Yellow Glacier Lily: Erythronium grandiflorum, Erythronium albicum, Erythronium oregonum, Erythronium revolutum, Erythronium americanum, etc.
Also known as: snow lily, avalanche lily, dog-toothed violet, fawn lily, adder's tongue, yellow snowdrop, trout lily, lamb's tongue, etc.
Parts Used: leaves, bulbs, seed pods
Systems/Organs affected: female reproductive, hormones, chi, immune
Properties: antibacterial, anti-mutagenic, contraceptive, anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, laxative
Yellow glacier lily is a member of the Lilaceae (Lily) family. It has 6 petals that curl back to reveal 3 stamens. The stem bends slightly and is leafless except for the two large, lance-like leaves at its base. Glacier lilies are a sign spring has come, being one of the first blooming flora after the snow melts. (Often times you can find them blooming in the snow). They bloom from May to August, shedding the flower for a seed pod that is grayish-green in color and three sided (some say it looks like an alien head). The stem gets up to 16 inches tall and the lance-like leaves at the base get between 3-8 inches in length. The flowers are up to 1-1 1/2 inches long. Like other lilies, glacier lilies have a bulb or a corm, making it a perennial plant. It can be found in moist, shaded spots or open meadows in alpine to sub-alpine areas from Colorado to Alaska. The bulb, if using, should be harvested while the plant is in bloom to distinguish it from other members of the lily family that are poisonous (death camas).
Glacier lilies have an interesting background, with what is known of them. Lewis and Clark spoke of them in their diaries. Lewis thought it was a violet but realized later on that it was a lily. The dog-toothed violet reference can be misleading as it is not a violet at all. The flower might make one think of a dog curling back its lips to reveal its teeth, but that may be a stretch of the imagination. (I think of it more as a claw reaching up from the ground). There are 15 different species of lily and all are found in the United States with the exception of one which is found in Europe. Three of those can be found just in the Rocky Mountain region.
Erythronium grandiflorum comes from the Greek 'erythro' which means 'red'-named for the color of the European variety. Grandiflorum simply means 'large flower'.
Several native american tribes relied on this plant as a food source as well as a medicinal one. The corms (bulbs) were eaten fresh, roasted, steamed or boiled to make them sweeter (I imagine much like they did with the blue camas bulbs). Drying the bulbs also would bring out the sweetness and make them a more valuable trade item. Many of the tribes would dry a substantial amount of the corms to get them through the winter months. A hundred kilograms (220 lbs.) was considered a good winter supply for one family. The leaves are also edible but are less flavorful and nutritious. The Okanagan-Coleville indians used the corms for respiratory infections or for colds. Some tribes would mash the bulbs and use them for skin maladies such as boils or rashes. Early eclectic physicians used them for tuberculosis, peripheral edema, lymph issues, vomiting, hiccups and hemoptysis (coughing blood). Too much of the plant can also cause vomiting so a happy medium needs to be found.
Lily essence is said to help with blockages or imbalances in women-assisting with PMS, menopause, infertility or congested energy (chi) in the pelvic area. It helps one feel more joyful and safe.
According to 'North Bushcraft', a website about survival, lilies are the best when slow cooked over a long period-until the bulbs are chocolate brown. They are then dried for storage. The dried bulbs can then be reconstituted by boiling or steaming when one wishes to ingest them. The seed pods also can be cooked and are said to have a taste similar to string beans.
The leaves, which are edible raw, were made into a tea for bacterial infections or used as a wash for scrapes and sores. There are some references to the leaves also being used as a natural form of contraception. The leaves have been used to treat fevers and inflammation and a compound more recently extracted from this plant has shown itself to be able to reduce tumors and be slightly anti-mutagenic (protects your DNA from mutation).
Glacier lilies are a food source for deer, elk, grizzly and black bears as well as bighorn sheep. When harvesting this plant, please do not over harvest the area; leave a generous amount so that all can partake of the bounty the lily family offers.
As the bulbs can sometimes cause a burning sensation, it is best to use in small amounts until one knows how his/her body will respond. Too much of this plant can cause diarrhea and vomiting. DO NOT USE if pregnant or nursing. Always consult a qualified physician before starting an herbal regimen or formula.