The Characteristics of Solomon’s Seal: Polygonatum biflorum vs Polygonatum multiflorum


Some people have wondered what the difference is between the species of Solomon’s Seal known as Polygonatum biflorum and Polygonatum multiflorum.

One reader writes: I believe that the plant you are talking about and referencing is the wrong plant. I believe that the actual plant you are talking about is False Solomon’s Seal. It is true that many of the healing properties are the same. Mathew Wood references Polygonatum multiflorum, not biflorum. It is the multiflorum relative that has been researched and linked with cartilage and connective tissue repair.

We consider ourselves as sincere and dedicated students of the plant, Solomon’s Seal — its history of medicinal use dating over 3000 years ago when King Solomon of Biblical fame named it himself. Our careful study as cultivators of this plant has allowed us to know its origins, varieties and medicinal qualities and uses. We are always open to further inquiry and accurate information.

It is true that Mathew Wood, in his Book of Herbal Wisdom, references only the polygonatum multiflorum genus of Solomon’s Seal.

Two years ago, in a number of personal communications and consultations we had with Mathew Wood about how to better understand the plant, its diverse healing properties, and how to properly create and prepare our formulas, he affirmed the biflorum’s medicinal potency, if not equal in all respects to multiflorum. Furthermore, he believed even False Solomon’s Seal had medicinal qualities. However, a preponderant amount of evidence was not available to widely promote False Solomon’s Seal as compared to the medicinal reputations of polygonatum multiflorum and polygonatum biflorum.

Are Polygonatum biflorum and Polygonatum multiflorum the Same?

Among Western herbalists, the polygonatum biflorum is most cited for its healing properties. And yet, most research seems to have focused on the Old World plant polygonatum multiflorum. There is good reason for this.

Polygonatum multiflorum is native to Europe and Asia, growing quite wildly. There is legitimacy in researching the effects of multiflorum simply because of it Old World history — the numerous centuries of its use, observation and documentation in Europe and Asia, our ancient cradles of modern medicine. Modern science is simply following the historical infatuation with this genus, and rightfully so!

As early as 1788, botanist Thomas Walter noticed the American version of the Old World polygonatum multiflorum and wrote about it in his Flora of Carolina. He described it thus: pedunculis solitariis bifloris axillaries.” The esteemed French botanist, Adre Michaux, approved Walter’s new genus as polygonatum biflorum, supposing this to be the same as the polygonatum multiflorum of the Old World.

Polygonatum biflorum

Solomon's Seal: polygonatum biflorum

Even acclaimed botanist Stephen Elliott, in his landmark A Sketch of the Botany of South-Carolina and Georgia, published between 1816-24, expressed doubt about the differences between the multiflorum and biflorum varieties. In Gray’s Manual of Botany, the conclusion is that the American biflorum is essentially no different than the European and Asian multiflorum. (Note: It is incorrect to assume that the biflorum species only has two (bi) flowerets spaced along the stem, and the multiflorum has three or more (multi).

I consider myself more a student of the fascinating historical use of Solomon’s Seal than an outright authority. But careful research has determined that the two species are indistinguishable.

Herbal medicine has a rich history of lore, with beneficial outcomes determined mostly by observation. Herbalists use both terms multiflorum and biflorum almost interchangeably, although most address the biflorum. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) mostly talks about the genus polygonatum odoratum, as well as the native multiflorum.

 

Polygonatum multiflorum

Solomon's Seal: polygonatum multiflorum

Remember, the biflorum genus is newly named, its discovery in America coming thousands of years after the known benefits of Solomon’s Seal (as multiflorum) throughout Asia and Europe. Botanists generally consider them equals, their lives mirroring the merging of the Old World and the New World.

In truth, the Old World multiflorum genus is not native to America. Its native equal in America, according to botanists, is the genus biflorum. Both “varieties”, however, have been shown to have the same elemental DNA and medicinal qualities.

Our Use of Polygonatum biflorum

We acquire our organic Solomon’s Seal root from North America’s most esteemed herb wholesaler, whose facility is just a few miles from our sanctuary in Oregon!  It is polygonatum biflorum. Most suppliers provide this. Its diverse and profound healing effects have been felt and described by hundreds of people over the past two years who have taken our tinctures and provide us with testimonies.

