Spring-Beauty – Claytonia Caroliniana: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Fairy Spuds of Wild Plants

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In Anishinaabemowin, miiaatikwek piniik, spring-beauty is one of our first spring flowers. It’s a small, striped edible and medicinal ephemeral and one of our first available bee foods. It even has its own specialist bee, the spring beauty miner.

You might see non-natives like crocus and coltsfoot bloom first in the spring, before our bees even come out of hibernation. Native plants come out at the right time for our native bees. Spring-beauty is one of the first, not as early as willow, leatherwood (though with much overlap there) and earlier than the famous trillium and the marsh marigold. The flowers are white to pink or crimson, and striped. An explanation of color morphs can be found here, along the lines of crimson flowers attract more bees, white white morph is less likely to be eaten by a herbivore.

Oft in sugar maple woods, you may find them near Dutchman’s breeches, early blue cohosh, Jack-in-the-pulpit, maidenhair fern, toothwort, trout lily and wild leek.

Spring-beauty growing along a trail at the 100 acre!
Spring-beauty growing along a trail at the 100 acre!

Edible Uses of Spring-beauty

The small soft taproots have the nickname “fairy spuds”. They are tuber looking roots, and they’re edible unpeeled or peeled, raw or cooked. But raw may irritate the back of the throat. Harvest spuds late spring. Boil for 10-25 minutes or bake. Or store them fresh in dirt, or dry them for later use. The flavor is chestnut-like.

The young leaves, stems and flowers are also edible raw or cooked. And like wild leeks you can gather some without destroying the plant – just don’t pick all the stems from any one root. They might leave an aftertaste.

As with every plant, use them only when abundant, and better yet plant and tend these beauties.

Medicinal Uses of Spring-beauty

Spring-beauty is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Analgesic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as an infusion for a sore throat, a throat tonic. It seems to not be very popular medicinally – if you google it most sites will claim there is no medicinal usage.

Alternative Uses of Fairy Spuds

Many bees include honey bees (but here’s the truth about honey bees if you dare), bumblebees, carpenter bees, halictid bees, mason bees, nomad bees, and andrenid bees. One andrenid bee in particular is a specialist pollinator of this plant, giving it the name “spring beauty miner”. If you live near me you may be one of the first to pay special notice to this bee in Haliburton country. (Take a pic and upload to iNat?!) It’s a black, fly looking sort of bee. Flies and butterflies also seek out their nectar.

Growing Claytonia Caroliniana

You can find taproots/corms at native plant nurseries, or buy the seed. They will spread slowly.

If you’re thinking of planting these, maybe you’re thinking like me – that you want as many early flowers blooming around you as possible. Here are more Ontario-native early bloomer possibilities for our area: bellwort, bloodroot, blue cohosh, leatherwood, hazelnut (tiny bright red flowers), hepaticas, northern bush honeysuckle, striped maple, toothwort, violets, willow (catkins). I’ll be working on a more complete list with pictures for a future post!

If you’re in southern Ontario, northern spicebush is another early bloomer that comes to mind.

Location-wise, as mentioned previously, spring beauties do well in the same conditions as Dutchman’s breeches, early blue cohosh, Jack-in-the-pulpit, maidenhair fern, toothwort, trout lily and wild leek.


And the Usual Cautions:

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

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

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.

#ads in References

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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