Polygonatum multiflorum, P. biflorum
P. pubescens, P. odorata
Solomon’s seal is a bitter/sweet, cooling, moistening, astringent and tonic herb native to northern Europe, Siberia and North America. Its common names, Our Lady's Seal, St. Mary's Seal, Sigillum Sanctae Mariae and Our Lady’s Lockets all identify it as a sacred plant associated with the Divine Feminine and with Mother Mary in particular. In Southern areas of the US the roots are known as Saint John-the-Conqueror, are appreciated for their potent magical attributes and are much used in Voodoo.
The species name Polygonatum, from the Greek polys, "many," and gonu, "knee joint," indicates many-angles and eludes to this plant’s jointed rhizomes and interesting growing pattern. The leaves face in one direction, the flowers in another.
Solomon's seal has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. Its use was recorded in China in the Divine Husbandman's Classic (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing), written in the 1st century A.D.
Called yu zhu in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which translates as jade bamboo, it is classified as sweet and slightly cold. It nourishes lung and stomach yin, and moistens dryness. It is used to treat dry cough, dry throat, mouth or tongue, chronic respiratory disorders, irritability and thirst. It is said to bring moisture to the sinews and is used for pain and spasms generated by lack of moisture. The Chinese also use it to counter dizziness. Yu zhu is said to be an herb that delays aging.
The stories say that long ago, during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), a young lady-in-waiting escaped from the royal palace and hid in the forest. She was able to survive by living on yu zhu. She thrived, grew strong, developed silky smooth skin and a slim figure. After a while she married a hunter she met in the woods and settled into a happy life. When she was 60 years old she returned to the palace and her friends were amazed to see that she looked exactly the same as she did when she entered the palace all those many years before.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Solomon’s seal is considered a rejuvenative and aphrodisiac and traditionally taken with warm milk and ghee as a tonic. Russians traditionally use the roots to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers.
Our indigenous Solomon's seals, P. biflorum and P. pubescens, are considered interchangeable with the multiflorum and odoratum species. First Nations traditionally eat the nourishing starch-rich potato-like rhizomes of Solomon's seal and use it to make breads and soups. The young shoots are boiled and eaten like asparagus, a dish that is also much appreciated among Turkish people. First Nations people employ the roots to heal intestinal inflammation.
Solomon’s seal has an ancient reputation as a beauty herb. It was used to enhance the complexion in Galen’s era and Culpepper reports that it will remove “freckles, spots or any marks whatever, leaving the face fresh, fair and lovely.” Trota de Ruggiero, the first Lady of Medicine in medieval Salerno, who both studied and later taught at the Scuola Medica Salernitana (Salerno Medical School), recommended the use of the distilled waters of Solomon’s seal to enhance the beauty and health of the skin. Italian women famously used this cosmetic preparation. They used the roots as an aphrodisiac and in love potions. Solomon’s seal also found its way into high end perfumes throughout the middle ages.
Modern research has found that the vitamin A and alkaloids in the roots do help nourish skin. Solomon’s seal root soothes irritated or damaged tissues and counters inflammation. The rhizome and herb contain convallarin, one of the active constituents of lily-of-the-valley, and also asparagine, gum, sugar, starch and pectin. The soothing and mucilaginous roots are called for in dry, inflamed conditions where its moistening nature will bring relief. And Solomon’s seal herb can help strengthen the heart as well.
Maude Grieve reports that a strong decoction of Solomon’s seal consumed every two or three hours, while also applying it topically, has been found to cure erysipelas, a potentially serious bacterial infection affecting the skin and extending into the superficial cutaneous lymphatics. This skin infection is also known as St. Anthony's fire because of the intense rash associated with it.
Solomon's seal is indicated when there is lung congestion, inflammation of the stomach or intestines, hemorrhoids and chronic dysentery. The freshly pounded roots or dried and powdered roots both make an excellent poultice for bruises, inflamed joints and tumors. The root is infused in oil and made into a salve to treat these ills.
A decoction in wine was a traditional beverage in Gerard’s day, “as it disposes the bones to knit.” I’ve heard herbalists say that Solomon’s seal is the most useful remedy they know for treating injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Sprains, breaks, slipped or herniated discs, tendonitis are all indications for its use. The mucilaginous roots have a lubricating effect on dry joints and connective tissues.
WARNING! The flowers and roots induce sneezing; and, the berries and leaves are poisonous and induce nausea and vomiting if chewed.
Flower Essence Solomon’s seal flower essence will be an ally when profound changes in your life or lifestyle are inevitable. It will help you adapt to those changes and challenges with grace.
Magical Lore Solomon’s seal has long been used for protection, magic and clearing/cleansing. It binds magical workings and keeps sacred oaths and promises forever bound. Use a ritual sprinkler to spray an infusion of the root around the house to drive away negativity. Make an amulet to wear around your neck to feel the protective embrace of Great Mother.
Culture Solomon's seal is a hardy plant. It prefers a shady spot under trees and appreciates a dressing of leaf mold and well-rotted compost. Solomon’s seal has a creeping root-stock, is thick, white, twisted and lined with knots. The root is like a peeled potato, marked with circular scars at intervals - the remains of leaf stems from previous years. Its stems are 18 inches to 2 feet tall and bow gracefully. Large, alternate, broadly-oval leaves clasp the round stem by their bases, starting about half way up. The leaves all face the same way and have marked ribbing running lengthwise along the surface. The sweetly scented, tubular, creamy or waxy white flowers topped with yellowish-green, hang in little clusters of two to seven. They come out from the leaf axils and hang in an opposite direction to the foliage. The flowers eventually become small blackish purple berries, each containing three or four seeds. The plant spreads by creeping rootstocks. Seeds sown while fresh in autumn will germinate in spring. We dig the roots in fall, tincture them in alcohol, infuse them in oil and dry on screens for infusions or syrup.
Dosages: Decoction 1 to 4 oz. three times daily. Tincture 20-30 drops as needed or up to three times daily. Syrup a tablespoon as needed.
Traditional Chinese Nourishing Soup
Put four chicken feet, some pork and half an ounce of Solomon’s seal in an earthen pot with two quarts of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer at a low, gentle heat until the feet and meat are soft. Add salt to season. Yu zhu nourishes the organs while chicken feet provide collagen protein.