Manatakaģ American Indian Council






Medicine for the People

By Jim McDonald,

Solomon's Seal

Polygonatum biflorum


I learned about Solomon's Seal early on; identifying it (along with Cleavers) from Lesley Bremness's Herbs Eyewitness Handbook as I was sitting with friends after a woodland wedding in Hastings.  A few months later I read about it in Matthew Wood's Book of Herbal Wisdom, and that fall I harvested some roots to make tincture.  Not much later that Autumn a woman I knew slipped and fell, wrenching her knee quite badly while I was over at her place.  I went out into the woods behind their house, dug some roots up, simmered them for a bit in oil and had her use that topically.  She went to the doctor the next day, and was referred to an orthopedic specialist the next day, who said it was quite a bad injury and would likely require surgery.  A day after that I dropped off some of the tincture I had made, and then next time she went in to the orthopedist (a couple weeks later), she was told that she had healed phenomenally well and there would be no need for the surgery after all.


So that was my first experience using it, and since then I've just kept racking up more and more cases typically exhibiting marked and even drastic recoveries.  I don't think there's a single other plant I use that so reliably produces such story-worthy results, and as there is far too little information clearly elaborating on Solomon's Seal's remarkable virtues, I figured I should help remedy that... 


Solomon's Seal is an invaluable but little known remedy found peppered throughout Michigan's woodlands.  Its range extends throughout the eastern woodlands into the Midwest, and, to my knowledge, fails somewhere on its way into the West, though its sister False Solomon's Seal seems to exist there prolifically enough to have been written about by Michael Moore.  Where I'm at, it seems to exist commonly, though not abundantly, in our woodlands.  There's always more false Solomon's Seal than True, and this makes its ecological status an important consideration, especially when harvesting the plant (but I'll discuss that below)


Early in the spring it sends up a slightly zigzagging stem bearing alternate leaves.  I've often heard it claimed that Solomon's Seal's stem is relatively straight, and that it is False Solomon's Seal's that zigzags.  This is may be true sometimes, but not all the time, and so isn't a reliable pneumonic device (it's more commonly true that False Solomon's Seal's stem is "plumper" that the True).  At each leaf joint, there hangs a pair of whitish green flowers, shaped similar to little bowling pins whose bottoms open up as the flowering progresses.  Over the summer, these ripen from green to purple-blue berries in autumn..  These berries are considered "toxic" and should not be eaten, though I've never really heard it explained in what manner they're toxic.  Nevertheless, because of this, the entire plant is sometimes listed as "toxic" in some herbals.  The root, which is the part used medicinally, is certainly not toxic to any degree, and was used by Native Americans as a food source, and is used as a wild food by numerous people nowadays who are into that sorta thing.  I have used the plant extensively, and never seen nor heard of any negative reactions, and so (allowing for the rare exceptions that always exist) encourage you to scribble out any such claims in any books you have or may in the future find.  Of course, care should also be taken to distinguish the plant from False Solomon's Seal and Bellflower, both of which look similar to "True" Solomon's Seal.

Without doubt, Solomon's Seal is the most useful remedy I know of for treating injuries to the musculoskeletal system. I've used it to treat broken bones, sprains, injured tendons and ligaments, tendonitis, arthritis, and even a slipped disc (mine - that sure did hurt...). Solomon's Seal has the remarkable ability to restore the proper tension to ligaments, regardless of whether they need to be tightened or loosened. This makes it a valuable remedy for sports & activity related injuries, used either before resorting to or along with conventional surgical procedures. I know of several instances when use of Solomon's Seal prevented the need for surgery, and also have seen it speed recovery time for people who have had surgery. One person I worked with who was taking a blend of Solomon's Seal, Mullein Root and a wee bit of Comfrey reported that his doctor told him with some surprise that his crushed kneecap had healed remarkably between his initial X-rays and his two week follow up; even the cartilage had begun to repair itself. 


When I "slipped" or herniated my disc, the formula I came up with to address strengthening the actual disc itself was 7 parts Solomon's Seal, 5 parts each (or was it three?  I never quite remember...) Mullein Root and Horsetail, and 1 part Goldenseal tinctures.  I took this in 7 drop doses, and could literally feel the pain and sensitivity in the disc diminishing; which is too say that when the top half of my body felt waaay to heavy to be perched all atop that disc, the tincture created a notable easing of that sensation.  This formula doesn't address the muscular/nerve involvement often accompanying such injuries, but is more specific to the connective tissues, strengthening them, equalizing tension and restoring alignment.  Saint John's Wort is probably the ideal herb to address attendant nerve pain, and muscle spasms and tension can indicate a plethora of distinct remedies (Lobelia, Black Cohosh, Arnica, Prickly Ash...) or more general ones (Cramp Bark, Kava Kava, Valerian...).  I still use the disc formula when I overdo it and feel that sensitivity creep back into the disc; it often takes care of the problem in a few doses.  Remarkable stuff.  


