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Herbal Cold Remedies: Solomon Seal and Wintergreen

Don’t let the cold or flu get you down by using these herbal remedies as a means for mitigating symptoms and speeding up recovery.

| February/March 1993

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    Solomon seal can prevent respiratory congestion from becoming a bad flu.
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    Wintergreen is a natural pain reliever.

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Solomon Seal

Every year, knowing what the winter brings, I combine a little Solomon seal with some honey to make a cough syrup. The taste is woodsy-spiry, and even the kids think it's delicious-well at least for a medicine. We use it to relieve congestion and minor coughs, and we count on it to get us through the bitter season of colds and flu.

Description: The Solomon seals are members of the lily family, and while there are numerous varieties, two of them are used medicinally: Smooth Solomon seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and false Solomon seal (Smilacena racemas). These can be used interchangeably. Both plants favor forested areas and grow in dry or damp woods or at the edges of forest along the sides of roads and paths. They are also planted in perennial or woodland gardens for ornamental purposes.

The roots of both types of Solomon seal are similar; they are marked with round scars or "seals" where a leaf stalls has broken away from the root. However, in the smooth Solomon seal, roots tend to be a bit darker, a golden-cream color, and have heavier, knobbier seals than the false Solomon seal. Both plants have broad, lance-shaped leaves along a single arched stem. These leaves grow up to six inches long, are alternate in both species, and have distinct parallel veins. Solomon seals may grow up to three feet in height.

In the smooth Solomon seal, the leaves are smooth on both the surface and underneath. The blossoms appear from each leaf axil, dangling underneath the leaf pair. Blossoms are small, up to 2/3" in length, and are bell-shaped, with six flaring lobes at the tip. The flowers, which occur in clusters of two, are pale greenish-white. Look for the herb's blossoms in late spring and early summer.

The fruit, a dark bluish-black berry, develops from the dangling flowers and hangs from the same leaf axils, generally in pairs. The berries are suspended from a thin green stalk, and occasionally the plant can be found with the stalks, even after the berries have dropped off.

In the false Solomon seal, leaves are somewhat hairy along the margins and on the under surfaces. The blossoms occur in a branched cluster at the terminal end of the stem, which is triangular in shape. Flowers are just 1/8" long, with three ivory or white petals.

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