True Solomon’s Seals – Polygonatum SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sweet Potato of North America

Table of Contents

Hairy (sometimes called Dwarf) Solomon’s-Seal (Polygonatum pubescens) is the sole true Solomon’s seal noted on iNat for Haliburton, Ontario. It’s native. However, half a dozen species have been found in Ontario, including the somewhat edible and medicinal smooth Solomon’s seal (P. biflorum). But hairy here, as far as I know is not edible or medicinal. It’s common in and especially on the edges of woods.

And something to keep in mind is the lookalike and more edible “False Solomon’s seal” AKA Solomon’s plume. I have found hairy growing amoung some Solomon’s plume just to throw a wrench in IDing a patch. They get a little easier to tell apart as the season passes. FYI I have plans to start out a plant identification series here with Smilacina vs Polygonatum being the first. An additional, vague lookalike is rose twisted stalk.

Hairy Solomon's-Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)
Hairy Solomon’s-Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)

Edible Uses of Solomon’s Seals

Our local hairy species isn’t edible as far as I know. Despite being in the asparagus family, for the most part polygonatum species are toxic, especially the aerial parts.

Smooth Solomon’s seal (P. biflorum) has edible rhizomes that can be gathered all year, but are best gathered while dormant. They can be used like sweet potatoes. And like asparagus, smooth’s shoots are edible in spring before the leaves unfurl. Just the shoots, not the leaves! Smooth can be found in Ontario, but it’s uncommon, so best to grow these if you intend to nibble!

Another species you may find elsewhere in North America, small Solomon’s seal (P. pubescens) has edible, but perhaps too tiny rhizomes and shoots.

Now, False Solomon’s seal is more palatable in my opinion, and if you’re going to nibble any of these species you will need to be sure of your IDs due to their various toxic parts!:)

Medicinal Uses of Solomon’s Seals

 True Solomon’s seal is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Muscular
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory
  • Skeletal

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Demulcent and Expectorant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes a nutritive drop made from the rhizome taken internally under supervision for broken bones, tendon and joint issues. It’s similar to comfrey root and arnica. Like comfrey it contains allantoin. As a salve it is used for carpal tunnel and other repetitive injuries, arthritis in joints, etc. Rhizomes collected in fall are used fresh or dried for medicines.

The fresh root can be used for dry sticky coughs. Slippery elm is similar.

A European species (P. ordoratum) has a substance that is hypoglycemic/ lowers blood sugar.

Hairy Solomon's-Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)
Hairy Solomon’s-Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)

Growing Polygonatum SPP.

Smooth Solomon’s seal (P. biflorum) may be the easiest to find from local native plant vendors. It will attract many small bees. It prefers partial shade and average to wet soil.

Hairy (P. pubescens), the more common species in our area is visited by ruby-throated hummingbirds and bumblebees too. It’s a “forest gap” specialist, which means you may find it in a clearing in the woods such as where a tree has fallen. Tread carefully!

WARNINGS

The seeds are toxic.

The berries are toxic.

For some species all parts are toxic.

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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REFERENCES

https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/name/Polygonatum

https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/hry_solomon.html

wiki/Polygonatum

Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America

Native Plants, Native Healing: Traditional Muskagee Way

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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

Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications for Herbs & Herbal Formulas (8th Edition)

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

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

The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification

A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

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