In Ojibwe, caca’ gomîn, Jack-in-the-pulpit is a scorching edible and medicinal plant that requires patience and expertise to utilize. It’s not for the beginner forager or herbalist.
Despite names like Indian or pepper turnip and Starchwort, Jack-in-the-pulpit isn’t just some root you can dig up like burdock and have at. The roots are covered in tiny, stinging needle-like crystals. You cannot boil these off. Nor roast it for a few days to remove the scourge. You can’t dry them out for a few weeks to take out that burn either.
Edible Uses of Jack-In-The-Pulpit
To make Jack-in-the-pulpit roots edible it takes a prolonged drying of 3 months to upwards of half a year. We’re in expert forager turf here, far removed from the likes of dandelions!
And this isn’t a plant to tear up for a half year-long project you’ll probably forget (if you’re absent-minded like me!) I’ve only seen a couple of these gorgeous, memorable plants in my time here. If you want to add “Indian turnip” to your diet, please cultivate it. I know, I just multiplied the time till you get to eat it. But good ole Euell thought it worth the effort.
The dried roots can be sliced, and roasted once edible, as crispy potato chips. Or ground into a flour for use in baking or gruel. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking The Healthful Herbs, has a favorite cookie recipe using the flour and says it has a cocoa likeness.
Most of this acrid plant is poisonous. In her herbal book, Traill mentions children getting ill from the leaves. (BTW Traill books may be of interest to folks in our area – she was one of the first settlers in Peterborough area and her books are an interesting read no matter what you think of settlers. They are likely at your local library!)
Medicinal Uses of Jack-In-The-Pulpit
Jack-in-the-pulpit is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Carminative, Counterirritant, Diaphoretic, Diuretic and Expectorant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes the long processed roots pounded into flour as gruel for colds and coughs. This dried root was also used boiled in milk as a treatment for tuberculosis back in the day.
Many of the other medicinal uses were along the lines of the way you’d use stinging nettle’s sting, as a “counterirritant” poultice or wash. Ouch! I have to recommend passing on this one! Stinging nettle, however, we’ll get to soon.
Alternative Uses of “Starchwort”
The seeds were sometimes used in gourd shells to make rattles. You can kind of imagine how soft that might sound.
Growing “Pepper Turnip”
In the wild I’ve found patches in the swamp and in ditches along sideroads – moist shady spots are preferred. I dropped one corm that was given to me in the ground in a shady, damp area of my lot and it has come up faithfully every spring without any tending. It could be like a backwoods crocus if we all start propagating it.
If you can get the berries, you’ll have many seeds to work with. Here are instructions for caring for these seeds and sowing them directly so that Mother Nature does most of the work for you.
The berries are poisonous and the whole plant is acrid.
The juice of the berries can irritate the skin.
Even handling the roots can cause a reaction for people with sensitive skin.
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. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
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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The Path to Wild Food