False Lily-of-the-Valley - Maianthemum dilatatum



Medicinal Uses



General "....growing to 0.2 m (0ft 8in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in)." [PFAF]
Lifecycle Perennial.[IFBC][E-flora][PFAF][WildPNW]
Flowers "Inflorescence a loose, cylindrical, terminal cluster of several to many spreading flowers". [IFBC] [E-flora] "Small. white, with flower parts in 4s (unlike usual 3s [PCBC2004][PSW][WildPNW] or 6's [PSW][WildPNW] of most species in the lily family)." [PCBC2004] "The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects." [PFAF]
Fruits "Berries, globe-shaped, spotted..."[IFBC] [E-flora] Red, 6mm in diameter.[HNW] "...light green and mottled brown at first..." [PCBC2004]
Leaves "Alternate, 1-3 (usually 2)..." [PCBC2004] "basal leaf long-petioled, broadly heart-shaped, short pointed." [HNW] "...to about 8 in. long by 4 in. wide. shiny..." [WildPNW]
Stem "...10-35 cm tall, smooth."[IFBC] [E-flora] "...bending at a slight angle at each node..." [HNW]
Root a slender rhizome. [IFBC][E-flora] "creeping rhizomes".[PCBC2004]
Properties Flowers fragrant.[WildPNW]
Habitat "Mesic to wet forests and streambanks..."[IFBC] [E-flora] "shady moist woods, often along streams." [HNW] "Sometimes forms the dominant groundcover in Sitka-spruce forests near the sea." [PCBC2004]
Range common in coastal BC [IFBC] [E-flora] Calif. North Coast north to B.C. [PSW]
Status Native. [E-flora]
Ecological Indicator Shade-tolerant and ocean spray-tolerant. "Occurs...on very moist to wet, nitrogen-rich soils (Moder or Mull humus forms)". "Scattered to plentiful in coniferous and broad-leaved for­ests on water-receiving and water-collecting sites, commonly found on stream-edge sites, floodplains, and sites affected by ocean spray. Grows with Blechnum spicant, Polystichum munitum, Tiarella trifoliata, Trautvetteria caroliniensis, and Lysichitum americanum."[IPBC][E-flora]


  • Calcium - .46 - .54% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Copper - <1 - 6ppm [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Iron - 36 - 43ppm [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Magnesium -.20 - .23% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Manganese - 261.9 - 785.8ppm [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Nitrogen - 1.45 - 2.61% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Phosphorus - .21 - .38% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Potassium - 2.11 - 2.68% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Sodium - .59 - .72% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Zinc - 19.9 - 27.2ppm [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Ash - 7.5 - 8.1% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Cellulose - 12.8 - 15.4% [Hanley&McKendrick]
  • Lignin/Cutin - 1.4 - 1.5% [Hanley&McKendrick]


"Requires a cool shady moist but not wet position[1, 187]. Plants tolerate warm summers only if the soil remains moist[200]. A mat forming plant, it can be invasive in good conditions[200]." [PFAF]


"Seed - best sown quite thinly it as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, it should germinate in the spring. Stored seed should be sown in late winter in a cold frame, it might take 18 months to germinate. Allow the seedlings to grow on in the pot for their first year, giving liquid feeds as necessary to ensure that they do not go hungry. Divide the plants into individual pots once they have died down in late summer. Grow them on in pots for another year or more until large enough to plant out[K]. Division as new growth commences in the spring. Larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring." [PFAF]

