Medicine in our Midst: Western Trillium

When I first moved to my house a few years ago I was confident in every way that the home would bring blessings. It had been built and lived in by the same couple until their death, we purchased it from their children (who had been raised in the home) and it was meaningful in every way. For them it meant a lot to see people who loved the land and had young children move in, to me it meant the world to have PNW woods again and space to roam and be with nature. Having grown up with a woodsman father it is in my blood to feel most grounded around the deep browns and greens of the PNW forest.

Western Trillium - 3 part flower - 3 leaves

I was in a personal transition, without really realizing it, at the time. I had been working towards my medical prerequisites, and had always dreamed of being a natural medicine practitioner, thinking more of midwife or naturopath, but I had three young kids and I wasn’t sure how to get where I was going. As I settled into my new home, I started noticing all the medicinal plants around me. Not just dandelion in the yard but ghost pipe in the woods, herb robert in the landscaping, plantain, yarrow, hawthorne, wild rose, nettle, chickweed, cleavers, pacific bleeding heart, st john's wort on the road, and in my landscaping up to my back door… three healthy and large, western trilliums.

As my life weaved and bobbed as life sometimes does, I felt the plants and the land pulling at me, like they were choosing me to carry the message about their medicine. Sounds cooky to some, or most, I know, and I don’t care. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Though the path to herbalist is not as well worn as the path to midwife or naturopath, and let’s face it we all love a well worn path, I decided it was the path the plants were pushing me down. So after a year of self-study immersion, I began my professional education and the formal journey to herbalist.

That’s a lot of backstory to talk about Western Trillium but I feel it matters for a few reasons. Western Trillium represents much of what I love about medicinal plants. For one, it is beautiful, it pokes up as a first sign of spring announcing with it’s white flower that the hard part has passed. The white flag of winter surrender. For two it is methodical. Trillium is very slow growing and very long lived. It can take 5-10 years for the first leaf to form, and 15 for the first flower. Trillium with a 3 inch rhizome should be about 70 years old. If you see a trillium, she is most definitely a grandma. And grandma’s have a lot to offer us.

A very old plant growing abundantly by my door.

Trillium, in herb circles, is also called “birth root” because of its exceptional ability to stop uterine hemorrhage in postpartum mothers. Traditionally, many midwives carried a tincture of trillium for this purpose. The leaves are rich in tannins, tannins are astringent in nature and they stop bleeding as they pucker loose or leaky tissue. This is an ideal scenario for a uterus that isn’t behaving postpartum. Trillium can also be used for mother’s experiencing bleeding after a miscarriage, a very painful time where excessive bleeding only makes the process of grief harder. Trillium can be used in the final weeks of (not during) pregnancy to tone the uterus for birth. In general, trillium can be used to reduce bleeding - but it has an affinity for the female reproductive system.

It is fitting to me that a plant the age of a grandma would be such a rescue herb for young mother’s. There are grandmother’s everywhere and this plant, certainly is one.

Scientific Name: Trillium ovatum

Birthroot name seems to imply the root was used originally as part or all of the tincture, that said it is not considered ethical to harvest the root of a plant who takes 70 years to produce 3 inches of root, so please do not. You can harvest the leaves and create a tincture from them as long as the leaves are still green, even after flowers and formed and bloomed.

Medicine is all around us and I hope this series inspires you to see the beauty and complexity of nature.

Until next week.




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