May Apple plant facts

The Mighty May Apple

Interestingly enough, only the dual-leaved “Y”-branched members of the community bear flowers and fruit. In mid-spring, a single large (two inches in diameter) white blossom with six to nine petals appears at the fork of each “Y”-plant’s stem, nodding inconspicuously beneath its own personal “umbrella.” The bloom is a true forest beauty . . . although the odor it exudes is downright nasty.

Then, in June or early July (depending on the climate where you live), the attractive blossom gives way to a smooth, fleshy “berry” the size and shape of a small lemon. The little globe is at first green, but — within a matter of weeks — ripens to a distinct yellow. Strangely enough, the plant’s foliage dies off at about the same time . . . so that, come apple-hunting season (mid-July or August) often only the dry, bare stems and the fruit remain. (Which, incidentally, is why it’s a good idea to “scout out” and actually map May apple patches in the early spring, when the distinctive green leaves make positive identification easy. Then you can simply return in midsummer and harvest the goodies with no fear of getting — shudder — the wrong thing by mistake.)

Once you do strike off into the woods with empty collecting bags in hand — and visions of sweet punch and preserves in your head — remember that the luscious, fragrant, ambrosial May apple fruit ain’t luscious, fragrant, or ambrosial until it is dead ripe. The skin should be clear yellow (with no green showing) . . . the pulp should be translucent and have a jellylike texture . . . and the berry itself should be just about ready to fall to the ground. Some folks (of the “persimmon” school of foraging), in fact, won’t collect the fruit at all unless it has dropped to earth as evidence that it’s ready to be eaten.

What does a fully mature May apple fruit taste like? Well, to be honest, I can’t really give you an adequate description. All I can say is that the sweet, mildly acid flavor has been likened to that of papayas, and strawberries, and cantaloupes . . . but none of those comparisons really does the job. You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

Be careful, though: When it comes to eating these little rascals, overindulgence is far too easy . . . and the consequences are all too similar to the gastrointestinal furor that comes from consuming too many green apples.

At any rate, I can tell you for sure that the fruit of the May apple tastes good (to say the least). Chances are, once you’ve sampled one or two of the elusively flavored berries in the field, you’ll want to gather up as many as you can to take home. And in that case, I suspect you might want to try my two favorite May apple recipes (enjoy, enjoy!).

A Short Medicinal History of the May Apple

Down through the years the May apple (Podophyllum peltatum) has had many common names, including wild jalap, hog apple, ground lemon, Indian apple, raccoon berry, and American mandrake. The plant sometimes received that last name not because it is in any way directly related to the European mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum is a member of the barberry family while Mandragora officinarum, the European mandrake, belongs — like the potato, the tomato, and belladonna — to the nightshade family) . . . but because podophyllin — a bitter, resinous extract taken from the roots, leaves, and stems of the May apple — does have medicinal powers that somewhat resemble those of the European mandrake. The medicinal dosage of podophyllin is very small and overdoses can kill . . . so do not eat the roots or foliage of the May apple (just as you should never eat the sprouts of the potato). The Penobscot Indians used the crushed roots of the May apple as a poultice for the removal of warts and the Menominee tribe considered the stems and foliage of the plant to be a good pesticide. They boiled those parts of the May apple in water and then applied the cooled liquid to their potato patches to repel the insects that attacked them. — Freddä Burton

See the May apple recipes at the top of this article.

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Toxic Principle The primary toxin in Podophyllum species is podopyllotoxin found in greatest concentration in the plant at the time of flowering. The ripe fruit has little toxicity. Podophyllotoxins are readily absorbed through intact skin and the digestive tract. The toxicity of podophyllotoxin is attributed to its binding to receptor sites on tubulin, thereby blocking cell division and cellular protein synthesis in a similar manner to colchicine found in the autumn crocus. Podopyllotoxin has been extensively utilized in folk medicine is currently has value for its antiviral and anti-neoplastic properties Description Only one species (Podophyllum peltatum) of some 7 species found in North America and Europe occurs in North America. As a common wildflower of eastern North America, it is often grown in wooded areas because of its spreading habit as a ground cover whose leaves emerge before the foliage of deciduous trees. Glossy green palmate,leaves are produced on stems 18-24 inches tall, in pairs, with 5-7 lobes or partitions. Leaf veins are prominent and palmately arranged. A single creamy-white, 5-7 petalled, nodding, flower arisng at the angle between the petioles is produced in early spring. The canopy of leaves often hide the blooms. The fruit is an oval berry containing many seeds that turns yellow when ripe.
Gastrointestinal Animals or humans eating the green apples are likely to experience severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. Excessive salivation and vomiting may be prominent.
Congenital Defects Teratogenic
Nervous System Ingestion of large amounts of the May apple can lead to neurologic signs, liver degeneration, and bone marrow dysfunction. Poisoning in humans has occurred when Podophyllum products have been mistaken for mandrake (Mandragora officiinarum), an herbal medication with quite different effects.
Hepatic System Liver degeneration

