Star of Bethlehem – Ornithogalum umbellatum

Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem

This perennial bulb is native throughout most of southern and central Europe (north to Austria and Belgium), and in northwestern Africa and southwestern Asia. In the United States, this plant is found from Maine to Florida including all the states west to South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It is also found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. This plant has been reported from all New England states. It was first imported as a garden addition, but quickly escaped cultivation. From May to June this bright star can be seen in gardens, roadsides, open forests, waste places, and dumps. It prefers it feet moist and is happy full sun or light shade.

It is often seen as a noxious weed or potentially invasive because where it escapes cultivation it is a threat to native plant populations! Alabama has listed it as a Class C Noxious Weed. Connecticut listing it as potentially invasive, but has not yet banned it.

The name, Star of Bethlehem, refers most commonly to its 6 petaled star flower. There is some speculation that the name may originally have been conferred due to its use as famine food by Medieval pilgrims to the Holy Lands. At an earlier time to this, it was known as Dog’s Onion.

Star of Bethlehem has one listed medical use, as a treatment for congestive heart failure. In the Bach Flower Remedies it is one of the five flower essences in the Rescue Remedy. It is a calmative remedy for anyone experiencing mental distress/shock or trauma.

Due to two digitalis like glycosides, the ingestion of only two bulbs (without proper treatment has proven to cause shortness of breath. The symptoms of toxicity are nausea, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, and shortness of breath, pain, burning, and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat, skin irritation following prolonged contact. If the bulbs are properly handled they are edible, but all caution MUST be exerted!

The bulbs are edible if they are either well-cooked, or dried & powdered. According to Stephen Facciola’s Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants the blossoms have been used as an ingredient in baked bread & pastries.

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