In Chippewa, ini’niwin’dibige’gun, white trillium is Ontario’s official flower and the standardbearer of spring. It’s also a traditional edible and mostly medicinal plant. However, it needs our protection.
Also called birth root, a hint at its medicinal qualities. And wake-robin, due to being a spring herald. It heralds the black flies too, who I personally suspect (being factitious here!) may be awoken by the faint rotting flesh smell they give off, hence another name, stinking Benjamin.
Trilliums are a special plant and while legal to pick most species in Ontario (there was a bill to protect white trillium, but it didn’t pass) they do need our protection as they are at risk of eradication from both overharvesting and disease. When Haliburton Flora was compiled they were rare in the northern part of this county due to a disease that is still a factor here. You may have noticed plants with green streaks on the flowers – they are sick. (Just let it take its course in this case, it’s just part of Nature’s cycle here.) This disease has not wiped trillium from our area. They are usually abundant, but it’s still advisable to avoid wildcrafting. And be sure to tell any flower picking children or grandchildren about this marvelous plant and not to pick a bouquet of it for you. They are so photogenic, at least it won’t hurt them to take pictures!
The purple or red trillium – trillium erectum is pictured to the left. It’s the only trillium species on my one-acre wood. At the studio, it’s mainly white. We also have painted trillium – trillium undulatum that’s fairly common. They have a purple-pink ring at the center of the flower.
There was yellow form red trillium, the rare f. luteum around Haliburton back in the day the flora book was compiled. Has anyone seen her? Please share a photo in the comments if you have one from your property.
Edible Uses of White Trillium
New leaves are an edible potherb or salad green and may taste like sunflower seeds. But they only have 3, occasionally 4 of these bracts! And they need them, they are not ordinary leaves. Sadly, picking off parts of a trillium plant can kill it even if the rhizome is left undisturbed. I won’t be finding out if the sunflower bit is true.
Some wild wee bugger occasionally beheads my trillium before they even bloom, but I’ve yet to catch the culprit. My suspect list is topped by the white-tailed deer. This kind of event could eventually strip them from my woods.
Medicinal Uses of White Trillium
White trillium is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astringent, Antihemorrhagic, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Emmenagogue, and Expectorant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage of white trillium, but certainly not limited to, is as a medicine for women. Tea from rhizomes and roots was given to new mothers to stop bleeding after childbirth. And similarly used for uterine disorders.
Planting the Future gives medicinal alternatives for trillium: Alternatives for its astringent qualities include raspberry leaf, burdock, and motherwort. Shepherd’s purse and yarrow are also astringent and antihemorrhagic. Lady’s mantle (not native to Haliburton) is astringent and emmenagogue.
Alternative Uses of “Wake-Robin”
Some of the first flowers to come up in May here are trillium, so I’m perfectly fine if its only “use” is to warm spring and be admired.
If you want to try your hand at nature photography, these are the best posers around! I have not run into a more photogenic plant in my life!
Growing Native Trilliums
In the wild, trilliums are planted by ants that take the seeds back to their nests. From seed to flower takes 15 years!
There are plant warriors who are cultivating trillium, and you can purchase from them if you wish to use it medicinally. Or you could take on the task yourself. Check out the book Planting the Future for farther instructions. Trillium does especially well in maple forests here, so I would think locals who might take on this endeavor would have much luck.
Do not use it while pregnant.
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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