.  So basically ceanothus blooms make soap.

I learned this the first time while doing the self-guided nature trail at Huckleberry preserve.  I tried just a few flowers and produced a tiny bit of lather.  Then I tried it for real on my Native Californians' use of plants walk at the UC Davis arboretum.  The women leading the walk gave us each a scoop of dried ceanothus flowers and some water to wash our hands. It was a bit gritty, but left my hands feeling smooth and clean.  So this winter I've decided to collect and dry some flowers for use while camping or backpacking.  They also said the seeds made an even better soap.
These blooms were gathered from a landscaped city park where they were protruding out towards the sidewalk.  Since the plant is hedged I figured they weren't long for this world anyway.


  1. Interesting to know it works. I'd read in Daniel Moerman's Native American Ethnobotany book that the fresh and dried flowers, and seeds, had traditionally been used as soap. I have never tried it though. Our Ceanothus here hasn't even started to bloom yet. I'm not sure if I'll have much chance to do anything with the seeds when it does bloom this year. Our Allen's Chipmunks here seem to relish the seeds and most days sit out on our deck gorging themselves!

  2. Oh, cool! Can't wait to try it for myself. It would be perfect for backpacking, wouldn't it?

  3. I had no idea! Now let's all keep our fingers crossed my ceanothus thyrsiflorus will bloom this year, preferably starting before the garden tour. Right now, I'm barely seeing the possibility of buds...C. Tilden Park looks better, BTW. Maybe I'll wash my hands with that.

  4. How interesting - and, a funny coincidence - I heard about this just yesterday at the CNPS propagation group - only they said it was traditionally used as a soap for poison oak rash. I can't find reference for that so I don't know for sure. Using Ceanothus blossoms as soap is not mentioned in the one resource I own - California Indians and Their Environment (UC Press).

  5. My ceanothus is going crazy, too.... the bees are in heaven.

  6. Country Mouse, if you stop back here, you're right, Ceanothus leaves were used for poison oak. From Moerman's online database:

    "Ceanothus leucodermis
    Chaparral Whitethorn; Rhamnaceae
    Diegueno Drug (Dermatological Aid)
    Leaves and cascara leaves boiled and used for poison oak.
    Hedges, Ken 1986 Santa Ysabel Ethnobotany. San Diego Museum of Man Ethnic Technology Notes, No. 20 (p. 15)"

  7. Being from Ireland,
    I found this a really interesting post.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Aanee xxx
    flower delivery