The medicinal use of the root of the herb Solomon’s Seal (polygonatum biflorum or multiflorum) dates back over 3,500 years ago to the era of King Solomon. He was so impressed by the plant's diverse healing qualities that he proclaimed it a gift from God, and thus named it after himself. Its more “modern day” acknowledgement was by Dioscorides and Pliny in the 1st Century, A.D. Asian medicine considers it one of the ten top healing plants. Ancient Europeans and North American Indians considered it a medicinal “workhorse” of wide value. Today, there is increasing interest in the therapeutic values of the plant.
Just a partial list of its uses demonstrates Solomon's Seal's wide healing potential:
- Rebuilds damaged cartilage & connecting tissue
- Reduces inflammation and speeds healing of bruises, wounds and skin irritations
- Hastens recovery from bone injuries (broken, stressed, osteoarthritis) and associated connective tissues, including arthritis
- Produces synovial fluid to reduce grinding in joints
- Tightens or loosens (as needed) tendons, ligaments, joints & attachments associated with repetitive stress, injury & inflammation
- Soothes gastrointestinal inflammation and injuries
- Loosens mucous in lungs
- Regulates blood pressure
- Treats and relieves women's issues
The question remains, however, what makes Solomon's Seal work so well? What are its constituents that, when processed into a tincture, salve, tea or liniment, or when combined with those of another herb, empower its healing qualities?
I have finally come to view Solomon's Seal as the single most reliable, useful and foolproof remedy that I have ever come across. Matthew Wood — herbalist, author, teacher
The Main Constituents of Solomon's Seal
Perhaps the best known, and more commonly understood, components of Solomon's Seal are gum, sugar, starch, pectin, and
Vit. A. Responsible for Solomon's Seal's many health activities, however, is a unique phytocomposition, as if coming out of a laboratory:
- steroidal saponins (Beneficial health effects include control of blood cholesterol levels, bone health, cancer, and building up of the immune system)
- glycosides (Cardiac glycosides are an important class of naturally occurring drugs, available in plants, whose actions include both beneficial and toxic effects on the heart. Plants containing cardiac steroids have been used as poisons and heart drugs at least since 1500 B.C. Throughout history these plants or their extracts have been variously used as arrow poisons, emetics, diuretics, and heart tonics. Cardiac steroids are widely used in the modern treatment of congestive heart failure and for treatment of atrial fibrillation and flutter. Although their toxicity remains a serious problem if taken in large or sustained quantities, in very small doses, as used in tinctures and homeopathy, they are entirely safe)
- polysaccharides (The form in which most natural carbohydrates occur. It accounts for the mucilagenous, soothing qualities of a root herb like Solomon's Seal)
- alkaloids (A naturally occurring group of chemical compounds. Most of the known functions of alkaloids are related to protection from parasitic bacteria and fungi, as a neurotransmitter, and as a regulator for cell growth and metabolism)
- anthraquinones (Anthraquinones are more likely to be present in plants as glycosides owing to the variety of sugar contents and this enhances the range of the compound. Usually anthraquinones are found in the form of aglycone. They are often compounded into a laxative with benefits for digestion and elimination)
- flavonoids (Flavonoids, also referred to as bioflavonoids, are polyphenol antioxidants found naturally in plants. Recent research indicates that flavonoids can be nutritionally helpful by triggering enzymes that reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and age-related degenerative diseases.
- asparagine (Asparagine is an essential component of those proteins that are concerned with neuronal development and signaling transmission across nerve endings. Asparagine is essential to all living cells for the production of many proteins)
- allantoin (An anti-inflammatory. Allantoin is a chemical compound naturally produced by many organisms, including animals, plants, and bacteria. It is a frequent ingredient in lotions and skin creams, as well as in oral hygiene products, cosmetics, and other toiletries. Allantoin is also used in medications for dermatological conditions. It is effective at very low concentrations, usually from 0.1% to 2%.)
- convallarin (Broadly used in medicine as a heart regulator; it is a white, crystalline glucoside, of an irritating taste, extracted mostly from the convallaria or Lily-of-the-Valley plant, a relative of Solomon's Seal).
From looking at these phytochemical components of the root of Solomon's Seal, we can begin to understand the plant's broad therapeutic application. Additionally, it helps explain why it has been used so broadly as a healing agent for thousands of years among many cultures.
