SOLOMON’S SEAL (polygonatum spp.)
Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine
Genus and Species: Solomon’s Seal: P. biflorum var. commutatum (Great Solomon’s Seal)
P. multiflorum (formerly Convallaria), P. officinale, P. giganteum, P. sommutatum,
TCM: Yu-Zhu P. odoratum, Huang Jing P. sibiricum, Ayurveda: Mahmeda, meda
Plant Family: Ruscaceae. Some sources have reclassified Ruscaceae family to Nolinoideae, a subfamily of Asparagaceae family. A close relative to Lily of the Valley, earlier classification was Convallaria, (formerly Liliaceae) family.
Common Names: Smooth Solomon’s Seal, sow’s teats, dropberry, sealwort, seal root, lady’s seals, St. Mary’s seal, sigilum, Salomanis, Sigillum Sanctae Mariae, John the Conquerer
Parts Used: Root / Rhizome (medicinal) Young spring shoots (food)
Gathering time: Autumn every 3rd or 4th year
Properties or Actions: Demulcent, Expectorant, Nutritive, Vulnerary, Cardiotonic (mild), Sedative, Anti-inflammatory
Taste: Sweet, slightly acrid (fresh), Bitter, Starchy, Moistening
Tissue States: Dry Atrophy, Neutral,
Energetics: Cooling, Relaxing, Building, Toning, Balancing, Astringent
Degree of Action: 3rd
Botanical Description (Botany and Ecology)
A variety of Solomon’s seal is native to N. America, Europe, Siberia, and Asia. In the US it is found through the East Coast (predominantly Georgia, S. Carolina to Maine) spanning across the Midwest reaching Wyoming, Nebraska, Dakotas. Solomon’s Seal grows easily with rich moist soil in deciduous woodlands with full to partial shade. It grows in clumps with stems ranging to 3 feet in length. The alternate leaves have parallel monocot veins along the stem. The delicate creamy white cluster flowers are found hanging below the stem. These clusters of 2-7 flowers produce fruit with 3-4 seeds that become blackish blue to purplish red. When harvesting the roots, it is important to approach the plant with respect using fingers to pick the root at the back behind the stem, so the growing portion is not impacted.
Key Uses: Weak, damaged, inflamed joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles, intestinal, bronchial, heart health, genitourinary health, rheumatoid arthritis, hemorrhoids.
Historically, the Greeks and the Romans gave little regard to Solomon’s Seal as they thought it to be a poisonous plant, although they knew the berries were toxic and the roots were sweet.
John Gerard, 1597 was responsible for introducing Solomon’s Seal to the English medicinal orbit, although it was slow to be adopted in America as described by King’s American Dispensatory, 1898 “although used with asserted benefit in several diseases by many physicians, yet the American species of these plants have received but little attention as to their true therapeutical characteristics.” It remained transient, in and out of favor through the Eclectic era as classified under the genus Convallaria Polygonatum, “In former times it was used externally in bruises, especially those about the eyes, in tumors, wounds, and cutaneous eruptions, and was highly esteemed as a cosmetic. At present it is not employed.” . Having researched this plant, and noticed its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I agree that it is underutilized in Western herbalism although both Mathew Wood and jim mcdonald extol its virtues as a superb remedy for treating injuries to the musculoskeletal system.
The term Polygonatum, derives from Greek, “poly” meaning “many” and “gony,” “gonato” referring to “knee.” Solomon’s Seal is true to doctrine of signatures as the “white roots appear to be bony, joints, knuckles and vertebra.” One can observe the knobby markings, swellings, scars and joints from previous years which are said to be similar to stamps or “seals.” There are numerous thoughts as to the origin of “seal” one being that the Hebrew characters seen on the root scars bear a resemblance to King Solomon’s ancient Hebrew seal. His seal demonstrates its value to man as a medicinal root as he “knew the diversities of plants and virtues of the root.”
Despite not being used historically medicinally, the root has been used as food throughout Europe during times of famine. After being macerated and boiled it can either be mashed or baked as bread. Both, Cherokee, and American Indians of Oregon or Columbia River collected the roots. Along with the Turkish, the sweet shoots are made into an Asparagus-like tasting Spring salad. The flowers were mixed with powdered roots to make snuff as they relieved head aches upon sneezing.
Solomon’s Seal is an ideal anti-inflammatory connective tissue support for repetitive stress matters, i.e. tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, joint arthritis, partial tears of the rotator cuff, knee ailments (runner’s knee, mild tears of the meniscus of the ACL) and disc injuries or sacroiliac joint pain. A repetitive use syndrome salve formula that siphons into the matrix effectively consists of 5 parts Solomon’s Seal, 1-part Chickweed and 1-part Gotu Kola. Adding Horsetail which contains silica (glass) will provide extra hardness, sheen, elastin and stretch ability if the joint is badly injured. For adhesions, add Horsetail and Marshmallow.
