If you’re a homesteader or a forager, chances are you don’t pay too much attention to the shadier areas of the forests and fields you venture into. However, if you’re spending most of the time in patches of sun, you may be overlooking the handsome false Solomon’s Seal Plant.
This native perennial is a great plant to forage for, and is easy to grow on your homestead; it is an edible herb with solid medicinal properties, too.
Adding this common plant to the list of woodland plants you can easily identify should definitely be on your to-do list as a forager this summer. Here is what you need to know about foraging for False Solomon’s Seal.
What is False Solomon’s Seal?
The binomial name for False Solomon’s Seal is Maianthemum racemosum, also known as feathery false or false lily of the valley.
Other names that you might encounter when identifying this plant include Solomon’s Plume, and False Spikenard. False Solomon’s Seal is a native woodland plant with plenty of look-a-likes, all of which are toxic.
False Solomon’s Seal is a perennial herbaceous plant that regrows and reseeds itself every year, while providing benefits when used properly.
This plant is also an attractor for butterflies and birds, due to the flowers and sweet berries that grow in the late summer and fall. In North America, there are also two subspecies that have been identified known as Maianthemum racemosum amplexicaule and Maianthemum racemosum racemosum.
The difference between the two is the geographical placement, where the amplexicaule variety is a western species, and the racemosum variety is an eastern species.
False Solomon’s Seal can grow in a range of zones, in North America and Canada, ranging from zone 3 to zone 10. This plant grows in nearly every region of Canada, except the Yukon and Nunavut regions.
The only state to not have native plants in North America is Hawaii, yet the plant has been spotted thriving in New Mexico. In the past, False Solomon’s Seal was used by Native Americans for its roots and leaves for medicinal purposes.
The roots were eaten or processed for other uses, as False Solomon’s Seal derives from the asparagus family. While it does grow back each year, this plant is not considered invasive or aggressive against other plants.
Real Solomon’s Seal vs. False Solomon’s Seal
The False Solomon’s Seal plant shares multiple characteristics of the real Solomon’s Seal plant, hence the similar name. The Solomon’s Seal plant is toxic and should not be consumed, but it makes a beautiful addition to gardens.
The flowers on the Solomon’s Seal plant range between white, green, and pink, and do eventually grow berries in their place. The flowers grow underneath the leaves and form into a bell-like shape, similar to Lily of the Valley.
Solomon’s Seal is also part of an entirely different plant family, known by its’ botanical name as Polygonatum biflorum.
What makes the Solomon’s Seal plant different is that the berries ripen to a blue-black color that are poisonous to humans, but birds and squirrels will still eat. Although uncommon, there are a few species of Solomon’s Seal that grow orange or purple flowers.
The rest of the Solomon’s Seal plant grows and propagates exactly like False Solomon’s Seal, which is why it is easiest to identify and distinguish the plants during their flowering stages.
For a brief look into the differences between False Solomon’s Seal and real Solomon’s Seal, here is a quick video:
How to Identify False Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal is easiest to identify in the spring and summer seasons, when it is in the flowering stages. The flowers that can be found on this plant are white and grow in small clusters, with six petals per bloom and have been claimed to remind onlookers of stars when basked in the sunlight.
The flower clusters can be found in groups of 20 blooms to 80 flowers. Berries will begin to grow in the flowers’ place, replacing the blooms with round, green berries with purple marks that ripen into a bright red.
The leaves on this plant are broad and oval shaped, growing to reach 7 to 20 centimeters, or around 7 inches, in length. The leaves also have a slight wave pattern on their edges, unlike True Solomon’s Seal, which has straight edged leaves.
As the plant seeds are dispersed, False Solomon’s Seal begins to expend its colony, which can grow to be a large size, and spread slowly over time. The stems grow long and into an arch shape, standing about at knee height, or 60 to 90 centimeters, or 23 to 35 inches, tall.
Here is a great video that will help you clearly identify this plant:
In the wild, False Solomon’s Seal has the same growth requirements as true Solomon’s Seal; however, False Solomon’s Seal can also thrive in drier and rockier soil conditions.
You might find False Solomon’s Seal near other plants that survive in similar conditions, including bleeding hearts, wild ginger, woodland phlox, and red columbine. The False Solomon’s Seal plant can be identified by its’ clumps, which often are spotted in groups of six, but single plants will go on to produce clumps over time.
The true Solomon’s Seal plant family, the Polygonatum genus, consists of over 60 species of this plant.
Going forward into foraging False Solomon’s Seal requires absolute certainty, so being familiar with the popular types of the toxic, real Solomon’s Seal is important. There are many popular varieties of Polygonatum including:
- Polygonatum odoratum: What sets this variety apart from the biflorum variety is the white coloring found on the edges of the foliage. Similar to the other varieties and False Solomon’s Seal, this variety smells vaguely of lilies.
- Polygonatum Prince Charming: This charming variety blooms earlier than other varieties, while only reaching about 1 foot in height.
True Solomon’s Seal does not have enough evidence to warrant being taken or applied topically. There has been evidence suggesting that Solomon’s Seal interacts negatively in those who has diabetic conditions, take insulin, or have blood pressure conditions.
Solomon’s Seal interacts with chlorpropamide, known as Diabinese, and can decrease blood sugar levels to a dangerous low. Due to this effect, insulin dosages are affects in the same manner.
Most common drugs prescribed to treat patients with diabetes can be negatively impacted due to ingesting true Solomon’s Seal. False Solomon’s Seal does not show signs of this type of interaction.
The young roots of the False Solomon Seal plant are beneficial, but can be confused for Veratrum and vice versa.
