Star of Bethlehem Flower Information
The star of Bethlehem plant is a large, white or yellow flowers with five petals and two stamens. The leaves are green and have three leaflets each. They grow up to six inches long and are usually arranged in a wreath shape. The flowers last from one day to several weeks.
The star of Bethlehem flower is native to Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. It was introduced into Florida in 1874 by a German immigrant named Carl Friedrich Stahlecker (1846–1930). He brought it back when he settled there because he found it attractive during the winter months. However, it soon became established in Florida and spread rapidly throughout the state.
It now grows wild in all 50 states except Hawaii and Alaska.
It is not known exactly how many plants there are but estimates range between 500,000 and 1 million plants. Some experts believe that it may be extinct due to over harvesting and lack of water supply. It flowers during the months of December and January and grows in natural as well as cultivated fields.
The star of Bethlehem flower has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. It was used by the ancient Assyrians and Greeks to treat inflammations, convulsions and epilepsy. During the middle ages it was used to treat asthma, coughs, headaches, inflammations, menstrual pain, skin conditions, sore throats and toothaches. It was also used to make love potions, induce abortions and treat venomous bites.
Native Americans used it for treating skin conditions, wounds, toothaches and as an emetic (a substance that causes one to vomit).
The flowers contain a number of toxic compounds including pinocamphone, isopinocamphone, chrysophanol, atropine and scopolamine. When ingested by humans they can cause CNS (central nervous system) disturbances.
The star of bethlehem plant is easy to recognize. It has long, narrow leaves and is a beautiful white or yellow flower. The petals have 10 to 20 points and there are two prominent horns in the center. Several parts of the plant are edible, including the flower, leaves, stems and seeds.
The flowers can be eaten raw in salads or cooked and have a sweet taste. They can also be frozen or dried for later use. The leaves and stems can be eaten cooked or raw. They should be cooked only briefly to retain their flavor. The seeds are very small and can be eaten raw, cooked or dried and ground into flour. Most of the nutrition in the plant is in the seeds.
The star of bethlehem flower is an important food source for many animals. The seeds are often eaten by birds, rodents and deer.
The star of bethlehem plant is also called the astromeria, common candleflower, false garlic, florence stars, sego and wild ginger. The genus name ‘ajacis’ is from the Arabic word for thistle and the species name ‘nobilis’ means ‘noble.
Although it has several common names, the most common is ‘star of bethlehem’. This name is used for two reasons. First, the flowers are mainly white and resemble the common conception of a star of bethlehem. Second, the plant is found in Israel where it grows wild and was likely eaten by the wise men who followed the star of bethlehem to find baby Jesus.
The star of bethlehem plant is native to the eastern Mediterranean region. It is a member of the aster (aster) family and grows naturally in the wild in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Sudan, Eritrea and other nearby areas. It has been introduced to parts of North America, Australia, South America and throughout Asia.
The star of bethlehem is an often overlooked but important survival plant. It has a pleasant taste and can be eaten in a variety of ways. The plant can also be found growing in many areas and is easy to identify.
All parts of the plant are edible but some may have a bitter taste. The flowers, leaves, stems and seeds can all be eaten either cooked or raw. They can be used in a number of recipes or eaten as they are. The flowers have a sweet flavor rather like that of grapes.
The leaves can be eaten either raw or cooked. They should only be eaten raw when they are very young. Boiling the leaves will destroy some of their toxins but not enough to make them safe to eat. They can be eaten after being parboiled (partially boiled).
The seeds can be eaten either cooked or raw. They should never be eaten raw as this can cause nausea and even vomiting. Roasting or boiling them will make them safer to eat.
The roots of this plant will produce a thick white milk when boiled. This milk can be collected, let set until it becomes curdled and then eaten. It has a gentle flavor but is not very nutritious. It provides enough nourishment to supplement a meal but not enough to be used alone.
The star of bethlehem is a good source of vitamins A and C.
The star of bethlehem plant is fairly common in the wild and can often be found near areas where there is more moisture such as riverbanks. It also grows in dry areas but is much more plentiful in wetter locations.
It has a very short growing season, generally only sprouting after the spring rains and going to seed by midsummer. It’s an annual plant but it will often self seed and can survive for many years in the same area.
The star of bethlehem is easy to recognize. It has a sturdy stalk that can reach up to four feet in height. It is topped with groups of up to eight white rays which circle a yellow disk. The ray florets have a yellow reverse and the disk has a thick band of bright yellow in the center.
It is this bright coloration that makes it easy to spot. It often grows among grasses and is partly hidden but the colorful florets are visible from a distance.
