Solomon's seal (botanical name, Polygonatum multiflorum) is a perennial herb that is found growing in damp sandy, loamy or stony woods and thickets. The plant has a groveling rootstock or underground stem, which is chunky and has a white color. The underground stem is entwined having several knots along with spherical blemishes at intervals. These scars have been left behind by the leaf stems of the preceding years. The plant establishes stems that grow up to a height of 18 inches to two feet and occasionally even higher. These stems grow straight for a considerable length and subsequently lean over elegantly. These stems are round, have a light green color and are leafless around half-way up. From there to the top, they produce big and generally oval-shaped leaves that emerge alternately on the stem, especially holding onto it by the bases. All the leaves of the herb possess a special character and that is of turning one away, being somewhat curved upward and also to one side. The leaves also have distinct longitudinal ribs on their surfaces.
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The flowers produced by Solomon's seal appear in slight saggy clusters, each comprising two to seven blooms. The flowers spring from the leaf axils, but hang in a reverse direction to the plants. The flowers have a tube-like shape and have a creamy or waxy white hue and yellowish-green at the top. The flowers of the Solomon's seal possess a sweet aroma and are succeeded by small blackish-blue berries, each approximately of the size of a pea. The color of the berries also varies and may be found to be red and even purple. Each berry encloses around three to four small seeds.
The generic name of the plant Polygonatum denotes multiple-angles and it is believed to have been derived either from the several knots or swellings on the roots of the plant or from the multiple nodes or joints on the stem. However, the attributes are not prominently distinguished. On the other hand, the specific name, multiflorum, helps to differentiate this multi-flowered species from another species wherein the blossoms are single or appear only in pairs from every leaf axil.
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The herbalists of the medieval period had such great faith on the healing powers of Solomon seal, especially in curing wounds that they believed that the deep blemishes along the rhizome or rootstock of the plant had been positioned there by the wise king and well-known magician Solomon as an evidence of the therapeutic attributes of the herb.
It may be noted that the rhizome of Solomon's seal produces new stems every year and these stems fade away during the summer, leaving behind a scar that has resemblance to the wax seals that were used in the past to close letters. One is able to calculate the age of the plant by counting the scars on the rhizomes. A species of the genus found in Europe - P. officinale, has distinct resemblance to the species found in America. These species along with other plants belonging to the Polygonatum species not only have close resemblance, but also possess similar therapeutic properties and uses.
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During the 16th century, the English herbalist John Gerard asserted that the rhizome of Solomon's seal was a cure-all for different types of wounds, cuts and bruises, counting those that were 'sustained by falls or the wilfulness of women to stumble on their hasty fists of their husbands'. The roots of Solomon's seal encloses a substance known as allantoin, which is extracted from other plant sources and used in preparing modern medicines for external treatment of skin ulcers as well as wounds.
Similar to arnica, it is believed that even the Solomon's seal also prevents excessive bruising as well as promotes repair of damaged tissues. This herb is mostly used in the form of a poultice. As the rhizome of the plant possesses astringent as well as demulcent (soothing) actions, these facilitate in speeding up the healing process. In addition, herbal medicine practitioners also recommend Solomon's seal for treating tuberculosis, and menstrual problems as well as a general tonic for the body. Solomon's seal is considered to be a yin tonic in Chinese herbal medicine and it is believed to be especially applicable to problems that affect the respiratory system. It is also used to treat painful throats, chest pain, dry and prickly coughs as well as bronchial congestion.
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An infusion prepared with the herb helps to heal wounds and facilitates in restoring health. It is also beneficial for problems related to the gastro-intestines, such as stomach inflammations, chronic dysentery and others. The dry roots of Solomon's seal are powdered to prepare an effective poultice for treating inflammations, piles, bruises as well as a number of other similar problems. As aforementioned, the roots or rhizomes of the herb are harvested in autumn, dried and stored for use when necessary. The dried powder of the roots and flowers of the Solomon's seal have also been used as a snuff to encourage sneezing and, thereby, clear the bronchial passages. Unless there is any kind of professional supervision, the plant or any medications prepared with it should never be used internally. It may be noted that distilled water prepared from the whole Solomon's seal plant has been used as a tonic for the skin and it also forms an active ingredient in a number of expensive cosmetic products.