False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon's Seal: Smilacina racemosum

Although a popular woodland native in the Western United States, False Solomon’s Seal (smilacina racemosum; note the characteristic feathery plume) is not popularly accepted as a medicinal plant (even though some may qualify it in limited ways). We definitely do not use this plant in our tinctures nor erroneously promote its medicinal qualities.

We consider ourselves fortunate to be able to speak to dozens of people monthly about their use and benefits of Solomon’s Seal. This is “frontlines” grassroots research, obviously in the classic unscientific observation tradition. We strive, however, to understand just how it may affect bodily conditions, no matter what genus, multiflorum or biflorum. We strive to fairly report any effects, and as dedicated gardeners, wildcrafters, herbalists and wellness practitioners, we are always searching to know more about the plants we use.

For further information about Solomon’s Seal and our product line of tinctures, visit our website: www.solomonsseal.net

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This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , by C. Forrest McDowell, PhD. Bookmark the permalink.

About C. Forrest McDowell, PhD

I am blessed to be a co-steward for over 30 years of the beautiful 22-acre Cortesia Sanctuary outside Eugene, Oregon, with my partner, Tricia Clark-McDowell. My lifelong interests in wellness care, psychology, nature, music composition & performance, writing, and meditation fuel my celebration for life. My form of service is founded upon the elemental practice of kindness and reverence for life. Of course, to understand the value of deep respect for life, we also have to accept irreverence as part of human nature and to know that it can be very disruptive and destructive to peace, safety, beauty, joy and love.

6 thoughts on “The Characteristics of Solomon’s Seal: Polygonatum biflorum vs Polygonatum multiflorum

  1. Hello:

    I live in Maine and am trying to discover what kind of plant I have on my property. The property originally belonged to my parents and I am moving plants around etc and came across a very tall (probably 4-5 ft in height) fernlike leaved plant with bell shaped white flowers which resembles the flower section of the soloman’s seal however the leaves are very different (like I said very fernlike leaves) can you help me decipher what this could possibly be or is it a relative of the soloman’s seal?

    Thanks so much

    Cindy Wilkie

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    • I would love to help you, but a photograph would be best for identification. I would not characterize true SS leaves as fernlike. The plant usually is only 2-3 feet in height. Dicentra Formosa (Aurora) BLEEDING HEART is a lovely ground cover that has fern-like leaves and imitative white bell-shaped flowers, but it only grows 1-2 feet. Take care.

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    • The odoratum and the siberian species of Solomon’s Seal, are native to the Far East, and have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. The multiflorum of the species is native to Europe. The biflorum of the species is native to North America, East Coast. All have the same important medicinal qualities.

      Solomon’s Seal is part of the broad Lily family, where mutations are frequent. Researchers note numerous varieties of SS, and clearly the one’s mentioned above are slight mutations of each other and contain full medicinal qualities.

      We use the biflorum, because its organic and wildcrafted availability in North America assures us of best plant and potency for North America. I am certain that the European multiflorum variety, and the odoratum and siberian, each have the same medicinal and therapeutic properties and value for healing.

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  2. Thank you so much for clarification of these different species. I am in the uk and it is difficult to obtain either though I have sourced a Chinese tincture Polygonatum odoratum. What would be the difference in this and your tincture?What difference does the amount of alcohol and the ratio make to the dosage please?

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    • I believe you will receive medicinal benefits of the odoratum variety, since it has a long steeped history of use in Asia, in much the same way as the biflorum and multiflorum. In the sense, the medicinal potential of each is the same, again as history demonstrates.

      Quality of tinctures can vary, dependent upon quality and age of plant/herb/root, quality of alcohol, menstrum ratio, length of steeping, and final pressing. For dry roots, like Solomon’s Seal, the menstrum ratio is 1:5. Dried herbs steep best in 50% alcohol. Fresh herbs (ratio 1:2) generally steep in 95% alcohol. Proper steeping draws out the medicinal phytochemical constituents of the plant/herb/root. Dosage suggestions are in accordance with known potency, effects, and side effects.

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