Mayapple is a common native plant in deciduous forests.

Mayapple is a native woodland plant that is widespread across most of eastern North America south to Texas in zones 3 to 8. Podophyllum peltatum is the only species in this genus in the barberry family (Berberidaceae). This herbaceous perennial typically grows in colonies from a single root in open deciduous forests and shady fields, riverbanks and roadsides. All the parts of the plant, except the fruit, contain podophyllotoxin which is highly toxic if consumed, but was used by Native Americans for a variety of medicinal purposes. Podophyllotoxin is an ingredient in prescription drugs used for the treatment of certain cancers, psoriasis, malaria, and other maladies. Most of the current commercial source of podophyllotoxin is the rhizomes and roots of P. emodi, an endangered species from the Himalayas. Rhizomes of P. peltatum are also collected in the wild in several US states; the leaves of this species have been suggested as an alternative, more sustainable source.

The upright stems grow from a shallow, creeping, branched underground rhizome, composed of many thick dark or reddish-brown tubers connected by fleshy fibers and downward spreading roots at the nodes. Each terminal bud produces a shoot. The mostly unbranched 12-18 inch tall stems are topped with umbrella-like (peltate) leaves.

Each stem is topped with an umbrella-like (L) palmate leaf with 5-9 lobes (R).

The leaves remain furled as the stem elongates in the spring, unfolding when the stem nears its full height. Each smooth, pale green, rounded, palmate leaf has 5-9 shallowly to deeply cut lobes. There are one or two leaves per stem, each up to a foot across. Only stems with more than one leaf will flower. Mayapple often forms large, dense colonies in the wild.

Mayapple emerging in early spring.

As with many native spring wildflowers, mayapple emerges in early spring before trees produce leaves and then senesces to go dormant by mid-summer. Shoot senescence is affected by both the vigor of the rhizome system and environmental conditions (the sunnier the location the earlier it goes dormant).

Mayapple senesces to go dormant by mid-summer.

Flowering stems produce solitary flowers in the axil of the two leaves. The nodding, white to rose-colored flowers appear in April or May. Each flower is 2-3 inches wide, with 6 light green sepals, 6 to 9 waxy petals, and twice as many stamens with white filaments and yellow anthers. Although the flowers are quite showy, they are short-lived and usually hidden by the leaves. The flowers are fragrant, variously described as pleasant to putrid and are visited by bumblebees and other long-tongued bees.

Flower bud in the axil of the two leaves (L). Flowers (R) are often hidden by the leaves (C).

Pollinated flowers are followed in early summer by fleshy, ovoid to lemon-shaped fruits (a berry) containing several tan seeds. These green “apples” ripen to a golden color, sometimes tinged with pink or purple, later in the summer. The 1½-2 inch long fruits (but not the seeds) are edible, but bland, when ripe and can be used in jellies or preserves. They may also be eaten by box turtles and other wildlife that disperse the seeds. Plants will self-seed under ideal growing conditions.

Flowers are followed by fruits (L and C) that develop into a fleshy apple containing several seeds.

Mayapple is often grown as an ornamental in woodland or native plant gardens.

These native wildflowers are often grown as ornamental plants for their attractive foliage and flowers. They are perfect for naturalizing in a woodland garden or native plant garden. This plant is rarely used in borders, as it goes dormant in the summer, leaving a large gap that is difficult to fill, and does not like competition. This plant is apparently juglone tolerant so will grow under black walnut, and is not eaten by deer or rabbits.

Mayapple needs partial or full shade to thrive.

