Marilyn Wightman gives Soloman's seal the stamp of approval.
In just a few weeks’ time the first shoots of Solomon’s seal will be appearing in the perennial garden. An eagerly anticipated herb, this spring-flowering bulb makes a dramatic statement. It is a sure sign that the warmer weather is on the way.
The shoots quickly elongate into elegant green growth, with displays of pendulous, bell-shaped flowers all lined up in a row. The white blooms, tinged green at the petal tips, gracefully dangle and drape themselves along an arching stem full of lush green leaves.
It is a beautiful herb. Florists enjoy using the curved stems in their arrangements as the flowers are long-lasting.
Some describe it as a giant lily-of-the-valley lookalike. There is similarity, too, as both bulbs belong to the lily family and both contain the crystalline glucoside convallarin. Solomon’s seal grows best in shady areas of the garden.
A south-facing garden that gets little sunlight is great, too, as the herb prefers a cooler root run. It naturalises in a woodland area as it enjoys the annual dressing of leaf mould provided by nature. The rootstock grows in rhizomes.
These are thick, underground stems that will spread and cover an area of ground. It is not invasive, but gradually forms a clump of solid root structure that means a massed display of elegance all spring and summer long. In autumn, the foliage fades and turns light brown while still retaining the arched structure of the stems. This is easily detached by pulling them at the base so they can be cleared away and included with other composting autumn leaves.
It is a strong, hardy plant that grows well with little maintenance needed for it to flourish. Seed sown in autumn, harvested from the black berries, will germinate and in winter time the roots can be dug up and pulled apart to form new plantings.
Varieties to grow
The common, tall Solomon’s seal will reach over 50cm in height. Two smaller-growing varieties are available.
One dwarf variety has slightly paler leaves than the taller type. There is a variegated dwarf variety also with pale-cream markings to the leaf structure that are striped lengthways from the stalk to the leaf tip. Both of these are lower-growing, reaching no more than 30cm high. The stems, flowers and leaves are smaller-sized.
Yes – the new shoots can be cut off and eaten like asparagus.
The roots are starchy and can be pre-cooked and prepared similar to cooking taro.
Chinese herbalism – it is used for heart complaints, tuberculosis, dry coughs.
Indian herbalism (Ayurvedic) – for infertility and kidney complaints.
Western herbalism – internally for coughs and gastric complaints, externally for bruising, ruptures and dislocations.
How did it get its name?
The creeping rhizome root grows in thick, flattish, knobbly lumps that form circular scars from the previous year’s growth. These were thought to resemble Jewish seals (stamps once used to seal official documents).