In the spirit of Spring, I am launching a new blog series. Each Wednesday I will focus on a different wildflower.
Just imagine for a moment that we are in the woods. Together we are walking down a trail into a lush, steep valley rich with the echoes of bird song and the hum of bees.
It is mid-March, and the forest floor is white - but not with snow, this time.
The Carolina Spring Beauty or Claytonia caroliniana, is a more northerly species which is occasionally found in the uplands of Tennessee. It can be distinguished by its wider leaf blades (or by the botanical term lanceolate-ovate, for those who wish to know).
Grazers like deer, elk and sheep enjoy eating the tender flowers.
A little-known fact about Spring Beauties is that they can be a food source for us as well.
The little roots, called corms, can actually be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, they taste somewhat like a radish; boiled, they are much like a potato. In fact, it is also known by the names "Wild Potato" and "Fairy-spud" for this reason.
If you are so inclined, here is a good resource on harvesting and preparing them. Just make sure you do so on land where you have permission, and leave plenty behind to bloom the following spring. And be prepared to dig up a lot - each corm is a mere 1/4 inch in diameter!
Like every plant, the Spring Beauty has also been useful for medicine, throughout history.
A poultice from the greens was used to treat everything from cuts and sores to eye ailments.
An infusion of the leaves could be used as a hair rinse to treat dandruff, and some tribeswomen would apply it to make their hair silky and shiny.
Other Native American tribes would make a gargle for sore throats and consume it as a urinary aid.
The most interesting use documented for this plant was by the Quinalt Indians, whose pregnant women would chew the whole plant so that their babies would be born soft.
They are a fairly long-blooming flower; usually opening as early as mid-February and lasting through the month of April. Even so, they are overshadowed pretty quickly by a succession of taller wildflowers and ferns.
"Once we have been safely escorted from the season of darkness, spring beauty goes completely dormant until the next year, when its emergence reminds us that rebirth hastens." - Jan Midgely, All About Tennessee Wildflowers
When you step outside to enjoy a walk on that first warm, sunny spring day, be sure to give a nod to the Fairy Spud - they have waited all winter to greet you.
Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.
Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart
Wildflowers of Tennessee - Jack B. Carman
All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley