Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.
The old man tread cautiously along the path. Large rocks near the trail would be a perfect place for a rattlesnake. He carried an odd walking stick that still had a branch protruding from one side and the tip was cut to a wedge shape. He used the stick to gently push back the undergrowth before taking a step. A basket made of woven willow shoots hung from his shoulder and rested on his hip. His wide brimmed hat partially obscured his face and he whistles an old Scottish tune as works. He takes note of the types of trees that surround him and quickly assesses the ferns and other so called weeds. Soil science as we know it today is unknown to him. But he knows the pointers that gives him an idea of what grows here. He’s wise enough to know that he should only harvest no more than one third of the bounty that his maker has blessed him with. A little of this and a little of that goes into the basket. A few mushrooms from the old stumps. A couple of bulbs are dug from the hillside using the wedge of his stick as a lever. The protruding branch allows him to dig in by stepping on it. He rejects the false hellebores and their poison. A little farther down the trail he spots his prize growing in the dappled sunlight. He has found the False Solomon’s Seal. The treasured shoots have a flavor somewhat like asparagus although slightly bitter. They will go into the pot and the rootlike rhizomes will be quickly broken up and replanted a little closer to his cabin. His gray beard parts with a smile as he begins his harvest.
False Solomon’s Seal was a native treasure. Being a perennial plant that is propagated in a similar was as potatoes it’s also one that’s easy to establish if you have the right growing conditions. It likes rich, well drained soil and as I said in the story, it wants dappled light.
The spot where I found the one in tonight’s Feature Image was growing among hardwoods like birch, maple and Hornbeam. There is a ditch below the roots that usually holds water but plant itself is above that. One of the problems in the mountains is the steep grade of the mountains leading to fertility loss in the higher elevations. It also means that the fertility will be concentrated in spots where the water settles in divits and benches. It’s in these places where most herbs are able to take advantage of the sediments and flourish.
The young shoots are collected from the place where they naturally break off from the main stem. If you start near the top and gently flex the stem while working your way down there will be a spot where the stem snaps off. Usually everything above that spot is tender enough to eat. Below that spot the stem is still edible but may be tough to chew. So it’s a good technique for conservation to find that natural breaking point and leave the rest to regrow and reproduce. The exception of course is when you want to propagate the plant.
The rhizomes of this plant are generally referred to as a root and is segmented. Each segment represents one year of growth just like the rings of a tree. And just like the stem it will have places where it naturally breaks. These nodes can be planted and will generate a whole new plant similar to planting the eyes of a potato.
The roots are edible but only if you follow a special process. Native Americans would soak them in lye overnight to neutralize the toxins and then after a thorough rinse they can be parboiled. They would also dry them and use the roots in teas to treat constipation and coughing.
In summer the pyramid of flowers at the tip of the stem will give rise to ruby red berries. The berries are edible but large quantities are laxative. When we review accounts of Native Americans using the berries they generally mix them with something else like cranberries. The mix would sometimes be crushed into a juice or dried berries added to a tea.
Traditional medicinal uses include using a tea made from the leaves to wash rashes for the relief of itching and to staunch bleeding. The root seems to have been valued more for medicine than food. The root tea was used as a laxative and stomach tonic. The root tea was also used as a treatment for Rheumatism but I’m not sure if that was a wash or if it was internal. The most interesting use for the root was to “cure” insanity. The method was to place the dried root in a fire and the crazy person would breathe the smoke to regain sanity. It’s usually mentioned as a side note that this was also done to stop babies from crying and it leads me to wonder if burning the roots brings out a sedative quality. Of course that’s a question for a biochemist to answer.
My bottom line opinion is that if you have a place where you can harvest False Solomon’s Seal without damaging the natural population it’s food value makes it worth the effort. It’s a very attractive plant in early Spring and even though the berries are only able to be consumed in limited quantities they are food for songbirds and game birds like turkey and pheasant. The latter two being an indirect harvest.
That’s it for tonight friends. Good night and be blessed throughout your days.
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