Solomon’s Seal has amphoteric properties; having the ability to restore the appropriate tension, be it tightening or loosening issues that affect joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. An example of the amphoteric function is how bunions and bone spurs are addressed. Solomon’s Seal “decalcifies, as needed by the body, breaking down spurs and deposits, yet it also recalcifies, building up and repairing bones” . According to jim mcdonald, dried out, atrophic tissues lose their pliability. Solomon’s Seal works by improving the production of synovial fluid, moistening and restoring tissue to either stretch out or tighten back to their original length (as in the case of dried out leather when moistened) which in turn eases inflammation as damaged structures are realigned..
Respiratory and Gastrointestinal tract
Prior to today’s primary use of for joints, ligaments and tendons Solomon’s Seal moisture properties were used by Harold Ward, 1936 for “lung complaints when combined with other remedies. The powdered root used as poultice for inflammations. Infusion of 1 ounce to 1 pint of boiling water – wineglass doses.” David Winston combines it with Slippery Elm, Marshmallow or Licorice. Yin tonics provide moisture to body fluids. Solomon’s Seal, as a yin tonic is a useful non-salicin containing herb as an anti-inflammatory for the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract. David Winston uses it for dry coughs (stir fried with honey provides a demulcent factor), atrophic gastritis, dry constipation, IBS-C, dry mouth and dry, difficult to expectorate mucus.
Solomon’s Seal starchy roots contain sugars that help feed healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898 describes Solomon’s Seal as being a “reputed tonic, mucilaginous and mildly astringent, exerting a specific influence upon irritated and relaxed mucous membranes.” “…An infusion of the root will be of great efficacy in irritable conditions of the intestines, as well as in chronic inflammations of these parts, especially when attended with burning sensations, pain, etc.” Chewing and swallowing the root was also used to alleviate hemorrhoid symptoms
Following is a tonic formula for both healthy digestion and structural inflammation.
A Compound Wine of Solomon’s Seal
Key Herb: 2 parts Solomon’s Seal Root
Supporting Herbs: 2 parts Plantain Leaf, 1-part Cherry Bark,
1-part Chamomile Flowers, ½ part Gentian Root
Catalyst Herb: ½ part Ginger Root
To this: add sherry wine (20% fortified wine) 1:8 bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let steep while covered until cool. Once cool, transfer to a jar and macerate for 3 weeks. Strain and drink 1-2 ounces before meals, 3 times daily. Best kept refrigerated.
Congestive Heart Failure
Solomon’s Seal increases circulation through the capillary bed enabling the heart to become a little more regular. As a cardiotonic, it works on the venous system. It is useful for mild cases of congestive heart failure when dyspnea and a dry cough are present. Solomon’s Seal relaxes the heart, the tendons in the chest and lungs. It is helpful for the elderly with thin, dry chests. A heart tonic “magical” remedy to open the cardiac circuit is 7 parts Hawthorn and 1-part Solomon’s Seal.
Genitourinary Tract, Urinary and Skin
William Cook, 1869 wrote, “The mucous structures of the vagina and uterus are particularly influenced by it (Solomon’s Seal); and it is one of the most desirable agents in all ordinary forms of prolapses, and female weakness in general. Its combination with suitable tonics will secure from the latter a more distinct influence upon the uterine organs, (§140, 267;) and I prize it very highly in all such connections.” Thirty years later, King’s American Dispensatory, 1898, confirmed Cook’s usage of Solomon’s Seal “of much value in leucorrhoea, (white/yellow vaginal mucus discharge) menorrhagia, (abnormal / prolonged heavy bleeding) female debility” Jethro Kloss, 1939 agreed it was “a fine remedy for all female troubles.” Solomon’s Seal mucilage soothes urinary irritation when combined with Couch Grass or Marshmallow. As a poultice, Solomon’s Seal is useful when applied to boils, carbuncles, bruises and poison ivy.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
David Winston refers to Solomon’s Seal use in TCM as Yu Zhu and Huang Jing, a kidney yin tonic for lungs, chest and kidneys. It is known as a “yellow essence,” a sweet, moistening, lubricating and nourishing yin tonic. A kidney yin deficiency exhibits as “a dry throat, a cough due to dry lungs, diabetes and grey hair. This yin tonic lubricates the heart and lungs, tones the middle region (abdomen), builds marrow and increases semen (essence).”
Solomon’s Seal, P verticillatum: inflammation reduction in dry and irritated airway conditions.
A 2013 global study conducted in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Canada the authors examined the Trachorelaxant and Anti-Inflammatory activities of rhizomes of Polygonatum verticillatum with the objective to ascertain its medicinal use in hyperactive airway complaints and inflammatory disorders. The whole plant was collected in Pakistan and the air-shade rhizomes were dried, and ground into a fine powder which was soaked for three days in aqueous-methanol. A group of thirty Wistar rats and five adult local guinea-pigs were kept in standard laboratory conditions. Tracheal guinea-pig tissue was isolated in a bath with a continuous supply of carbogen gas (95%O2 and 5% CO2). The contractile and relaxant responses were tested. The plant caused relaxation of high K+ and CCh-induced contractions. The data gathered indicate that P. verticillatum extract caused complete inhibition of K+ resulting in tracheal tissue relaxation.
