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Wednesday
May182011

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Trout Lily ( Erythronium americanum) will soon be leaving us for another year, so if you want to see this beautiful spring ephemeral you need to get to your nearest moist, deciduous forest now!

Trout Lily comes up early, early spring and will completely die back by June when the leaf canopy is out. It gets its name from the speckled pattern on its leaves which somewhat resembles the markings of brook trout.

Trout Lily grows in huge colonies that can completely carpet the forest floor. The colonies can be 100’s of years old and take a long time to grow to such size. Its bulbs are sterile up to around their 7-8th year and produce only one leaf and no flowers. When they mature they put out two leaves and one, beautiful yellow nodding flower. The colony spreads mostly by runners and less importantly by seed. They have a symbiotic relationship with ants called myrmecochory in which they exchange a lipid-rich appendage on their seeds in return for an ant seed dispersal service that spreads the colony and protects the seeds from predation.

Trout Lily is both a medicinal and edible. The flavour of the leaves is rather bland and what I call ‘green tasting’ which means it tastes kind of like grass. The flowers have an ever so slight sweetness due to their nectar and are also slightly acrid. I’ve never tasted the corms as that would mean destroying a plant. Please be aware that Trout Lilies are an emetic (they can make you throw up) if you eat too much of them, so keep this in mind before munching on a big bowlful!

All parts of Trout Lily have been traditionally used as medicine, but I would only use the leaves and flowers in the spirit of conservation. The leaves and flowers are used either as a fresh plant tincture or poultice. As a tincture, you gather two flowers to every one leaf, all from different plants. As a poultice, you can use the same ratio of flower to leaf. Trout Lily has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, lymphatic, wound healing and nervine properties. It is used for urinary tract conditions such as cystitis and nephritis; inflammations of the mucus membranes of the body; edema; chronic skin conditions; and stress-related conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and muscle tension. It contains alpha-methylene-butyrolactone which has antimutagenic activity. I haven't found any reference to its use in cancer, but perhaps it will prove to be a valuable anti-cancer herb with further research. Externally it is used for wounds, abscesses and mycobacteria infections of the skin.

 

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