AMOLE OR SOAP PLANT

 

 

The amole, or soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), is very common in the hills around Simi Valley. Indeed, it has a wide geographical distribution in California, Oregon and Nevada. A Liliaceae (lily family), it is characterized by a three to six inch long bulb, which is heavily sheathed in a brown fibrous husk. Most of the year the bulb remains dormant. The fibrous top is often exposed in trails. The leaves are eight to 24 inches long, with wavy edges arising from the bulb. The stalk appears in the spring. It is erect, free-branching, and from two to six feet tall. The flowers are widely spaced on the branches, white, with what appears to be six narrow petals (actually three petal and three sepals). The flowers open during cloudy days and in the evening from 6:00 p.m. to midnight.

 

The Indians, and later the settlers, used the bulbs as soap. The bulbs were crushed and rubbed on the hands or on clothing in water to make a lather. It was considered an excellent shampoo. The Indians baked the bulbs in a roasting pit, usually over night.  The cooking eliminated the soapy taste and, oh yes, the toxins in the pulp. The bulbs were dried and stored. The harsh outer husks were made into brushes by the Indians. Early settlers reportedly used the husks to stuff mattresses. While young, the leaves reportedly were eaten raw, and the dry leaves were used by the Indians to wrap acorn meal in making bread. The cooked juice was used as a glue, to treat new bows, and to create green tattoos. Large quantities of crushed bulbs were thrown into dammed pools in streams to stupefy fish - another good reason to cook the bulbs before eating.

 

All of this aside, these plants are rich additions to the Ventura Coast Sage Scrub vegetation association. Since there is now so many of us and we are so hard on our environment, the amole is best left alone.

 

                                                                                    Mike Kuhn

                                                                                    10-29-04