Trout Lily – Erythronium americanum

Trout Lily
Trout Lily

We like March, his shoes are purple,

He is new and high;

Makes he mud for dog and peddler,

Makes he forest dry;

Knows the adder’s tongue his coming,

And begets her spot.

By Emily Dickenson

This native of the eastern North American continent grows in damp, open woodlands. This spring ephemeral can often be found in large colonies, and is recognized by its brown mottled leaves. This mottling resembles the spotting on the sides of the brown or brook trout, hence its name.

Traditionally the bulbs and leaves of this species were eaten, either raw or cooked. In fact the whole plant would be added to springtime salads or used as a potherb.

The plant was also used medicinally to heal ulcers and as a contraceptive. According to ‘Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, Eastern and Central North America’, Iroquois women ate the leaves to prevent conception and the plant has anti bacterial properties. The leaves and bulb are crushed and used to dress wounds and reduce swellings, for scrofula (tuberculosis) and skin problems. An infusion made from the root and leaf is used to reduce fever and fainting, tea also taken for ulcers, tumors and swollen glands.

It is said that the Cherokee Indians would chew the root and spite it in the water to make fish bite. Caution should be shown in its internal use, as this plant is emetic (causing vomiting) in some people.

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