May 27, 2015

Plant False Solomon's Seal For Aching Joints - Photo by Tilebreaker/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com)

Have you ever had a week when a certain plant seems to pop up everywhere you go? This week I’ve been stalked by false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa). As I was riding my bike past the woods on my morning route, the bright sprays of white false Solomon’s seal flowers seemed to be waving hello. Just a few days later, as my monthly class of apprentices came to study, I received a surprise pot of this wonderful plant that a student was thinning out of her woods.

So as I sit down to write for this post it seems obvious that I should write about false Solomon’s seal. I have long been familiar with its cousin, the true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.). I first met it in the woods at Sage Mountain in Vermont. Both of these plants are native here in Ohio, but there’s more information out there about the uses of true solomon’s seal.

I.D. That Plant

The real difference between the two plants for me is the flower. In true Solomon’s seal, the flower hangs down below the leaves, almost out of view. Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald describes them as upside down bowling pins that have opened at the top. I think this is a great description. False Solomon’s seal in contrast has a cluster of small flowers that explodes out of the end of the stem and seems to be displayed above the foliage in a much more extroverted manner. Both plants produce berries, which are reported to be delicious, though I would be sure to spit out the seeds if you decide to try one.

A Joint Remedy

One of the most notable markers about false Solomon’s seal is that the stems grow in a zigzag pattern rather than straight. This growth habit suggests a knuckle at each joint just before the stem jogs back in the opposite direction. Many of the plants that tend to have these swollen joints are often linked to arthritic conditions in the human body. False Solomon’s seal is no exception. The root of this plant has long been used for joints that are creaky and seem to be inflamed almost due to a lack of lubrication. Smilacina and Polygonatum can often be used interchangeably, though Smilacina tends to have more effect on the nervous system, while Polygonatum seems to benefit the heart.  

Growing False Solomon’s Seal

False Solomon’s seal is a woodland native. If you want to plant it, look for a partly sunny to shady location. I chose a spot just on the edge of the shadow cast by the hawthorn tree in my front flower bed. Here it will get dappled sunlight without getting burnt.

If you live in the eastern part of the United States, you’ll find that both the false and true Solomon’s seal spread quite nicely. They will last many years if you’re careful about how you harvest the root. You don’t need to dig the whole plant. Instead, carefully pull away the soil at its base until you find the roots that run out horizontally. There are nodes underground just as there are above, and you can clip off a root at one of these. In short order you’ll have enough roots to tincture in alcohol and support your family’s needs addressing arthritis, stiff or improperly stretched joints and ligaments, cough, upset stomach, sore throat, headache and more.

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