Mayapple needs partial or full shade to thrive, and prefers rich, moist soil with abundant organic matter. It can be propagated by division of the roots when dormant (in late summer or fall or very early spring) or from seed. Seeds should be planted immediately (stored seed will require three months of cold-moist stratification) and seedlings take 4-5 years to mature.

There are some uncommon variations in the species. P. peltatum forma deamii has pink, rose, or purple flowers followed by maroon or red fruits. And even more rarely plants produce a cluster of fruits (forma polycarpum).

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Reviews

Mayapple, Podophyllum Peltatum

May apple is a shade perennial flower that makes its appearance in Spring. This plant can reach around 2 feet tall. The flower on this plant blooms in early May, and it also produces an apple-like fruit hence the name. Native Americans used this plant for stomach aches. They would boil the root and drink the juice. The Mayapple has also been used for treating warts.

Mayapple Plants Add a Unique Look to Your Garden or Landscape

Mayapple is a fun perennial shade plant with large, attractive foliage that will add an unusual touch to your landscape. It grows showy leaves up to a foot in diameter and each season will form a single bloom per plant that then produces edible fruit. Perfect for a native plant garden or to create a woodland garden effect, the Mayapple is easy to grow and maintain.

Mayapple’s botanical name is Podophyllum Peltatum and is also known as “American mandrake.”

Gardeners love to plant it in their landscapes for its unique ornamental foliage that starts out looking like a closed umbrella before it unfurls to showcase highly indented olive-green and coppery leaves that spread fully open into a rich solid green shade by early summer.

This plant reaches 12 to 18 inches tall and makes a perfect groundcover in otherwise hard to grow areas. They are spread via rhizomes which does easy work of propagating a large area but can also be started from seed.

The Mayapple needs full to partial shade, which makes it an excellent choice for planting under large trees that other ornamental plants cannot tolerate.

Indigenous to eastern North America, it can survive periods of drought but will thrive in moist loamy soil with an abundance of organic materials present, like fallen leaves. These perennials are best grown in zones 3 through 8.

Mayapple plant ships bare root year round.

Environmental Studies

The mayapple is an herbaceous perennial plant native to deciduous forests of eastern North America. It is a very unique plant that has two leaves when it produces a flower under the leaves, and has only one leaf when it does not produce flower.

The mayapple is a spring ephemeral emerging before the canopy of the forest closes and withering later in the summer.

Physical characteristics

The mayapple grows from below the ground to 30–40 cm tall. They reproduce asexually underground so there are usually many plants growing together that are actually one individual.

Leaf: The leaves are palmately lobed up to 20–30 cm diameter with 5–9 deeply cut lobes. The reproductive plants have 2 or occasionally 3 leaves, and sterile plants only have one leaf. When there is only one leaf, the leaf looks round, and when there are two, the two leaves look like two halves of a round leaf.

Flower: There is one flower maximun on one plant. The flower is white and 3–5 cm diameter with 6–9 petals (most often 6). The stamens are yellow, and there are twice as many stamens as there are petals. The pistil is very thick in the center of the flower with 15–100 ovules. The flower is protandrous, meaning the anthers mature earlier than the stigma. The anthers often dehisce before the flower has opened, and the stigma remains receptive even when the stamens and petals begin to fall from the flower. The flower grows from in between two leaves under the leaves, so it is often not easily seen.

Fruits: The fruits are formed from sexual reproduction for distance dispersal. The fruits are yellow-greenish and 2–5 cm long. It is the flower that shows up in May, not the “apple.” The “apple,” which does not look too much like an actual apple, appears later in summer.

Rhizome: The mayapple reproduces sexually and asexually. It grows rhizomes underground, and new plants grow from the thick rhizomes. Asexual reproduction allows dense local population of clones and costs less.

Life span: The mayapple is a perennial plant.

Toxicity and edibility

The whole plant of mayapple contains toxic substance podophyllotoxin, otherwise known as podofilox, a toxin extracted from the roots and rhizomes of Podophyllum species. The roots and the rhizomes contain 0.3% to 1% by mass of podophyllotoxin. This toxin can be used as a medicine to externally treat genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Although the fruits are edible when ripened and soft in moderate amount, immature green fruits are toxic and when consumed in large amounts. The ripened fruits are definitely poisonous as well as being a laxative. Do not consume when pregnant.

