When travelling through rural France - or indeed rural Britain - at this time of year, you may see patches of pale lilac - pink flowers, looking rather like a phlox. The most common English name for this is Soapwort, although there are many other names - see the RHS website for a selection. In French it is called savonaire or savonnière. Its proper name is saponaria officinalis.
So why should this plant appear in Touraine Flint? The clue is in the name officinalis, which indicates that this is a medicinal herb. All parts of the plant contain saponin - soap - and it is a very effective cleaning agent. When Tim worked in forestry in the early 70s, a patch grew at the exit from the estate where he was felling trees, and he and his co-workers used a leaf or two to clean their hands before departing. The highest concentration of saponin is in the fleshy roots. At large doses soapwort is mildly poisonous, but it has been used for the treatment of skin diseases, gout, rheumatism and as a laxative and an expectorant.
Soapwort is propagated by root cuttings, taken from its underground rhizomes, or from its seeds, but it does not seem to spread in the natural environment. It is certainly a European native and some claim it was brought to the UK by monks. Whether or not this is true, soapwort is often found near habitation, and we have our own patch at La Forge.
There is another patch further along the road, several patches by the bridge, several more near the now isolated farm of Gatault, and more at the entrance to Le Grand Pressigny near the lavoir. These patches are a strong indicator that there was a building close by where someone needed soap - a home, perhaps, or in the preparation of fabrics from raw wool, hence the alternative name Fuller's herb. These buildings were made of wattle and daub, i.e. mud and sticks, and have now completely vanished, with not even a few lumps and bumps, and only the soapwort patch to show where they where. The forge will have had workers, as will the Favier mill near the bridge, and Gatault (formerly a mill) was probably a hamlet like Favier at some time. The town of Savonnières, now part of the Tours conurbation, may have got its name from the use of this herb.