Blooming very early in the season, this was one of the first flowers to appear in my drier rocky woods this spring. Because the leaves appear to bear a resemblance to the liver, early herbalists assumed the plant to be effective in treating liver ailments.
The largest and most showy of the trilliums which bloomed in my woods this spring, it turns pink with age. Now a protected emblem of our province, in the past, the trillium's underground rootstalks were apparently used by aboriginal Indians for a variety of medicinal purposes, and the plants have also been picked and eated as cooked greens.
Also blooming right now, before the leaves of the overhead trees unfold completely and shade them out are the Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum), Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum); Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and False Solomon's seal (Smilacina racemosa).
I nearly had heart failure the other day. Coming home down my long lane through the woods, I noticed that our landlords' father had mowed the edges of the drive. Had he gone as far as the little patch of Jack-in-the-pulpit in the woods? I had to think back and when I couldn't remember, I backed the car up to check. No! Thank goodness the Jack-in-the pulpits still stood near the gate to the first field on the north side of the laneway.
Also in the wetter parts of the woods, the brown stems of horsetails are sprouting, tipped with spore cones. A plant without flowers or seeds, it has a branched rhizome which sends up a brownish-yellow, fertile, hollow, jointed stem that terminates in the spore cones. An ancient medicinal plant, the stems contain silica and other acids, minerals, vitamins and salts. The granular silica has been used to scour pots and pans and to polish wood in furniture and cabinet-making. It is apparently also an effective organic fungicide for black spot and mildew on garden plants. And the young horsetail shoots can be cooked and eaten with butter. Imagine!
Other wildflowers that I have noticed in bloom from the latter part of April to the end of May were:
- Bloodroot Sanquinaria canadensis
- Trout lily or dogtooth violets Erythronium americanum
- Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara
- Periwinkle Vinca minor
- Marsh marigold or cowslip Caltha palustris
- Mayapple or Mandrake Padophyllum peltatum
- Early Meadow Rue Thalictrum dioicum
- Common dandelion Taraxacum officinale
- Wild Oats or Sessile Bellwort Uvularia sessilifolia
- Lily of the valley Convallaria majalis
Of the plants listed above, only trout lily, early meadow rue, and sessile bellwort do not have some purported medicinal use from days gone by, to the best of my knowledge! Of course, to paraphrase a famous herbalist and wild crafter: all herbs should be used wisely and with caution, but all herbs should remain free for all, harvested with respect to the environment. The traditional wildcrafter often takes only one of a large patch of many of one species, so that plenty remains to propagate itself. And the wildcrafter with mystical wisdom leaves a gift of shells, pretty stones or feathers to thank the magic spirit of the plant. Mother Nature has a purpose for every single plant She has created and they should remain free and wild, free of pharmaceutical exploitation, free of copyrights, free of trendy markets and free of government regulation; the fool that misuses herbs ...thins the herd!!
Here's an image to make you green with envy. As I work in my garden, huge patches of lily of the valley exude their fragrance with such generosity that the slightest breeze wafts it all over the garden. There is lily of the valley in enormouse drifts in the beds at the west and north of the house, under the trees to the north of the house and behind the garage. Anybody want some lily of the valley?? When Mother Nature is generous, she is really, really, really generous...
In my living room, on a sidetable beside the reclining couch, a small blue glass jar holds a bunch of lily of the valley that perfumes the whole room. What luxury!