The fruits are very sweet and have fragrance like tropical fruits and can be eaten raw like other fruits. When cooking the mayapple, remove the poisonous seeds. It is very hard to separate the seed and pulp, so if seeds are not taken, do not chew on the seeds so the seeds do not break.

Click here for recipes for making Mayapple jelly, Mayapple jam and Mayapple punch.

Mystery about pollination

The Mayapple does not have native pollinators, and it does not self-pollinate

The mayapple is an unusual plant. It has a flower under its leaves so it does not get pollinated by wind; it has no native pollinators because it does not reward pollinators by providing nectar. It is a highly clonal plant, meaning in one population most plants are actually one genetic individual connected by rhizomes, while it is self-incompatible, meaning it does not fruit if the stigma receives pollen from itself. What is going on here?

Self-incompatibility and environmental factors

Since more ovules are always produced than can mature in plants due to limited resources and need for selection, after the ovule is pollinated the flower starts to selectively abort some ovules. The abundance of resource here is the key, so with poor resource the flowers are highly self-incompatible, and with rich resource the flowers shows some self-compatibility.

Non-rewarding and self-incompatible at the same time

Most non-rewarding flowering plants do not have to worry about pollination, because they normally are self-compatible, meaning that their own pollen can pollinate their own ovules. The mayapple, interestingly, has very low self-compatibility while being an extensive clonal plant, which means that one patch of plants is usually one genetic individual, and they cannot provide pollen to each other. The self pollens that fall on the stigma can grow and reach the ovary, showing that the selection for non-self pollen is genetic, and this mechanism is not well-known now.

Observed pollinators of mayapple

The two common observed pollinators are honeybees and bumblebees. Although some pollinators are observed, the visit rate is as low as 0.03-0.06 visit/flower/hour. The mayapple does not provide nectar, but it has copious pollen, which could be what some pollinators seek, like honeybees, which collect pollen and nectar as their food. Honeybees are not native to North America where the Mayapple grows, but they do help the pollination of the species. Some native bumblebee queens are also observed to visit mayapple flowers. The bumblebee queens are nectar-seeking, and the mayapple does not provide nectar, so they are said to be “decieved” to visit the flower.

Deceptive pollination

Plants like the mayapple that does not provide nectar to pollinators are said to get pollinated by deceiving the pollinators, and this is also called deceptive pollination. Deceptive pollination is not uncommon in plants. Some plants get pollinators by mimicking another plant that provides nectar; some plants grow close to other plants that provide nectar so they can also get some pollinator visits; some plants make their flowers look like bodies of certain insects, so the pollinators come to try to copulate but they only get pollen grains on their bodies.

Down-facing flowers: What pollinators does it want to attract?

Most flowers face up to attract high-flying insect pollinators like bees. The flowers of the mayapple hide themselves under the big palm-like leaves and face down. What kind of pollinators does it want to attract?

Facilitated pollination by nearby plants?

One theory about the mayapple is that their pollination is facilitated by nearby plants. In several studies testing this hypothesis, the result turned out to be that nearby plants of different species do not facilitate nor hinder mayapple’s pollination. Growing near other plants do not always facilitate pollination; it can also cause competition for pollinators and increase heterospecific pollen transfer which does not help fruiting.

So, how does the mayapple get pollinated?

The pollination of the mayapple still sounds more like a mystery to me after reading primary resources for many hours. My research so far has made me more confused but more curious too. The orchid family is known for its diverse mechanism of pollination, especially different kinds of deceptive pollination. Looking into other deceptive pollination mechanism might help the understanding of the pollination of the mayapple, and further research is needed to give a clear answer to the question.

Sexual or asexual reproduction?

Some plants have a flower and two leaves, and others only have a big leaf without flower and reproduce asexually by rhizomes. How do they decide?

Page drafted by Wendy Deng

Mayapple Quick Facts
Name: Mayapple
Scientific Name: Podophyllum peltatum
Origin Eastern United States and southeastern Canada
Colors Initially green turning greenish-yellow and yellow as they matures
Shapes Oval berry about the size and shape of an egg nearly 2 inches long, with a thick yellow rind
Taste Sweet, Pungent
Health benefits Beneficial for jaundice, fever, syphilis, liver diseases, hearing loss, cancer,bowel movement, weakness, snakebites and tumors of different kinds.