A potent decoction prepared with the whole plant has been found to be effective in curing erysipelas (a severe streptococcal infectious disease of the skin) when taken at intervals of two to three hours. In addition, this decoction can also be applied topically to the affected parts. There was a time when the bruised Solomon's seal roots mixed with cream were extensively used as a popular remedy for black eyes. The smashed leaves were also used to prepare a stiff ointment along with lard to cure the same problem.
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Crushed Solomon seal's roots may be macerated in water for some time to yield a substance that mainly consists of starch and may be used as a food. Even the young shoots of the plant can be used as a wonderful vegetable. It can be boiled and consumed in the same manner as asparagus. People in Turkey consume this substance extensively. The roots of a different species of Polygonatum are used to prepare bread when food is scarce. However, these roots should be boiled and baked prior to consuming them.
In earlier days, the flowers as well as the roots of Solomon's seal were in fashion as aphrodisiacs, for being used as love philtres (beverages that are believed to arouse love and passion) as well as potions. The small blackish-blue berries of Solomon's seal are said to promote vomiting, while the leaves are know to cause nausea when chewed.
Solomon's seal is indigenous to Europe as well as the temperate climatic regions of North America and Asia. The herb rarely grows in the wild. Nevertheless, it is a very common decorative garden plant. The rhizome, which possesses most of the plant's therapeutic properties, is dug out during autumn. It is possible to grow Solomon's seal for ground cover and for this, the plants need to be grown no less than 30 cm apart from each other on all sides.
This herb has a preference for fertile soils that are humus rich as well as able to retain moisture. In addition, the soil needs to be well drained. Although Solomon's seal thrives well in cool shade or partial shade, the plant has the aptitude to succeed even in dry shade provided the soil is rich in humus content. This herb grows best in heavy clay soils. Solomon's seal plants are unable to endure heat or drought, but can tolerate most other weather conditions. According to another report, the plants are able to endure drought too as long as the soil is rich in humus content.
Solomon's seal is a very ornate plant that grows excellently on the edges of woodlands. This species has a number of named forms too. Members belonging to this genus are seldom found to be troubled by browsing deer or rabbits. The young shoots of Solomon's seal and majority of the other members of this genus are extremely eye-catching to slugs. Solomon's seal easily hybridizes with the other plants belonging to this genus - Polygonatum.
Solomon's seal plants are generally propagated by their seeds. It is advisable to sow the seeds immediately after they ripen during the early part of autumn. The seeds should be sown in a shady portion of a cold frame. If you are using stored seeds, sow them at the earliest part of the year possible. The germination of Solomon's seal seeds may be sluggish, and they might not come as expected and it generally takes a number of years for the plants to reach a reasonable size. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, pick them out individually and plant them into separate pots. Grow these seedlings in the pots in a shady part of the greenhouse for the duration of their first winter. The young plants may be transplanted in their permanent positions outdoors during the later part of spring or in early summer after the last expected frost of the season has passed.
Alternately, the plant may also be propagated by root division in March or October. Larger root divisions can be planted directly into their permanent positions outdoors. It has been found that it is always better to create the small divisions and grow them in partial shade in a cold frame till they are properly established. Once they have been established well, they can be planted in their permanent positions outdoors in the later part of spring or early summer.
Although the roots of Salomon's seal are believed to possess numerous healing properties, scientists are yet to completely examine the attributes of the herb's roots/ rhizomes. It is said that a decoction prepared with the roots of Solomon's seal will not only alleviate skin disorders, but also be helpful in completely curing the problems.