False Lily-of-the-Valley/ False Solomon's Seal

Family: Asparagaceae - Asparagus

Rhizome creeping. Stem: erect, simple [0]. Leaf: alternate, generally ± clasping, lower reduced to sheathing scales. Inflorescence: terminal, raceme to panicle. Flower: perianth parts 4 or 6 in 2 petal-like whorls, white; stamens 4 or 6; ovary superior, chambers 2–3, style 1, stigmas 2–3. Fruit: berry. Seed: 1–3.
3 species: northern temperate. (Greek: May flower, from flowering season) [LaFrankie 2002 FNANM 26:206–210] Historically divided into 2 genera, Maianthemum, Smilacina (1. vs 1' in key); otherwise ± equal morphologically, unique chromosomally.
Unabridged references: [LaFrankie, J. V. 1986. Transfer of the species of Smilacina Desf. to Maianthemum Wiggers (Liliaceae). Taxon 35:584–589; Rudall P. J. et al. 2000. Systematics of the Ruscaceae/Convallariaceae: A combined morphological and molecular investigation. Bot. J. Linn. Soc. 134:73–92] [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Maianthemum dilatatum - False lily-of-the-valley [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]
  2. Maianthemum racemosum - False Solomon's-seal
  3. Maianthemum stellatum - star-flowered false Solomon's-seal [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]

Non-local Species;

  1. Maianthemum canadense - Canada mayflower - Eastern B.C. [E-flora]

Notes: Check Turner & Kuhnlein for sp. mentioned - berries & leaf edibility.

Ethnobotanical Uses

"Smilacina spp. (Vagnera spp.); Smilacina racemosa and S. stellato are used in similar fashion. The species of False Solomon's Seal are all reasonably edible, but we do not rate them high on our desirable, edible plant list." [Harrington]

"Maianthemum Sp.; "edible but unpalatable. The bitterness of false Solomon's seal berries protects us from eating enough to cause severe diarrhea - a possible reaction."" [Berries]

Maianthemum bifolium (L.) F.W. Schmidt (syn. Majanthemum bifolium (L.) DC.) Fruits "collected by children for making wine, until the 20th century, Mz [53]."[Luczaj&Szymanski] Fruits eaten "raw, as children's snack".[Luczaj]

Maianthemum canadense - Canada mayflower - Eastern B.C. [E-flora]; Berries consumed by the Forest Potawatomi. "...the root of this plant [is used] to make a medicine in curing sore throat. Among the whites the root has been used for its stimulant properties for diseases of the head, to produce sneezing, as an expectorant and for its mucilaginous properties."[HuronSmith Zuni] A smoke was inhaled for unspecified purposes (Smith 1932).[UAPDS] Compound decoction of roots taken for the kidneys, Infusion of plant for headache, the plant for sore throat.[Moerman NAEth]

Maianthemum dilatatum (Wood) Nels. & Macbr., wild lily-of-the valley: Norton 604, WTU sa'fian, the berry; sk'anglit, the leaves The berries were scalded a few minutes and eaten with grease, or grease and sugar. Berries were picked and stored in grease with other berries for use during the winter months. In spring the new "folded" leaves were boiled and eaten as a vegetable. This plant is common and profuse in the Archipelago, forming thick, ground covers along the beach edge, in the forest, the muskeg and the ecotone between it and the forest. Large colonies can be found at beach edge, matting the area between spruce roots, in the muskeg on stumps and moss, and in the forest in semishaded areas.[Norton Kaighaida]

Maianthemum dilatatum (Wood) Nels. and Macbr. (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley) The berries were eaten raw, both by the Kwakiutl to the north and the Lummi Salish to the south, but in neither case were they highly regarded (Boas, 1921; Gunther, 1945). They may have been eaten on occasion by the Vancouver Island Salish. Smilacina racemosa Desf. (False Solomon's Seal) According to Anderson (1925), the berries were eaten by the Northwest Coast Indians. They were quite sweet, but had a sickly flavour which rendered them disagreeble. Anderson also stated that the fleshy root, grated and soaked in water, was used for a poultice. There are no specific references to these uses in the Island Salish literature.[Turner&Bell]