Veratrum is a highly toxic plant that grows primarily in the Northern hemisphere and is most commonly found in swamps, mountain meadows, and streambanks.
The roots and leaves of both plants look similar, and Veratrum even has white flowers like the Solomon’s Seal plants, all of which are poisonous during the growth cycle. This plant even has a history of being used to poison arrows before combat in Native American history.
One main difference between Veratrum and either Solomon’s Seal plants is that Veratrum grows in full sunlight, whereas Solomon’s Seal and False Solomon’s Seal both thrive in partially shaded and fully shaded areas.
Foraging False Solomon’s Seal
Due to the range of similar plants and risk of harmful toxicity, it is crucial that, in your foraging endeavor, you are certain of False Solomon Seal identification. Don’t eat any part of this or any other plant you gather unless you are confident in your ability to identify it.
If possible, try to venture out with an experienced forager to help teach you the best ways to find and identify this and other useful woodland plants.
False Solomon’s Seal grows best in slightly acidic soil, and is most often found in well shaded or partially shaded areas in the woods.
The bright red berries that grow on the plant can be easily harvested and eaten raw or cooked into a jam. The berries can have a similar reaction as cilantro does to others, as the berries have been claimed to have a mild acrid taste.
Due to this, cooking the berries down into a jam will help to improve the taste, while maintaining their properties.
If you go out to forage the berries, check each berry before consuming, as they often do not ripen all at once. It is also good to remember to only pick what you need, as this plant does not produce berries like regular produce berry bushes.
While the leaves are edible, they are unpalatable and are not a good source for the plant’s medicinal properties. The best source of these beneficial properties are the rhizomes, or roots, which have been traditionally used in dried forms to make into a tea to treat coughs and constipation.
When looking out for this plant, it is highly recommended to carry two different plant identification books with you, as the characteristics of both Solomon’s Seal plants are easily overlapped and confused for each other.
An extra precaution you might consider acting on is consulting credible online sources after you have successfully foraged the plant parts, alongside the identification books.
Growing False Solomon’s Seal
Being a plant native to North America that is great for pollinators, the False Solomon Seal plant is a great addition to medium to large gardens. Bonus points to garden that are set in locations closer to wilderness, as it would become a natural source of food for smaller forest animals.
Although it can survive in the zone range of 3 to 9, False Solomon’s Seal grows better in colder climates, yet is drought resistant. Aside from the zone range, this plant can grow in elevations of up to 9,000 feet.
The plant is capable of growing in different types of soil, but thrives best in well-drained, acidic soil.
With these qualities, False Solomon’s Seal is an adaptive plant that fills out any garden with flowers that shine in the sun. The types of gardens that this plant would thrive best in include woodland gardens and rain gardens.
Woodland gardens are gardens utilize the natural trees and foliage growing on a property, in which low maintenance plants thrive the best in.
Rain gardens are becoming a popular choice in home landscape design, as they improve natural drainage while also being beneficial for the environment around the home.
These plants pair nicely with other native shade perennials, such as jack-in-the-pulpits, wild ginger, and of course, real Solomon’s Seal; additionally, their upright structure and leaves make a nice contrast to hostas as well.
After you’ve foraged the berries from a wild False Solomon’s Seal plant, the hard pit seed in the center can be planted in your home garden for easier access to the plant.
If you forage the berries in hopes of growing your own plant, plan to harvest the seeds in the fall when they are most ripe. Plant the seeds directly into the soil once harvested or stratify them.
Stratification is a process that some seeds require in order to germinate, and the False Solomon’s Seal seed is one of them, if the seed is not going to be planted immediately after harvest.
This process follows a cold treatment to bring the seeds out of their dormancy. The treatments given in the stratification process can be warm or cold, but both treatments need to match the precise conditions a plant would need to germinate naturally.
If the seed are germinated through this method, the overall germination process could take up to three months, or even two to three years.
Once the plant has been placed and begun growing, the plant can be divided, but it is recommended to avoid dividing the young False Solomon’s Seal until the plant has been planted in place for one to three years.
Here is a video that provides a great overview about growing false Solomon Seal:
Using False Solomon’s Seal & Benefits
As stated earlier, false Solomon’s Seal is edible. The parts usable from the False Solomon Seal plant includes the roots and berries, which contain a wide variety of benefits Most commonly, the roots were eaten and used to season various meats.
The roots bare a similarity to asparagus in the way they are eaten, and can be consumed raw or cooked. To cook the roots, it is best to steam or simmer them.
The berries on this plant are tasty, but it takes some real effort to enjoy or use them for several reasons. For starters, the skin surrounding the berry is firm and tough to break through, but when you do, the inner jelly-like fruit is sweet.
Past the fruit is the hard seed that is typically eaten by birds and squirrels. The berries have been claimed to have a laxative effect when consumed in larger quantities; however, if you gather enough of them, they can be made into juice, jams, and jellies.
The issue with culinary uses of this plant’s berries is that there are typically not enough from one source at a singular time to make a worthy amount.
However, in some cases, you may be fortunate to find a really large stand of False Solomon’s Seal and have enough to make a full batch of jams or jellies. In that case, you’ll be able to load your pantry shelves with a canned good that few people ever get to enjoy!
A Useful Herb Hiding in the Shade
The next time you head out foraging, pay a little extra attention to shady areas on hills and slopes. If you’re fortunate, you may find a stand of False Solomon’s Seal that you can put to use in your kitchen, or as an herbal remedy.
So, grab your plant identification guides and foraging gear, and head out to look for this useful native plant today!
When Tom Harkins is not busy doing emergency repairs to his 200 year-old New England home, he tries to send all of his time gardening, home brewing, foraging, and taking care of his ever-growing flock of chickens, turkey and geese.