Podophyllum peltatum, also known as Mayapple, American mandrake or ground lemon, is actually an herbaceous perennial plant of the Berberidaceae (Barberry) family having umbrella shaped leaves. The plant is native to the woodlands of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada and has been used medicinally for hundreds of years by 1st Nations peoples to treat constipation, wart removal, rheumatism and liver disorders as well as a laxative. It is presently being studied for its possible treatment of leukemia. Some of the popular common names of the plants are American-mandrake, Indian-apple, May apple, Pomme de mai, Wild mandrake, Ground Lemon, Hog Apple, Racoonberry, Duck’s Foot, Hog Apple, Lang-tu, Love Apples, Mandragora, Mandrake, Racoon Berry, Umbrella Plant, Wild Lemon, Devil’s Apple, American May Apple and Bajialian.

Genus name “Podophyllum” is derived from the Greek word, podos, meaning foot, and phyllon, meaning leaf), which refers to an imaginary resemblance of the leaf to an aquatic bird’s foot: therefore, the seldom used common name of duck’s foot. Peltatum means shield shaped. The most frequently used common name is May apple and refers to the lemon shaped fruit that appears after flowering. Another common name is American mandrake. This is confusing because it is not at all related to the European Mandrake- a plant with purple flowers. Nearly all parts of the mayapple are poisonous save for the fruit: once it has turned yellow, the mayapple fruit is safe for human consumption. While not edible, mayapple rhizomes are used for all sorts of medicinal applications. Native Americans valued the rhizome as a cathartic, anti-helmintic, and emetic agent.

Plant description

Mayapple is a winter deciduous herbaceous perennial plant that grows about 30 to 45 cm (11-17 inches) tall. The plant is found growing in rich woods, thickets, pastures, roadsides, damp areas like hillside seeps, meadows, deciduous and open woodlands, forest edges, fields, shores of rivers or lakes, mesic deciduous woodlands, open woodlands, small woodland openings, savannas, and edges of hillside seeps in wooded areas. The plant prefers rich, loamy, moist soil with abundant organic matter. The plant has stout, rounded; succulent, glabrous hairless stems about 1 to 2 feet high which terminate in a palmately divided leaf or sympodially branch to form two leaves with a bud between them. The mayapple reproduces sexually and asexually. It grows rhizomes underground, and new plants grow from the thick rhizomes. Asexual reproduction allows dense local population of clones and costs less.

Leaves

One to two peltately attached leaves are produced on long erect petioles. Vegetative stems usually have a single leaf, whereas flowering stalks produce a pair of leaves originating from either side of the central flower. Leaves are glabrous, circular, umbrella-shaped, with 5 to 9 palmate lobes, and are 6 inches to 12 inches wide with a lustrous, almost oily look, above and somewhat lighter and duller green beneath. Individual lobes are obovate with a tendency to develop a secondary forked lobe at the tip of the primary lobe. Margins may be nearly entire to serrated, or irregularly incised. The overall venation is palmate, but on individual lobes the secondary venation appears pinnate terminating in a Y-shaped division on the lobe. Veins are impressed above and may be lighter colored than the rest of the blade, becoming whitish or light yellowish green at the petiole attachment. Tertiary veins are nearly reticulate; bases of the lobes are often cuneate. Veins are raised beneath; early season growth may have a reddish tint.

Flower

Perfect flowers with six, sometimes more, yellowish green to gleaming white, obovate to emarginate, overlapping petals form a 1½ inches to 2 inches diameter, broadly cup to saucer-shaped flower with a prominent central pistil surrounded by flattened, oar-shaped, yellow stamens. Stamens may be individual or with pairs subtended by a fused stalk. The fragrant flowers are presented vertically to pendently beneath the foliage. Bloom is in mid- to late spring. Flowers are typically borne at a Y shaped fork atop a stoutish succulent green to brown stem between a pair of palmately divided leaves that extend above the flower. Flowering normally takes place from May to June.

Fruits

Fertile flowers are followed by oval berry about the size and shape of an egg nearly 2 inches long, with a thick yellow rind. The fruits are initially green turning greenish-yellow and yellow as they mature. The fruits are formed from sexual reproduction for distance dispersal. Each fruits consist of 30-50 small ovoid seeds. It is the flower that shows up in May, not the “apple.” The “apple,” which does not look too much like an actual apple, appears later in summer.

The seeds, leaves, rhizomes and unripe fruit are poisonous; the ripe apple is considered edible raw, considered sweet but slightly acid, better when cooked, but some find it slightly toxic. An allergic reaction from handling the rhizomes can occur in some people sensitive to the compound Podophyllin found in the roots.

Closer-view-of-Flower.-of-Mayapple Closer-view-of-Leaf-of-Mayapple Flower-of-Mayapple
Half-cut Mayapple–fruit Immature-fruit-of-Mayapple Leaves-of-Mayapple
Mayapple-fruit May-apple-fruit-in-its-early-stage Mayapple-Plant
Mayapple-Plant-growing-wild May-apple-saplings Plant-Illustration-of-May-apple
Ripe-fruit-of-Mayapple May-apple Stem-of-May-apple
Traditional uses and benefits of Mayapple

  • Mayapple is a most powerful and useful herbal medicine, exercising an influence on every part of the system and inspiring the glands to healthy action.
  • Its greatest power lies in its action on the liver and bowels.
  • It is a gastro-intestinal irritant, a powerful hepatic and intestinal stimulant.
  • Root is anti-bilious, cathartic, cytostatic, hydrogogue and purgative.
  • It is, thus, a possible treatment for cancer, and has been used especially in the treatment of ovarian cancer.
  • Root is most active medicinally in early spring when it is beginning to shoot.
  • Resin, which is obtained from the root, is used in the treatment of warts and has been found to be effective against uterine warts that are sometimes experienced in pregnancy.
  • It is also used in the treatment of small-cell carcinoma.
  • Homeopathic remedy is obtained from the fresh root, harvested before the fruit is ripe.
  • It is used particularly in the treatment of diarrhea.
  • They were also used topically for treating warts; etoposide and teniposide two of its derivatives are also used in treating malignant neoplasms.
  • Rhizome has been used for a range of medicinal purposes and the boiled poisonous root water was consumed for stomach aches.
  • Mayapple is known to be an effective cure for genital warts.
  • Mayapple is also an effective treatment for white patches that grow on the tongue, also known as hairy leukoplakia.
  • It can easily clear corns.
  • It is effective for treating jaundice, fever, syphilis, liver diseases, hearing loss, and even cancer.
  • It is also used to ease bowel movement, destroy parasitic worms in the intestine as well as counteract snakebite.
  • It is effective as a treatment for gynecologic infections.
  • It can also be beneficial for people who are struggling with certain gastrointestinal, liver, and skin problems.
  • Chinese herbal medicine used this plant for treating weakness, snakebites and tumors of different kinds.
  • American ethnic groups also drank a ferment prepared from the dehydrated and crushed rhizome or tubers of mayapple as a medication to cure worms in the intestines.
  • They also used the substance as a remedy for snakebite as also as a laxative to clear bowel movements.

Culinary Uses

  • Fruit are raw, cooked or made into jams, jellies, marmalades, pies etc.
  • Fruit can also be dried for later use.
  • Fruit should only be eaten when it is fully ripe; the unripe fruit is strongly laxative.
  • Fruit is very aromatic, and has a peculiar though agreeable flavor.
  • Pulp of this fruit can be made into marmalades, jams, jellies and sweet dishes by removing its seeds and covering.

Some Popular Recipes

May apple Jelly

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups May apple juice; strained
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 3 oz. liquid fruit pectin or one dry packet

Directions

  1. Wash ripe may apples, cut away the stem and blossom ends, and any waste parts.
  2. Remove seeds. Cut the fruit into pieces and place in a large kettle with water to cover.
  3. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until May apples are tender, mashing during cooking.
  4. Strain the juice through cheesecloth or let it drip through a jelly bag.
  5. To the strained may apple juice, add lemon juice and sugar.
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then stir in pectin.
  7. Again bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil hard until the jelly stage is reached.
  8. Remove jelly from heat, skim, and pour into hot, sterilized jelly glasses.
  9. Seal at once with hot paraffin or lid in hot bath.
  10. Double the recipe if you have plenty of May apple juice.