There are a few other plants that resemble the star of bethlehem. One is called the Eastern Spiderwort which has a violet color rather than the white or yellow of the star of bethlehem. It also tends to have a hairy stem and grows in a much wider variety of locations.
The other is called the Purple Turtlehead but this plant has a purple flower rather than the white or yellow of the star of bethlehem. It also has a slightly hairy stem and grows in a wider variety of locations. It only grows to around twelve inches in height and doesn’t usually grow in groups like the star of bethlehem.
The leaves of the star of bethlehem are simple but uniquely shaped with a wavy edge. It should also be noted that it doesn’t have a strong odor and plants such as the dandelion or even the poison hemlock have a stronger distinctive smell.
If you are positive you have correctly identified the star of bethlehem plant then you can begin eating it.
CAUTION: Eating large amounts of star of bethlehem can make you very ill, if you are going to eat it, only eat a small amount the first time.
The roots of the flower can be used as a strong red dye. They produce the same color as that created by the roots of the common madder plant.
The roots can also be dried and ground up as a substitute for cinnamon. It doesn’t have quite the strength of flavor that regular cinnamon has, it is slightly weaker, but it is suitable in recipes calling for a “pinch of cinnamon.”
Other members of the aster family can be used as a source of yellow dye.
CAUTION: Other types of asters can cause a serious reaction when used as a dye. Always make a test patch to ensure there are no allergies or negative reactions.
Stuffed star of bethlehem has a lovely color and a mild flavor. It can be combined with other more strongly flavored wild plants such as dandelion or curly dock. It can also be used to lighten up stronger tasting meats.
Some suggested recipes are listed below:
Dandelion, curly dock and star of bethlehem stuffing:
1/2 C dried chopped star of bethlehem
1/2 C dried chopped curly dock
1/2 C dried chopped dandelion leaves
2 eggs slightly beaten
1 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp poultry herbs (poultry seasoning)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups bread crumbs (quick or unseasoned)
In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except for the bread crumbs. Moisten bread crumbs with hot water until they are slightly damp then stir them into the rest of the mixture. The consistency should be of a thick sloppy stuffing. Place in an oven safe casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.
Dandelion, curly dock and star of bethlehem pudding:
1 C dried chopped star of bethlehem
1 C dried chopped curly dock
1 C dried chopped dandelion leaves
1/2 C dried chopped onions or leeks
2 eggs slightly beaten
1 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp poultry herbs (poultry seasoning)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 cups flour (all purpose)
Mix together the first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Add enough milk to moisten the entire mixture. Slowly add in the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until it is all incorporated. Transfer to a well oiled casserole dish and cover with the lid or aluminum foil.
Place in a larger pan half filled with water. This prevents the bottom of the pudding from burning. Bake at 350 degrees for about 2 hours, testing occasionally until a toothpick comes out clean.
Stuffed star of bethlehem prosciutto:
2 cups chopped fresh uncooked star of bethlehem flower
5 lbs thinly sliced prosciutto (uncooked)
2 tbsp chopped fresh curly dock leaf (or 1 tbsp dried)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dandelion leaf (or 1 tbsp dried)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to mix well. Place a single layer of prosciutto in a casserole dish and cover with half of the flower mixture (reserving the rest for later use). Repeat this process until all of the ingredients are used up.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in your refrigerator for at least 2 days, stirring thoroughly every 12 hours.
After two days have passed, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Stir the now spoiled meat mixture one last time and pour into a baking dish. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 2 hours, again stirring thoroughly every 30 minutes.
After two hours have passed, remove the foil and let it brown for another 30 minutes. Let the prosciutto cool completely before wrapping it in cheesecloth or wax paper and storing it in your refrigerator.
2 qts dandelion flowers (pick the petals off of only the open flowers)
1 lb sugar
1/2 tsp yeast (you can pick this up at a brewing supply store or you can substitute wine/beer yeast)
1 lemon (juice and peel)
1 package strawberry jelly
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.
Sources & references used in this article:
Star of Bethlehem by GM Littlejohn – Flower Breeding and Genetics, 2007 – Springer
A school garden by N Leubrie – The Elementary School Teacher, 1905 – journals.uchicago.edu
Landscaping with Bulbs: Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletin A-99 by A Reilly – 1998 – books.google.com
Bulbs by LA Sagers – 2011 – digitalcommons.usu.edu
Wishing upon a star: Christmas tourism and urban renewal in Bethlehem, PA by C Taft – Journal of Planning History, 2013 – journals.sagepub.com
Foundation of American Literature by R Kluttz – 1977 – sapporo-u.repo.nii.ac.jp
Taylor’s Guide to Bulbs: How to Select and Grow 480 Species of Spring and Summer Bulbs by BW Ellis – 2001 – books.google.com