CALABOGIE HIKER: Trillium spp., Medicinal, Edible (Spring Walk Series)


Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

BLOG 7: Trilliums (Trillium spp.) are a beloved flower in Ontario. In fact, this flower is the official provincial flower and status symbol of the Canadian province. Most young Ontarian school children can identify this beauty. The plant has a single flower and the leaves, petals and sepals are all in whorls of three. Trilliums can be found in rich moist woods between April and June in the Ontario and Quebec highlands. Did you know the young leaves of the trillium are delicious? They taste similar to raw sunflower seeds. The shredded leaves can be tossed in a salad or served hot as a cooked green. Please only gather the young leaves before they flower to get the best flavour out of them. The leaves are too bitter when the flower is present. Of course, being the official flower of Ontario it is believed to be illegal to pick this common plant. This is an 'urban legend' and not true. I still advise caution when picking the whole plant or disturbing the corm (root bulb) because it takes so many years to produce one plant and damaging it or it's home will take years to recover. Some people take the whole plant to transplant into their garden. They usually become disillusioned year after year when nothing grows back. They then disturb the garden area and plant something else in its place and unknowingly kill it for good. Please be patient and mark the spot where it was transplanted and within 7 years the flower will appear and bring you joy and salad for many years to come. If you only pick its leaves it will be very forgiving. Please don't forget to follow simple wildcrafting and foraging rules: follow the plant for a year to get its proper ID by observing every stage of the plant from sprout to flower to seed; only pick in areas of abundant growth, 12 plants or more close together, and then only wildcraft less than 30% of the area; do not disturb the roots unless you are harvesting some for specific medicinal or edible purposes. The berries and roots of the trillium are inedible. Trilliums can be purple or red too. Also, when first introducing a wild food, start with a small amount (1-2 tbsps.) to get your palate and digestive tract used to the new flavour. Pick the young unfolded leaves and add to salads or boil for 10 minutes and serve with vinegar sprinkled on them. Medicinally, the red trillium (Trillium erectum), also called the Wakerobin or Bethroot, has been used traditionally by First Nation peoples of America in a root tea as uterine astringent for childbirth and menstrual disorders. In our past, physicians used the root tea internally for hemorrhages, asthma and lung disorders, and externally for bites, stings and rashes. Nonetheless, a well known lesson for the forager or wildcrafter is "leaves of three, let it be" because poisonous and other problematic plants that are growing in the vicinity, for example, poison ivy, also have three leaves.

(Source: A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Eastern and Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson. 1977. pp. 24, 96, 146, 277. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Steve Foster and James A. Duke. 2nd Ed. 2000. pp.157-158.) (Photo by Colleen Hulett)

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