Soaproot Brush Making

Soap, Brushes, Glue and more

In the old days, Ohlones and Miwoks made “soaproot brushes” from the bulbs of soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum). They used these like miniature whisk brooms to clean baskets and mortar stones.

Ohlones and Miwoks also used the bulbs to make a detergent foam for washing and for a specialized fishing method. For food, they ate the tender, young leaves, and they roasted leaf-wrapped soap plant bulbs in hot coals in an earth-covered “pit oven.” A hair wash from the pounded soap plant stem reduced dandruff.

Ruth’s daughter Ramona fell in love with soaproot brush making in 1996, when she first experienced this ancient skill during a series of workshops conducted for ten Ohlones interested in sharing their history and cultures on a part-time basis at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont.

small soap rootWhen Ramona completed her first brush, she became the first Jalquin/Saclan Ohlone/Bay Miwok to make one since about 1776, when colonization began to upend the ancestral Jalquin and Saclan worlds. After Ramona mastered all of the processes involved in making soaproot brushes, she began to innovate some unique methods. In so doing, she became the first California Indian to make miniature soaproot brush pins and even tinier soaproot brush earrings.