So, let’s talk about Solomon’s Seal.
This is a plant that has really been on my mind lately, and now is actually a great time to harvest it. So here we go.
I first met Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum multiflorum, when I was just a wee little ruddy bairn poking around in the woods by my house. I was really enchanted by this elegant, bowing plant with small white flowers blooming all along the underside. It seemed very special to me.
Sadly, my field guides back then said it was toxic, so I just admired it from afar and refrained from eating its beautiful dark berries. I kept an eye out for it though, and was always happy to see it return in the spring.
When I started studying herbalism, I came across Solomon’s Seal in Matthew Wood’s Book of Herbal Wisdom.
Needless to say, I was excited.
It turns out that while the berries of Solomon’s Seal are rumored to be toxic (I’ve heard conflicting reports), the rest of the plant is not. In fact, it’s one of the most incredible medicines we have.
Solomon’s Seal is a herbaceous perennial that grows throughout most of North America (though not in the west). It has an arching stem with alternate leaves and produces white flowers that bloom all along the underside of the plant. In late summer and fall the flowers are replaced by juicy, almost black berries. It spreads by starchy rhizomes, and the leaves turn yellow in autumn. I always find it growing in the rich soil of deciduous forests.
When the stem of the plant dies and comes apart from the root in late fall, it leaves an intricate little mark that looks like a seal. It’s thought that this is in part where the plants gets its name; Solomon, the wise king from the Bible, became associated with magic over the years, and is said to have had his own divine seal for communicating and dealing with spirits.
The latin name, Polygonatum, means “many jointed”. When looking at the roots of this plant, it’s easy to see why; the white, knobby rhizomes strongly resemble joints or bones. This is perhaps the perfect example of the doctrine of signatures; Solomon’s Seal root is used primarily to treat issues regarding the muskuloskeletal system – bones, joints, ligaments and tendons.
When a ligament is too loose, this plant will help to tighten it up. If it is too tight and dry, it will lubricate and loosen it. When used in conjunction with other herbs, it can help to restore cartilage in painful, busted joints and aid in the healing of bones. If you have stiff, creaky joints, bone spurs, a tight, crackly back, hyperextended tendons, or even sprains and deep bruises, this is a plant you should make friends with.
The exact mechanism for how Solomon’s Seal works is still unknown, but jim mcdonald has a theory that it acts on the synovial, or spinal, fluid, and helps to regulate it throughout the body.
I’m not sure how it works either, but I do know that it helps with my creaky back, which was bent and bowed by many years of physics homework, stress, and being miserable and hunchy while sitting at various desks. Hm, the stem of the plant does sort of bend over and hunch…makes sense! I’ve also used the tincture topically on foot injuries (I’m a runner/hiker with long bony weirdo feet…issues tend to come up), and noticed an immediate lessening of the pain and increased flexibility.
This year, I spent a lot of time with Solomon’s Seal. I searched my property, and then the woods for it, and when I found patches of it, I would dig around and carefully harvest a part of the strange, gnarly rhizome. I was enchanted by it, honestly, and for days my mind kept drifting to the dark earthy world of those bone-white roots.
One night, as I was falling asleep, I had a half-dream. I saw the roots again very clearly in my mind. Each year, Solomon’s Seal grows a new section of rhizome, sends up a plant from it, and then leaves behind a seal. By midsummer, next year’s section is already beginning to grow, even as the plant is flowering. The old sections of the root remain connected to the plant and continue to nourish it all its life. I understood that this was a message this plant has for us; our past is always with us, nourishing us, and we are always actively creating our future by the decisions we make. I felt suspended between my ancestors and my descendants, a link in the chain. Time goes on and stretches out in both directions – we should honor our past and pay attention to the future we are making for ourselves and our children.
Anyway, enough of my weird musings.
When harvesting this plant, it’s extremely important to do it sustainably. Solomon’s Seal, while not endangered, isn’t a very abundant plant, and if it were to grow in popularity, it would be easy for it to become depleted. Always make sure you are harvesting in an area with a healthy population, and take only what you need. I was going to try to describe how exactly to harvest the root in writing, but instead I just decided to go out and make a quick video about it instead:
So yep there you go, awkward video.
I hope you’ll take the time to get to know this plant. It’s often overlooked in western herbalism, but I believe it’s a really wonderful, valuable, powerful ally.
The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Solomon’s Seal by jim mcdonald