Soapberries were an important fruit for the First Nations within the plant’s range, either for home use or as a trade item. The berries were eaten fresh, or they were boiled, formed into cakes and dried for future use. Because their juice is rich is saponin, soapberries become foamy when beaten. The ripe fruit can be mixed about 4:1 with water and whipped like egg whites to make a foamy dessert called “Indian ice cream.” The resulting foam is truly unexpected and remarkable, having a beautiful white to pale pink colour and a smooth, shiny consistency of the best whipped meringue! Traditionally, this dessert was beaten by hand or with a special stick with grass or strands of bark tied to one end, these tools eventually being replaced by eggbeaters and mixers. Like egg whites, soapberries will not foam in plastic or greasy containers. the incredibly thick foam is rather bitter, so it was usually sweetened with sugar or with other berries. Soapberries can also be added to stews or cooked to make syrup, jelly, jam or a sauce for savory meats. Canned soapberry juicy, mixed with sugar and water, makes a refreshing “lemonade”. Although they are bitter, soapberries are often abundant and can be used in moderation as an emergency food.
Bright red oval berries with a fine silvery scale, juicy.
Flowers April. Fruits ripen July to September.
Deciduous shrub, open-formed, to 2 m tall. Young twigs covered in a brown or rusty scale. Older twigs and branches brownish red with orange flecks, sometimes fissured. Leaves somewhat think, elliptic, smooth-edged, tip rounded, opposite, top green with short silvery scales, rusty underneath when young. Flowers yellowish to greenish, male and female flowers on separate plants, single or forming small clusters. Fruit grows on a very short stalks on female plants, at leaf axils. Grows in open woods, mixed forests, and on stream-banks. Prefers moist habit but will tolerate some drought.