Tincturing Solomon’s seal, and questioning what we really know

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal alliesTincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies-DSC_2742

Looking upon Solomon’s seal as a naturalist I would tell you that yes, I “knew” this plant.

I knew Solomon’s seal by sight, it’s common name, Latin name, habitat, and range. I knew how to distinguish it from false Solomon’s seal, whose latin name I had also memorized.

(Sidebar: Because the educator and naturalist in me will not die and I know at least one of you are wondering: true Solomon’s seals bears understated clusters of flowers beneath it’s elliptical leaves, versus false Solomon’s seal’s single showy terminal cluster, above similar leaves.)

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies

I  first learned Solomon’s seal in a college Plant Taxonomy class. This was my first favorite class since the high school art room, and I credit it (and my instructor there) for helping redirect my life’s path.

I spent hours after class in the herbarium, the city spilling out beyond our windows; me, thumbing through page after page of glorious dried plants, lost in the bliss of taxonomy and botany, amidst a sea of pavement and glass.

I ached for nature.

I remember my instructor looking up from his grading one day and asking thoughtfully, “Why are you here?”

I knew he didn’t mean in the lab, I was always there. But in that city; at that college. And I didn’t really have an answer. He told me then about the college that I ended up transferring to the very next year, one with a College of Natural Resources and an Environmental Education program; a college made for plant geeks like me.

But I digress.

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies

Back to Solomon’s seal. And what it really means to know.

With plants, I am realizing, knowing comes with time, with experience, with history. Knowing means learning much more than what is offered in a basic botany class. It springs from curiosity, intuition, and an open heart. It is rooted in our honoring of the past, humility in our present, and curiosity and passion leading us into the future.

For me, it comes from sitting with the plants, and sitting with myself.

And so truly, I do not know Solomon’s seal, though I do hope to someday.

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies

But let’s dig in anyway. Just to get us started, here a few more things that I do know, (about Solomon’s seal as a medicinal plant, that is):

Solomon’s seal has a long history of medicinal use, specially by First Nations peoples in the Eastern half of North America, dating back countless generations. These are the herbalists who knew and who know Solomon’s seal, deep within their very bones.

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies

It’s an apt analogy, as bones are one place that Solomon’s seal is a powerful herbal ally.

The nodular, white rhizome even looks something like a bone. (This commonality between a plant’s appearance and it’s medical usefulness is known as the “doctrine of signatures”.)

Solomon’s seal is used to treat injuries and inflammation of ligaments, tendons, bones and joints.

I’ve felt pulled to dig some for many weeks, after noticing it more and more in my neighborhood while I simultaneously navigated my first (and hopefully last) bout of plantar fasciitis. I finally decided that now was the time (despite early spring or late fall being a more proper time for digging most roots).

I found a plant that felt willing to share a length of rhizome with me, then using what I learned from Jim McDonald’s work, I felt around in the soil with my bare hands to determine where last year’s plant had grown. This was the place to dig, to prevent damaging this year’s plant or next year’s growth.

Because, as it turns out, when we learn just a little more before racing out the door; when we pause before we dig, as it were, we can lessen our impact.

I like that notion very much.

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies

After a profound amount of scratching about in the soil–and with earth clear up to my armpits–I came home with a small section of the largest Solomon’s seal rhizome I had ever seen. (They’re normally the size of a pinkie finger. This one was more like the meat on a chicken leg.) Within minutes of emerging from the earth, it was washed, grated, and ready to be tinctured.

This little mason jar will sit patiently in my herb cabinet for the next 3 to 6 months, and I will shake it gently every day that I remember it is there. Then it will be ready to strain and use.

I will make more Solomon’s seal tincture in the fall, when the time is more suitable for digging, but for me, right now, this is enough.

This exercise in listening and learning and getting my hands into the earth… that’s my path toward knowing.

A path I am grateful to be on.

Perhaps someday this is a plant that I, too, will know.

* * * This seems an appropriate place to mention that Jim McDonald, the herbalist mentioned above from whose work I first discovered Solomon’s seal has suffered a huge health crisis. If you have the means to support the Kickstarter set up for him and his family, please do so. Many thanks. You can find it here. * * * 

Tincturing Solomon's Seal, and digging deeper to truly KNOW our herbal allies

4 thoughts on “Tincturing Solomon’s seal, and questioning what we really know

  1. Heather says:

    Such a small world. I’ve been following your blog for a while and never knew you attended UWSP! I worked there briefly a couple of years ago in the accounting department and have lived nearby all my life. I felt so proud to work at a university that offered so many natural resources opportunities.

  2. Helen says:

    thank you i know nothing about this. Where do i begin? I made a dandelion salve and wish to learn more. Can you suggest a book

    • Rachel Wolf says:

      Hi Helen. I just published a lovely beginners book that includes open-ended recipes for making your own herbal preparations, plus recipes for working with ten common, easy-to-forage plants. There’s a link to Herbal Adventures (said book) on my blog!

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