It was the last day of a two-month long internship at an herbal retreat center in Vermont. Between the sadness at leaving the enchantedly beautiful mountain-top and the wonderful plant people I met, and the excitement of being in New York the next afternoon, I felt one last hike through the woods would allow me a chance to say goodbye and collect my thoughts. Against my better judgement, I was taking pictures of the plethora of the blooming fungi while walking. I know it may not sound dangerous to some, walking plus camera equals and accident waiting to happen for me. Sure enough, after returning my camera to its bag, I tripped over a tree root and sprained my ankle for the second time in five weeks.
I surrendered to the pain; and laid down on the exceedingly soft forest floor to rest until I could walk (hobble) on it more confidently. It was there that I met Solomon’s Seal, growing in a pair underneath the maple and birches. He was such a beautiful sight, with ripe blue berries where were once a pair of flowers dangled, weighing down its delicately curved stalk. The slightly fall-faded leaves were translucent in a bit of afternoon sun that made its way through the forrest canopy. Look at the interesting way the leaves bend in the picture below; some reach to the sky, some twist to show the underside of the leaf, others hang parallel to the earth or make hairpin folds to point both up and down. If I were to dig to expose the roots, we would see how Solomon’s Seal got it’s name. Here is Matthew Wood’s description:
“The name Polygonatum means ‘many-jointed’, referring to the nodes on the stems and on the jointed roots (or actually, rhizomes), which look like a gnarled mass of knuckles in some instances, and like a series of vertebra in others. When the stem dies back at the end of the season, it detached from the root leaving behind a round mark that looks like a little ‘seal’(397).
The apparent seal on the rhizome has long been associated with King Solomon. Maude Grieve cites evidence that it was thought Solomon himself was aware of the plants virtues and named it after himself. Wikipedia states that “[i]n Medieval…legends, the Seal of Solomon was a magical signet ring said to have been possessed by King Solomon, which variously gave him the power to command demons (or jinni), or to speak with animals”. Yet others believe the seal has less to do with Solomon and more to do with its affinity to “seal up” (mend) broken bones, fresh wounds, too tight or loose “tendons, ligaments, attachments, joints…making the muscular and skeletal system stronger and more harmonious in its actions”(399).
Wood is the only resource I have on Solomon’s Seal; all of the below information can be cited to him. He says Solomon’s Seal, along with Mullein, has the rare ability to set a broken bone in the correct place; use with Comfrey and Boneset for that purpose. It can be used for weak joints (particularly the hips), weak and irritated digestion, vaginitis, fever recovery, and as a “mild cardiac tonic” since it contains a small amount of convallarin, the cardiac glycoside found in Lily of the Valley. It can calcify or decalcify when needed, thus useful in bone spurs. To rebuild cartilage, use with Horsetail, as they will “often cure joints damaged by torn ligaments and deteriorated cartilage” (400). These nutritive and bone/attachment actions may be due to the sweet, cooling, mucilaginous, tonic and astringent qualities of the root.
I have used Solomon’s Seal only once, in a formula for a broken hand, along with horsetail, boneset and other mineral-rich herbs. The person’s doctor was pleasantly surprised after a few weeks of taking the formula; he’d never seen such strong and fast healing of a bone before. Since the broken bone was the middle bone in the palm of the hand, I guessed there may of been some damage to the ligaments and tendons in the hand (not a far off guess since they are plentiful in the hand) and included Solomon’s Seal specifically to “harmonize” the healing of the bone and tendons. I would like to have it on hand, but I am not sure how freely it grows here in Minnesota and thus don’t feel comfortable digging it up. In fact, I have never seen it here, just false Solomon’s Seal! But just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it is not around…every year I discover “new” plants I never thought were in Duluth. This spring I’d like to plant it behind the garage in a shade garden, so I’ll have it around regardless.