MAIANTHEMUM DILATATUM (Wood) Nels. and Macbr. (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley) Plant: t'~rndza~u, "belongs to the frogs" (Bo21; Hu22; Gr72); Berries: t'ems, "frog berries" (Gr72) 13 In the old days, the Kwakiutl did not bury their dead. Instead they put them in boxes and tied them in trees (Boas, 1966). It was an "aerial" graveyard such as this to which Mrs. Cranmer referred. The berries of this plant were sometimes picked and eaten raw, but they were apparently not highly regarded. They were never cooked (Boas, 1921). It was thought that frogs ate them (Cranmer, 1969). SMILACINA RACEMOSA (L.) Desf. (False Solomon's Seal) t'drndza~u [also Maianthemum] (Gr72) The berries were eaten in the same manner as Maianthemum berries (Cranmer, 1969).[Turner&Bell2]

Smilacina racemosa (L.) Desf. = Maianthemum racemosum (L.) Link Asparagaceae False Solomon’s Seal, Treacle Berry Rootstock is soaked in lye, parboiled and eaten like potatoes or pickled [EMNMPV.9]

Maianthemum racemosum
American people used these herbs as medicines, but not like Solomon’s seal had been used in Europe. Records have been found of many indigenous eastern tribes using American spikenard, but none for the Muskogean tribes. Their allies the Cherokee treated sore eyes with a cold infusion of roots (Hamel and Chiltoskey 1975).
Moerman (1998) recorded uses by other eastern tribes. The Abenaki used a decoction to stop bleeding in the lungs. The Algonquin used an infusion to wash back sores. The Delaware considered the herbs tonic. The Iroquois drank infusions with or without whiskey after miscarriages, to expel tapeworms, counteract poison, and relieve rheumatism. They also used it externally to soak sore feet, on swollen areas, and on snakebite. The Malecite and Micmac used an infusion to heal rashes and itching. The Menomini inhaled steam from it to relieve catarrh. The Meskwaki used it as a calmative and to loosen bowels. They also included it in several preparations to aid or divert magic. The Mohegan used it in cough medicine, for stomach problems, and as a spring tonic. The Ojibwa applied a root decoction or poultice to cuts, to relieve back pain, headache, and sore throat. They also considered it diuretic. The Potawatomi helped revive comatose patients with it (Smith 1933).
The Ojibwa also considered the roots edible, soaking them in lye to remove the bitter taste, parboiling, and then cooking them like potatoes (Fernald et al. 1958). Porcher (1863) noted that Maianthemum growing in the Confederate States “yield starch from their roots.” Even when Fernald et al. (1958) were considering them as food plants, they cautioned that the herb was so uncommon it was “unwise to draw upon it when other vegetable food is available.”
John Josselyn, writing of New England in 1672, recorded that berries were “called treacle-berries,—having the perfect taste of treacle when they are ripe. … Certainly a very wholesome berry, and medicinal.” Fernald et al. (1958) added that the fruits are “bittersweet, suggesting bitter molasses, but they are cathartic and should be eaten with caution." [Daniel F Austin]

Maianthemum racemosum (L.) Link ssp. amplexicaule (Nutt.) LaFrankie (Liliaceae). feathery false lily of the valley. Native North Americans burned the roots to produce smoke to revive an unconscious person (Krochmal and Krochmal 1973). This species was reported as Smilacina amplexicaulis (Nutt.) S. Wats. in the original texts. Maianthemum racemosum (L.) Link. ssp. racemosum (Convallariaceae). Father Solomon’s seal. This species, which was reported as Smilacina racemosa (L.) in original ethnobotanical texts (see Moerman 1998), was burned by the Chippewa of North America to produce smoke that was considered useful for relieving headaches and other pain (Gilmore 1933). The Potawatomi, also of North America, prepared a smudge of the roots to revive comatose patients (Smith 1933).[UAPDS]

As with the root vegetables, some edible wild greens have toxic look-alikes, and people have been seriously poisoned, for example, by mistaking the highly poisonous false hellebore (Veratrum viride) for the edible shoots of false Solomon’s-seal (Maianthemum racemosum) (Turner and Von Aderkas, 2009). [ETWP]


Page last modified on Sunday, July 11, 2021 9:07 PM