Bluebead Lily – Clintonia Borealis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Poisonberry of Wild Plants

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In Anishinaabemowin, odotaagaans+ag, bluebead lily has toxic berries, but it’s still an edible and medicinal wild plant. It’s gorgeous too, with pretty yellow flowers and stunning blue berries that form a gradient and marbled cluster of blue as they ripen.

Corn lily AKA bluebead lily (clintonia borealis) is common around Halliburton in deciduous or mixed woods on moist hummus. It demands shade and indirect sunlight, and spreads slowly. The established patches you stumble upon could be up to 50 years old!

Bluebead Lily - Clintonia Borealis
Bluebead Lily – Clintonia Borealis

Edible Uses of Bluebead Lily

Bluebead Lily - Clintonia Borealis
Bluebead Lily – Clintonia Borealis

The young leaves up to a few inches tall, before they are fully unfurled, can be eaten raw or boiled. They have a taste reminiscent of cucumber or trout lily. The leaves get tough and unpalatable as they mature.

The berries however are mildly toxic. An old account I read of them said they taste sweetish. Wiki says entirely unpleasant tasting. I’ll live with the mystery.

Some similar looking species are flat out poisonous.

Bluebead Lily - Clintonia Borealis
Pretty inedible berries of the bluebead lily

Medicinal Uses of Bluebead Lily

Bluebead lily is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Antimicrobial and Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes a leaf poultice for sores and burns.

Alternative Uses of Yellow Clintonia

I have no idea if anyone still does this, but there’s record of people crushing the leaves and rubbing the juice on their face and hands as mosquito repellant. Otherwise it mostly attracts insects. A huge variety of pollinators suck the nectar and pollen from these pretty flowers:

Bluebead Lily - Clintonia Borealis
Bluebead Lily – Clintonia Borealis

Growing Clintonia Borealis

Sad to say, transplanting the northern lily is not recommended and germinating the seed is difficult. The first and most recent time I had to say that was with ghost pipe. But, like ghost pipe, you can try sowing some seeds..

If you have shady woods, specifically spots without direct sunlight, this plant may spontaneously appear there someday. It did in my woods. Amidst a massive patch of Canada mayflower. And there are patches of it in shady spots along my dirt road which I look forward to seeing every year.


The berries are mildly toxic.

There are poison lookalikes.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

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