Forage Friday #44 Polemonium Reptans (Jacob’s Ladder)

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Small Wonder In Winter” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Disclaimer: This is a plant that I’m just now getting to know. That means that it’s very likely that I could be mistaken about some of the information covered in the article. But that’s also why I always advocate that you do further research before trying any wild plant.

The cool crisp air is envigoreating as I head out to see what I can see. The dry leaves crunch under my feet as carefully stride to my little quiet spot on the edge of my property. The spot has become my sanctuary of the past few years and I’ve truly enjoyed stepping out at different times of the year to observe the minor changes in the landscape. On one particular day I spotted the green leaves creeping over the leaf litter in December. I probably should have noticed it a long time ago but I didn’t. It looked like something that I should recognize but I couldn’t quite place it. So I waited and I watched to see what the tiny leaves developed into. But even after several weeks of unseasonably warm weather the little plant didn’t grow. I looked through all my reference books and it seemed to look like everything with a small compound leaf. So I finally turned to the West Virginia Native Plant Society on Facebook for a little help with the ID. It wasn’t long before I got a reply and a direction for research. The plant turned out to be Polemonium Reptans.

Now there’s a reason why I use the scientific name for tonight’s post. Like most plants Polemonium Reptans is known by a number of common names including, Creeping Jacob’s Ladder, Jacob’s Ladder and False Jacob’s latter. It’s even known by the name Greek Valerian.

That’s where the confusion comes in. Because Polemonium Reptans has a bunch of cousins and all are commonly called “Jacob’s Ladder”. And when you are interested in the food or medicinal qualities of a plant different species within the genus might have different qualities both beneficial and undesirable.

Also, the common name “Greek Valerian” is a little deceptive because true Valerian is a completely different family of plants with sedative properties while “Greek Valerian” seems to be more of an anti-microbial herb. In fact Polemonium Reptans is also called “Abscess Root” for that very reason.

So tonight I have a start on a plant that has caught my interest but one that I have not really researched in depth. Partly because I seem to be at the Easternmost extent of its range. I found tonight’s feature image growing beneath yellow birch and a magnolia on an almost vertical Northeastern slope. The research so far suggested that it likes stream banks and rich soil.

The medical uses I’ve found are that it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and promotes sweating. ( I also found it listed as “sweatroot” ) The internet also says that it is seldom used. That could be because it’s also described as not tasting very well or because there’s so many better options. So I’m going to do more research on this one and give you a part 2 in the spring when this little Phlox ( yes, I found another name ) comes into a beautiful bloom.

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7 thoughts on “Forage Friday #44 Polemonium Reptans (Jacob’s Ladder)

    1. I’m pretty sure that it’s used as a pultice to kill infections. Since writing the article I’ve been told that the berries are toxic.
      The roots are what is used. One source says that they are acrid and astringent.
      Taste tests are a risky business in wild plants. There’s a universal edible plant test that involves several days of low level exposure to the plant.
      Exposure to the skin. If no reaction then exposure to the lips. If no reaction then take a bite and spit it out. If no reaction then take a bite and chew then spit out. If no reaction then swallow the juice but spit out plant. If the plant passes that test then you can actually eat a small bit. But even then you have to be careful because some plants produce no reaction but paralyze the digestive system. ( as is the case with Eskimo potatoes)

      Liked by 1 person

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