Trout Lily – Erythronium Americanum: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Spotted Ephemeral Wild Plant

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In Ojibwe, namegobagonii’n partially derived from namegos meaning “lake trout”, trout lily is one of the first edible and medicinal plants to come up in the Spring. But it doesn’t stay for long!

Trout Lily - Erythronium Americanum
Trout Lily – Erythronium Americanum

A spring ephemeral (which means it springs up and then goes away far too quickly), trout lily’s leaves have the mottled appearance of its fishy namesake. Sometimes it’s called yellow dogtooth violet although its relation to violets breaks off at the order classification.

Edible Uses of Trout Lily

The cucumber-like tasting bulbs can be eaten raw but are made sweeter by slow cooking or drying. Soak the dried bulbs before using. They can also be steamed, roasted, or boiled. Perhaps added to soup, stew, or alongside a smoked trout.

The fresh green seed pods taste like string beans when cooked. And the leaves may be eaten raw or cooked.

The problem is over-collecting can eradicate entire populations, which also applies to the more popular ramps that tend to grow near in both time and location. With ramps, it’s best to just take a single leaf from each plant to use in cooking because the leaves are flavorful enough (the bulbs are generally too spicy). You might think why not just pick one leaf with trout lilies? Well, young trout lilies only have a single leaf.

If you have a large colony of trout lily on your property and really want to give it a taste, please take notes on the Growing and Warnings sections of this blog post.

Medicinal Uses of Trout Lily

Trout lily is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

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

Common usage includes the leaves as a poultice for wounds and sores. Common may be the wrong way of saying it – so many other medicinal plants are preferred for this!

Alternative Uses of “Adder’s Tongue”

As far as I know, it’s just lookin’ good in the wood. When it first pops up in the spring its purple sprouts look like adder’s tongues, which is one of its folk names.

Trout Lily - Erythronium Americanum
(Notice – just this one flower in that whole area!)

Growing Erythronium Americanum

White trout lily (Erythronium albidum)
White trout lily (Erythronium albidum)

Trout lilies grow in colonies, which could be hundreds of years old. Each spring only .05% will flower. Like Trillium, ants spread the seeds of trout lilies. And also like trillium, it’s a plant to protect even if not given the same degree of medicinal popularity.

A fun project around Haliburton could be planting trout lily and wild ramps together in a suitable, moist woodsy area and watching them spread over the years, using them sparingly as an edible.

FYI Pictured on the left is a white trout lily (Erythronium albidum) I saw in Ohio. I had seen the patch a week prior and figured it was the yellow species I was used to; surprise!


Bulbs can cause a burning sensation and if consumed in large quantities may cause vomiting.

Large quantities of leaves and seed pods may cause diarrhea and vomiting.

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.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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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