The other part of the study was conducted with the Wistar rats. The plant was used to test its anti-inflammatory potential using carrageenan-induced rat paw edema model. The plant demonstrated a marked reduction in edema similar to aspirin.
The results of both study segments showed that P. verticillatum possesses tracheorelaxant effects, mediated possibly through a Ca2+ channel blockade mechanism as well as anti-inflammatory activities. The results may lend further support to the traditional use of Solomon’s Seal and its cousins in dry and irritated airway conditions.
Flower Essence: The affirmation associated with Solomon’s Seal is “I accept.” Solomon’s Seal as a flower essence enables one to curb displays of anger and frustration as a reaction and replace those outbursts with awareness, flexibility and adaptability as the person learns to rise above emotions of a lower nature. Dosage: one drop of stock essence per 100 in a dosage bottle.
Solomon’s Seal is amazing. I do believe I could make an entire apothecary using Solomon’s Seal alone as it aids in the healing process throughout the body. My Mother had a special place in her garden in Pennsylvania where she grew and protected Solomon’s Seal. Following Solomon’s Seal growth pattern stages, first with the shoots, then the magnificent bending stems with its alternate deep green leaves, then the hidden flowers before they turn into berries enabled me to learn its true nature. It is delicate in nature, yet with a deep-seated integrity ready to support. When making medicine from Solomon’s Seal, I recall its growth pattern which in many ways resembles the many stages of medicine making. It is also so versatile, a salve, a decoction, an oil, a tincture, the medicine has the same nature as the plant.
I first used it as a salve for my knee which became tender scrambling up rocky inclines to class while studying at ESHM. I rubbed the salve all around my kneecap for about a week. By that time, I forgot that I had any pain. I used the tincture in clients who needed moistening and soothing for their compromised muscles, necks and knees in an Alterative formula Silk Tassel and Poke, a Bitter formula with Damiana, and Dandelion. I combined it with Lavender and Blue Vervain in glycerite for headaches.
One of my most exciting adventures was digging Solomon Seal roots in the Appalachian Mountains in an area where a new road was to be constructed. We not only collected roots, we transplanted them to a protected area allowing them to continue to grow and spread. This is when I began my own apothecary, Solomon’s Seal was the first extract I made when I attended Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine.
A 2013 study conducted in South Korea evaluated the Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory activity of fresh P. sibiricum rhizomes extracted in distilled water. Prior to this study, P. sibiricum had already proven itself as a medicinal plant. It’s efficacy as a tea included reducing blood glucose and lipid levels, regulating and enhancing the immune system and fighting aging. The study focused on testing the extract antioxidant activity by measuring radical scavenging activity, reactive oxygen activity. Anti-inflammatory activity was examined via nitric oxide inhibition, inducible nitric oxide synthase and TNF-α protein. Extracts were examined in triplicate. The results showed the extracts satisfactorily scavenged radical activity, decreased the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), inhibited excessive amounts nitrous oxide production and inhibited the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase and TNF-a proteins. The results concluded that in addition to its previous established benefits, the extracts could potentially be used as functional food supplements addressing anti-inflammatory effects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027316/
Blood Glucose Reduction
A study conducted in 1994, Japan, examined the hypoglycemic action of the rhizomes of the
P. officinale in normal and streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. It was found that the methanol extract of the rhizomes reduced the blood glucose of normal mice 4 hours after administration as well as suppressing epinephrine-induced hyperglycemia. In the streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice it significantly lowered the blood glucose after 4 hours.
Phytoconstituents Plant Constituents
Saponins and steroidal saponins (related to wild yam)
Anti-inflammatory: Saponoside B, Diosgenin
Sapogenin, Allantoin (5-ureidohydantoin, as in comfrey -wound healing), β-sitosterol (phytosterol)
Non-Protein amino acids (L-azetidine-2-carboxylic acid)
Dosage and Preparation
Infusion /Decoction: 1 tsp. dried rhizome, 8 oz. water, decoct 10 minutes, steep for 40 minutes, take 4 oz. 3x per day. Also, standard decoction (1 oz – qt).
Decoction / Bath Soak: Solomon’s Seal or add Kava-Kava. Follow standard decoction.
Tincture: Fresh Root: 1:3, 95% ETOH. Dried Root: 1:5, 50% ETOH, 5 drops to 3 ml (0.6 tsp) 3 times/day. Use high proof ETOH or starches from root will turn into syrup.
Salve: Oil extract (1:4). Combine Solomon’s Seal with Teasel (50/50)
Compress: Apply tincture or decoction for ligament/tendon tissues close to surface.
Poultice: Fresh root mashed and applied topically
Capsules: 600 mg 3 times/ day
Cautions and Contradictions
No known side effects when taken in recommended doses.
May potentiate Digitalis-based medications.
Large doses may cause gastric upset, nausea and vomiting.
Berries are toxic
References on next page