Name: Solomon’s Seal (Polygonum multiflorum)
Otherwise known as: Lady’s seal, St Mary’s seal
Habitat: A perennial member of the Liliaceae family growing to about 40cm in light woodland in Europe and Asiatic Russia. The plant has a round stem emanating from a thick, creeping rhizome bearing numerous alternate to ovate/elliptical leaves in two rows with white, drooping, tubular aromatic flowers growing singly or in pairs from the leaf axils.
What does it do: The common name derives from a belief that the triangular scars left on the rootstock from the previous year’s growth resembled the great seal of King Solomon. Another explanation is that when the root stock is cut transversely, Hebrew characters are revealed that gave rise to the theory that Solomon, ‘…who, knew the diversities of plants and their virtues’ had set his seal of approval on them.
The ancients were aware of the plant and Galen recommended it for improving the complexion but cautioned against internal use. However, Gerard stated that ‘…among the vulgar and coarse people of Hampshire being much taken with drink and therefore prone to falling and suchlike, do stamp the root and soke it in small ale, and drink of it until it sobereth and glues the bones together’. He also informs us that ‘…if applied when fresh and green to the eye doth take away in one night those black and blew spots, gotten by women’s willfulness in stumbling on their husband’s fists’.
Culpeper, informs that the Italian dames ‘…scoureth away freckles and blemishes and ugly spots, with a decoction of the root’. English country folk made excellent poultices from the root for bruises and sprains.
Nineteenth century herbalists were most enthusiastic about the plant’s ability to stop bleeding from the lungs caused by tuberculosis, and stopping up dysentery. Modern herbalists and homeopaths still recommend it for inflammation of the bowels, piles and pulmonary complaints. The macerated flowers have a reputation as a love potion and aphrodisiac.
Solomon’s seal is a very attractive and popular plant in cottage gardens in Europe.