Identifying Poisonous Star of Bethlehem

The first time I ever saw the Star of Bethlehem was actually in a town called Bethlehem. It sure makes the name easy to remember.

The most important thing any foraging can do is learn poisonous plants in their region. Why? There are fewer poisonous plants so they are easier to remember and it will help you stay safe much better than if you only know a few dozen edible species.

It’s important to be cautious of poisonous plants, but to not let that stand in your way of foraging. The key is learn as much as you can to build your knowledge and confidence, then proceed from there. Err on the side of caution, so if one university study shows some toxins in a certain plant, avoid it. There are enough edible species that there’s no reason to play around with safety.

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a common wildflower in the United Stated that can be confused with with some onion species. Luckily, it isn’t hard to tell the difference even for a beginner foraging. The trick is knowing this plant exists as well as many of flower species that may be confused with onion.

Identification:

Flower: white, 6 petals, 6 yellow-tipped stamens. About 1 inch in diameter.

Leaves: Green, curved, but not com2pletely round.

Roots: One large, white, round bulb plus lots of tiny rootlets.

Habitat: Fields and woods with at least partial sun.

The number one trick to avoiding accidentally harvesting this poisonous plant and thinking it’s onion is smell. All members of the Allium family (wild onions and garlic) will have a strong onion or garlic smell. This does not.

The root is quite poisonous especially. It contains cardiac glycosides, which are similar to the prescription drug digoxin. Sometimes this plant is used for congestive heart failure, but according to WebMD, it is unsafe to use as medicine. It can cause an irregular heartbeat.

Just remember, when foraging for wild onion, wild garlic, or ramps, always check for the smell of each and every plant you harvest and remember the smell may stay on your hands.

Happy foraging!!!

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