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Medicinal and Useful Plants of North America, with herbal uses and scientific names. Learn to identify, and use wild medicinal herb plants that grow all around us. History, Foklore, Growing Information.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Arisaema triphyllum

Jack in the Pulpit, Indian Turnip Arisaema triphyllumflower picture

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.

Jack in the Pulpit Herbal Use and Medicinal Properties

 Jack-in-the-Pulpit root is used in alternative medicine and is edible (only after drying and cooking) 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 Jack in the Pulpit roots to powder to make a bread, which has a flavor similar to chocolate. Gather roots in early spring and dry for later.

Caution is advised as ingesting the fresh root can cause poisoning and even death.

WARNING: Raw corms are not edible and contain calcium oxalate which will cause a burning sensation in the mouth.

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.

Jack in the Pulpit root 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 abscesses treatments.

Jack in the Pulpit Native Habitat and Description

Jack in the Pulpit  is a native perennial herb found in moist woods from Canada to Florida and westward to Kansas and Minnesota.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.

Jack in the Pulpit flowers bloom 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. Cultivation: is very difficult, requires green house conditions.

Jack in the Pulpit  History and Folklore 

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 Bergeron

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