Other Names: Indian Turnip, Wild turnip, arum,
three-leaved arum, dragon-turnip, brown dragon, devil's-ear, marsh turnip, swamp turnip,
meadow turnip, bog onion, priest's-pintle, lords-and-ladies.
Photo by Karen Bergeron
Photo by Deb Jackson
Native perennial herb
found in moist woods from Canada to Florida and westward to Kansas and Minnesota.
Cultivation: is very difficult, requires green house conditions. The leaves, one or two,
are long stemmed, smooth, light green, trifoliate, and entire, each leaflet is ovate from
3 to 6 inches long and from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches wide. The root is a corm, it is shaped
like a turnip. WARNING: Raw corms are not edible and contain calcium oxalate which will
cause a burning sensation in the mouth. The flowers blooms in April and May, the single is
either all green or green with dark purple stripes, is an unusual formation, a sort of
green vase, a spathe, made from a single leaf, with a stalk growing up the middle of it,
and a leaf-hood folding gracefully over its top. Jack-in-the-Pulpit stands about 1 to 1
1/2 feet tall. In autumn the rest of the plant dies away, leaving only the berry-covered
stalk. The fruit ripens in the form of a bunch of bright, scarlet, shining berries. This
plant starts life male. After 2 years, or longer in poor soil, it turns female, flowers
and bears seed. If the plant receives a shock, it may turn back male again. Gather roots
in early spring and dry for later herb use.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit root is used in
alternative medicine and is edible (only after drying and cooking), it is acrid,
antiseptic, diaphoretic, expectorant, irritant and stimulant. A medicinal poultice of root
used for headaches and various skin diseases. Ointment used for ringworm, tetterworm and
abscess. The fresh root contains high concentrations of calcium oxalate and is considered
to be too dangerous and intensely acrid to use. Roasting the root after drying it 6 months
removes the acridity. In this way Native Americans peeled and ground the roots to powder
to make a bread, which has a flavor similar to chocolate. The roots can be cut into very
thin slices and allowed to dry for several months, after which they are eaten like potato
chips, crumbled to make a cereal or ground into a cocoa-flavored powder for making
biscuits and cakes. A starch obtained from the roots is used as a stiffener for clothes.
Caution is advised as ingesting the fresh root can cause
poisoning and even death.
The root was used as a contraceptive by
the women of some Native American tribes. One teaspoonful of the dried herb, powdered root
in cold water was said to prevent conception for a week whilst two teaspoonfuls in hot
water was said to induce permanent sterility.
Article by Deb Jackson & Karen