Even more complicated situations can benefit dramatically from the use of Solomon's Seal. I've consulted a man with achondroplasia (a form of "dwarfism") whose entire musculoskeletal system is tight, enflamed and bowing.  He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, leaving him debilitated and unable to straighten the leg out at all.  His wife gave him a blend of Mullein flower and Horsetail tincture, and applied Mullein leaf poultices, and he was, after 2 days, able to bend his leg "ever so slightly".  About three weeks later, she added Solomon's Seal tincture, and by the next morning the results were marker: "He puttered in his shop all day, without his walker, only his cane. He was beyond thrilled, he was ecstatic."  To put this in perspective, she said that "The last time this happened to him, they operated on day 8, with no improvement or relief whatsoever UNTIL surgery."    He's continued to use the Solomon's Seal, along with some other herbs to address the numerous other complications arising from the achondroplasia, and his wife says that he "swears he can feel it working, not just in his joints and tendons, but he says even in his bones? Is that normal? He's thrilled about it, so even if it's not normal, I doubt I could get him to stop taking it."

I consider Solomonís Seal an invaluable connective tissue anti-inflammatory. Several people I know swear by Solomon's Seal as their preferred treatment for arthritis.  I've used it myself to address tendonitis, and after letting the condition develop a bit to where it pretty much hurt all the time, I took 7 drops of Solomon's Seal tincture a few times a day and sting my arm from wrist to elbow with fresh Nettles in the morning and evening.  After three days, the condition resolved entirely.  I know other people who have used it (without the Nettles) and it worked for them as well, though not as quickly as with the Nettle sting.  A few years ago, I used Solomon's Seal and Black Cohosh to help a man with Lupus, an autoimmune disorder causing severe inflammation of the connective tissue. Initial results were remarkably good, but he had a flare up resulting from some shifting around of his medications, which resulted in their prescribing even more meds, and after that the Solomonís Seal, I think, just couldnít cut through the powerful drugs. SighÖ I used a similar combination, with the addition of Saint Johnís Wort, for a woman who had developed severe muscle weakness as a side effect of statin drugs. She recovered markedly upon using the remedy in 10 drop doses twice daily.  Very recently I combined it with Mullein Root and Saint John's Wort for a man with sciatica-like pains resultant from an enflamed SI joint.  Literally one 5 drop dose improved the condition by 90% (I think the residual 10% was from the injured disc that caused the SI inflammation).  It also seems specific when there is inadequate lubrication in the joint (which can be felt and sometimes even heard), and I've seen it resolve this right quick on a number of occasions.

So how does it work? In treating arthritis and other injuries involving inflammation, I initially believed that the gooey mucilage in the roots finds its way to the enflamed tissues and coats and lubricates them, which reduces friction and irritation and soothes the tissues themselves. But this really canít be it, as it wasn't long before I learned that a.) mucilages arenít extracted by alcohol very well, and the dosage of tincture is far too small for it to be working on a physical level and b.) mucilages don't get into the blood stream and thus into joints. Matthew Wood speculated that Solomon's Seal might stimulate the body to produce cortisone, and my current belief is that it acts on the synovial glands, improving the production of synovial fluid and thus lubrication in the joints - really, this idea isn't too far off from what I initially thought regarding the mucilage, though I had the mechanism wrong.  But who knows exactly whatís going on; what is clear is that it works, and if thatís the case, understanding why isnít entirely necessary (though it can be nice).

Equally remarkable is the dosage needed to obtain such results. I've recommended as little as three to five drops a day, as this is what I learned from Matthew Wood, who is responsible for bringing this obscure herb into popular knowledge. If significant results aren't seen within a week or two, the dose can be upped as needed up to 30 drops three times daily, though I don't know of anyone who's needed to take that much... usually between five and fifteen drops will do the trick; 5 and 10, really.  I usually take 7 drops, as I've always been rather fond of that number.


Solomon's Seal is perfectly suited as a "base" upon which to blend formulas, and well crafted combinations potentiate its effectiveness.  Saint John's Wort is indicated if there is nerve involvement (numbness, tingling, shooting or searing pains), Mullein Root if there is a misalignment involved (either in the way bones are healing together or in cases of spinal curvature & subluxations), Horsetail to aid the healing of bones & cartilage, Black Cohosh for dull, achy, inflammatory pain in the muscles or for whiplash, a teeny tiny bit of Goldenseal for injured discs (learned, as well, from Matt Wood), Arnica for pain from injury, Teasel for muscle injuries and tears, Blue Vervain if there's a lot of tension in the nape of the neck & upper shoulders (especially if it results from rigid, self imposed idealism), Yarrow if there is bruising, blood stagnation or, conversely, bleeding, Lobelia is there are severe muscle spasms, fresh Nettle, applied (yup, stung by) externally for tendonitis... pant pant pant... well, you get the picture.  It combines well.   

Iíve also used an oil infusion of the root as an external remedy for joint injuries. It has proven quite useful for sprains, and others I know have also found that itís helped with sprains, a bakerís cyst, and a suspected heal spur to boot (heh hehÖ I love puns).  Combine it with the usual blend of Saint John's Wort, Arnica, and maybe some Yarrow and I think you'll be impressed.

Solomon's Seal has other uses as well. The same mucilage that lubricates joints can loosen mucous in the lungs to treat coughs, as well as intestinal inflammation, and the starchy roots contain sugars that feed healthy bacteria in the intestines. The roots have been used in cases of male infertility, along with Milky Oat Seeds and Burdock root, if this problem appears to be the result of atrophied (dried out) tissues. Most old literature focuses on it as being an excellent external treatment for bruises and black eyes, though I've yet to ask anyone to punch me so I could try this usage out...


That, by the way, brings me to the old Gerard comment about its usefulness for wives who have "stumbled into their hasty husbands fists".  What an ass.  That's such an offensive statement, really, and it's a shame that that's what a lot of herb books feel the need to write down under their entry for Solomon's Seal.  Hopefully, in the past, some of those same "hasty husbands" stepped on some minced up root on the floor in the kitchen, slipped on its gooey mucilage, and had some sense knocked into them, or their "hastiness" knocked out of them.

As a member of the Lily family, Solomon's Seal contains small amounts of the cardioactive compound convallarin (found in higher concentrations in its relative, Lily of the Valley). Though this is a potent chemical constituent, it seems to be in insufficient quantity to be of concern or use. I've used Solomon's Seal with patients on heart medication and who have heart murmurs and seen no signs of adverse effects. However, my friend Betty Rinaldi, an excellent and darn cool herbalist in St. Clair Shores, told me sheíd heard about it being used externally over the heart to address heart murmursÖ I canít wait to try that outÖ

My personal feeling is that Solomon's Seal extract is so useful in treating injuries that one should always keep some on hand, but because it is so little used, finding it commercially can be difficult.  So, It is very important to gather this medicine properly, so as not to endanger our native populations!


Collect it this way:

Find a plant and trace down the stem till you feel the root in the soil. Very often the roots are quite close to the surface, and if this is the case, and there's not a lot of clay to deal with, you can harvest with your fingers - if not, hope you've got a small trowel... The front of the root will have the bud of the next year's growth, while the back can reach upwards of a foot behind the stem. Trace back two to three inches from the stem and sever the rear portion of the rhizome with a knife or trowel (or break it with your fingers), and pull that portion up from the ground.  I find that if I run a finger underneath the roots as I'm pulling it up, I can collect it more effectively.  It will be a creamy white color, and appear to have knobby knuckles indicating the previous year's stalks (I've collected plants over 13 years old). Because the growing portion of the plant is never removed from the ground, plants harvested in this manner show no signs of impact or distress, and will continue to grow unimpeded by harvesting.  Very often, new shoots will grow from where the root was cut, which means more above ground plants, more flowers, more berries, and so more seeds. Also, any pieces of the back of the root that break off will likely, as well, continue to grow into new plants.  Collected in this manner, you'll have more plants growing where you harvest than were there when you started, and that is indeed a good feeling. 


We often, as herbalists, talk about asking permission, making an offering, and thanking the plants we gather for their medicine.  These are all acts of importance.  But a pinch of Tobacco or a "thank you" won't mean nearly as much to a plant as being collected in a respectful and sustainable manner that allows it and its children to continue to thrive in its habitat.  Taking the time and extra effort to harvest in this way shows the plant how deeply you respect it, and it will return this kindness not only with its continued growth, but by offering the sweetest of medicines. 

© 2000-2008 jim mcdonald






EMAIL          HOME          INDEX          TRADING POST