We can now look at how these components play out in the various uses of Solomon's Seal, be it as a tincture, salve, tea or liniment. That is, the general healing properties of Solomon's Seal.
General Healing Properties of Solomon’s Seal
Best use: Tincture, Tea. Soothes and reduces nervousness, distress, excitement, or irritation. It can also reduce pain or discomfort (for example, arthritis, muscle and connective tissue injuries, bursitis, menstrual cramps, bruises, etc.) and has a strengthening, tonic effect.
Best use: Salve (poultice), Liniment, Tincture. For external applications, heals wounds (open), cuts, burns, bruises. Treats skin conditions such as rashes. For issues related to tissues, it treats sprains, strains, inflamed tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints.
Best use: Tea, Salve. As a mucilaginous herb, it is soothing, cooling, and moistening when applied to irritated, inflamed, or abraded tissue, especially mucus membranes, throat, lungs, and skin. Specific to the throat, Solomon's Seal coats it for relief of dry coughs.
Best use: Tincture, Tea. Restores normal functions by stimulating, invigorating, strengthening, and toning the kidneys, heart, and sexual organs, and soothing the digestive system. Also very beneficial for the skin.
Best use: Tincture, Tea, Liniment. Reduces rheumatic pain, arthritic pain, inflammation, and infection in the joints. Osteoarthritis and connective tissue problems which are not due to excess immune response, but rather to stiffness, coldness, injury, overuse, underuse, excess weight bearing, lack of proper feeding and waste removal in the connective tissue, etc., respond without any problem of dosage amount. Solomon's seal may aggravate rheumatoid arthritis unless used in small doses, like most herbalists prescribe in tinctures.
Best use: Tincture, Tea. Helps the body adapt to internal (injuries to bones, connective tissues, joints, etc.) and environmental stresses by strengthening the immune system. By feeding, nourishing, and cleansing autoimmune irritated joints, bursae, and damaged tissues, Solomon's Seal, in small doses, seems to help the excessive immune reaction to normalize. Solomon’s Seal works synergistically and is highly effective when combined with other specific herbs such as agrimony, vervain, and many more.
Diuretic & Mild Laxative
Best use: Tea. Increases the secretion, flow, and expulsion of urine. It promotes the formation of urine by the kidney and may aid in flushing the body of toxins and excess water, and breaking down fat.
Best use: Tincture, Tea, Salve, Liniment. The allantoin in Solomon's Seal helps to reduce or counteract feverish inflammations and infections associated with all types of injuries to the muscular-skeletal systems, including all forms of arthritis. It may act to produce cortisone in the body that stimulates the production and regulation of necessary synovial fluid in bursae and joints.
Best use: Tea, Tincture. Promotes the discharge of mucus and phlegm from the lungs and throat by means of spitting or coughing. Reduces irritation in such organs. Among its many effects (and uses in Chinese medicine) as a traditional yin tonic for the body's mucous membranes, Solomon's Seal moistens and provides energy (chi or qi) to the lungs, improving breathing and oxygenation to the blood. Better lung function leads to more abundant metabolic energy. Deficient lung qi is characterized by weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Therefore, Solomon's Seal is helpful for dry cough, bronchitis, and even TB. Its immune stimulating and antibiotic effects also assist in overcoming respiratory infections.
Best use: Tincture, Tea. Solomon’s Seal is known to have a mild regulating effect on the heart muscle because it contains small, safe amounts of the substance convallarin, a cardio glycoside. Although this is a potent chemical constituent, it seems to be in insufficient quantity to be of concern or use. The National Institute of Health is currently researching Solomon’s Seal’s effectiveness in regulating blood pressure. If you are pregnant, have low blood pressure, or are on heart medication, it is not recommended that you use Solomon’s Seal without consulting your doctor.
Solomon's Seal is safe for most adults when taken for short time periods. It may cause some side effects such as diarrhea, stomach complaints, and nausea when taken for long time periods or in large doses. The doses suggested for taking the herb as a tincture or tea have very minimal risk. However, it is sensible to create a dosage regimen that does not create a dependency, such as 6 days of ingestion to 1 day off, or 10-14 days ingestion and 2-3 days off.
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of Solomon's Seal during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, as with taking any drug or medication, consultation with a medical practitioner may be appropriate.
- Diabetes: Solomon's Seal might decrease blood sugar levels. There is potential that it might interfere with blood sugar control. If you use Solomon's seal and take diabetes medications, monitor your blood sugar closely. Again, medical consultation may be appropriate.
- Surgery: Solomon's Seal might lower blood sugar levels. It might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery.
Potential Drug Interactions
- Chlorpropamide (Diabinese) may interact with SOLOMON'S SEAL. Chlorpropamide is used to decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes. Solomon's Seal might also decrease blood sugar. Taking Solomon's seal along with chlorpropamide (Diabinese) might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your medication might need to be changed.
- Insulin may interact with SOLOMON'S SEAL. Solomon's Seal might decrease blood sugar. Insulin is also used to decrease blood sugar. Taking Solomon's Seal along with insulin might cause your blood sugar to be too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your insulin might need to be changed.
- Medications for diabetes (Anti-diabetes drugs) may interact with SOLOMON'S SEAL. Solomon's Seal might decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking Solomon's Seal along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed. Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
An Herbalist's Point of View: Jim McDonald
So how does Solomon's Seal work? In treating arthritis and other injuries involving inflammation, I initially believed that the gooey mucilage in the roots finds its way to the enflamed tissues and coats and lubricates them, which reduces friction and irritation and soothes the tissues themselves.
But this really can’t be it, as it wasn't long before I learned that a) mucilages aren’t extracted by alcohol very well, and the dosage of tincture is far too small for it to be working on a physical level and b) mucilages don't get into the blood stream and thus into joints. Herbalist, Matthew Wood speculated that Solomon's Seal might stimulate the body to produce cortisone, and my current belief is that it acts on the synovial glands, improving the production of synovial fluid and thus lubrication in the joints - really, this idea isn't too far off from what I initially thought regarding the mucilage, though I had the mechanism wrong. But who knows exactly what’s going on; what is clear is that it works, and if that’s the case, understanding why isn’t entirely necessary (though it can be nice).
Equally remarkable is the dosage needed to obtain such results. I've recommended as little as three to five drops a day, as this is what I learned from Matthew Wood, who is responsible for bringing this obscure herb into popular knowledge. If significant results aren't seen within a week or two, the dose can be upped as needed up to 30 drops three times daily, though I don't know of anyone who's needed to take that much... usually between five and fifteen drops will do the trick; 5 and 10, really. I usually take 7 drops, as I've always been rather fond of that number.
The same mucilage that lubricates joints can loosen mucous in the lungs to treat coughs, as well as intestinal inflammation, and the starchy roots contain sugars that feed healthy bacteria in the intestines.
Tincture or Tea?
Solomon’s Seal, taken as a tea, soothes irritation in the digestive tract, lungs, throat, vagina, and uterus. On the other hand, the tincture is generally superior to the tea for treating sports and repetitive use injuries, and injuries involving tendons, ligaments, muscles, joints, attachments, cartilage, and bones. In fact, the tincture works to strengthen the entire muscular-skeletal system. However, Solomon’s Seal tincture is generally less effective than the tea in preserving the soothing demulcent quality discussed above. Use either the tea or tincture to speed recovery after surgery or the setting of a bone, to rebuild strength and well-being after a fever or the flu, or to aid in keeping a chiropractic adjustment in place.
Although Solomon’s Seal has many excellent healing properties, we are not trying to offer you a magic bullet. It works perfectly for some and less well or not at all for others. Time and possibly multiple approaches may be required to heal chronic conditions that have been developing over a number of years. Acute conditions, on the other hand, (such as pneumonia, broken bones, or any serious injury) often require immediate medical intervention. After the initial intervention, however, Solomon’s Seal can be a support in the healing process, such as recovering from surgery or maintaining a chiropractic adjustment.
Each person is different and will have their own unique response to Solomon’s Seal. You may experience some level of immediate relief or it may take time to notice any beneficial effects. Please be patient and keep track of your daily dosage, changing symptoms, and any improvements, even if gradual. When unpleasant symptoms subside, it’s easy to forget that we ever had them. Writing things down can make the healing process a good learning experience.
McGuffin, M. et al. 1997. Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Bensky, D. and A. Gamble. 1986. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Seattle: Eastland Press.
The information presented on this website is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease, illness or distressing conditions. Individual results may vary. It is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider and/or to fully educate yourself as to the benefits and possible complications of any alternative form of treatment.