May apple Jam

Ingredients

  • 5 cups ripe May apple fruit
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 package pectin
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • dash of salt

Directions

  1. Combine may apples, water, and lemon juice.
  2. Bring to boil, cover over low heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir often.
  3. Add sugar and bring back to a boil. Boil hard for three minutes.
  4. Add pectin and salt and boil for one minute. Stir and skim off foam.
  5. Ladle into sterilized jars, seal with lid or paraffin.

May apple Punch

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rip May apples fruit
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 pieces of ginger root
  • 1 quart ginger ale

Directions

  1. Cut up May apple and remove seeds.
  2. Put May apple pieces and ginger root in a saucepan, cover with water, and slowly bring to a boil.
  3. Simmer 25 minutes. Add sugar.
  4. Set aside to cool but stir occasionally. Pour through sieve and press pulp through mesh.
  5. Spoon into cups and fill cups with ginger ale.
  6. Stir and serve depending upon your tastes.
  7. Some think it tastes like an earthy banana or pawpaw. It makes excellent preserves and drink. Since woodland creatures like the fruit as well it can be collected just before it is ripe and stored in sawdust until ripe.

Other facts

  • An infusion of the boiled leaves has been sprayed on potato plants to protect them from insects.
  • Root ooze has been used to soak corn seed prior to planting it out in order to prevent it being eaten by crows or insects.
  • Thick roots of this plant help in preventing soil erosion as they keep the soil intact.

Precautions

  • Leaves and the roots are very poisonous.
  • In excess the fruit can cause colic.
  • Whole plant, apart from the ripe fruit, is highly poisonous and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
  • It should not be prescribed for pregnant and breast feeding women.
  • In large doses it produces nausea and vomiting, and even inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which has been known to prove fatal
  • It is advisable not ingest any part of mayapple as even the edible berries can result in vomiting if taken in excess.
  • It is highly valuable in dropsy, biliousness, dyspepsia, liver and other disorders.
  • The plant has been known to cause techni-color diarrhea.

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Range

© Royal Botanical Gardens
© Royal Botanical Gardens

A Transplanted Pharmacy
Isolated colonies of May-apple can be found well east and north of its usual range. How did it get there? Probably it was deliberately transplanted by First Nations, who wanted to make sure that they had a handy source of this useful plant.

The May-apple is native to damp woodlands in southern Ontario and Quebec, as well as most of the eastern United States.

History and traditional uses
May-apple has been used by both First Nations and settlers as a laxative and tonic, to expel worms, and to treat warts and growths. It became a popular ingredient in patent medicines of the late 1800s, especially those aimed at liver problems.

Some First Nations steeped the poisonous leaves and roots in water to make a liquid insecticide for their crops. May-apple has culinary uses, too. The ripe fruit, which is not poisonous, has been eaten straight, made into jams and jellies, and used to flavour drinks.

Current findings and new possibilities
May-apple contains a number of chemical compounds which affect human health. Some block cell division, which makes them of interest as the source of possible anti-cancer drugs. One of these, podophyllotoxin, has been approved as a treatment for genital warts.

Several drugs created by modifying the podophyllotoxin molecule have now been approved for use against some kinds of cancers. Further research in this area continues.
In the Canadian garden
May-apple is increasingly popular for shade and native woodland gardens, prized for its dramatic spring emergence and the unfurling of its “umbrella” foliage. The flower and fruit are relatively modest, partially hidden beneath the leaves.

Those considering May-apple for the garden should bear in mind that the plant, except for the fully ripe fruit, is highly poisonous. As with all slow-growing native forest plants, it should not be transplanted from the wild, but obtained from a reputable nursery that grows its plants from sustainably-collected seed

Commercial growing and harvesting
May-apple for medicinal use is gathered almost entirely from the wild. Originally, a related Himalayan species of May-apple was most commonly harvested for commercial medicine production, but that species is now becoming more scarce, so that demand is increasing for North American May-apple. The plant has been declared a threatened species in parts of Quebec, so collection and transport of wild stocks are regulated there.

Researchers now seek ways to harvest May-apple in a more sustainable fashion and to grow it commercially, perhaps in combination with other forest medicinals, such as ginseng and goldenseal, that enjoy similar conditions. A promising recent discovery is that leaves, as well as roots, may be a viable source of podophyllotoxin, so that it may be possible to harvest a portion of the leaves each year, instead of rooting out the entire plant.

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