When you hear “Queens’s Delight”, what first comes to mind? Queen Elizabeth with her Corgis? Scottish candy? USA Royal Jelly with bee pollen? Cock-up hat? Nettle potato? Yaw-root? The last 3 are common names for the plant scientifically named Stillingia sylvatica, or Stillingia texana if in Texas. In the spurge (Euphorbiaceae) family, this evasive plant hides within the plant community often unseen. Wildcrafters know of its unique red root, but Queen’s Delight bleeds a milky white sap when cut as does its relative the Poinsettia.
About 30 species live in the tropics and warmer climates of America, but a few species make it into the southern part of the US. Toothy glands line the leaf edges. All these species are known as toothleafs. Only starving animals will eat the plants as the toxic juices are quite bitter. If indeed ingested by a cow, goat, yak, llama, deer or giraffe, the cyanogenic glycosides in the sap are converted into free cyanide and released into the rumen, second of four chambers of the ruminant’s stomach. That said, only one species, Trecul’s Toothleaf (only grows in southern Texas and northeast Mexico) has caused problems. Sheep have eaten the plant during drought and quickly died of respiratory failure. Poor sheep. Sheep have been proven to be very sensitive and quite intelligent (some as sharp as humans), form bonds/friendships, and stand up for each other (better than many humans). They were extremely hungry to have eaten that spurge. Where was their shepherd?
Queen’s Delight is a drought-tolerant perennial that can handle sandy, acid or alkaline soils. The Queen’s Delight growing near my house tenaciously holds onto the crumbling clay bank along the ditch by the road. It keeps company with Maximilian sunflowers, daisy fleabane and a few Coreopsis. The shrub vanishes in the fall and emerges during the spring from woody roots and rhizomes. Thick upright stalks lined with bright green thick leaves fan out from the base. Light yellow flower spikes arise from the tops of the stalks. They resemble emaciated corn cobs. Typical of euphorbs, the multiple male flowers with no petals, form above the female flowers, but the females bloom at a different time, making sure the gene pool is enriched with new plant DNA. In other words, pollen must come from another plant, not the same plant. Prevents inbreeding, and pollen can travel great distances.
Native tribes thought the root repelled fleas. Dried root is less toxic than fresh, but concoctions of Queen’s Delight have been used for detoxification, as a purgative, treatment for constipation, bronchitis and skin diseases. There are safety issues since little formal research has been done on this spurge. On the other hand, the oils show potential to function as a drying oil for paints and varnishes.
Why is it called Queen’s Delight? One account mentions its use as a treatment for syphilis in Europe. Columbus brought sugar and horses to the New World. Skeletal evidence indicates when Columbus returned to Spain, he brought back not only tobacco, turkeys and Native Americans but also syphilis. Check out the ‘Columbian Theory for Syphilis.’ Were the man and his crew responsible for introducing one of the first global diseases? Go Columbus. It is possible in the 1700’s Queen Isabella of Spain learned toothleaf was used as a follow-up to mercury treatment for syphilis bacteria in the colonies. She may have imported plants…something worked….happy queen….Queens’ Delight. Myth or mythology, but a great story. Today syphilis is conquered by penicillin.
If you want a cool compact plant that basically stays an attractive green through the season and only reaches 3 to 4 feet in height, wait for the fruit capsules to turn dark. Collect a few seed pods, store them in a brown paper sack where they can dry. When ripe the pods split open releasing small seeds. Plant just below the soil surface in either the spring or autumn. You will be delighted.
Or just go visit the Ice Queen Delight in Edcouch, Texas (close to Padre Island) and order a raspa (southern Texas snow cone) or the Marranada (Melted cheese over hot Cheetos, corn and chili) or the cucumber-lime Italian Ice. Dessert and veggies at the same time.
“The ground we walk on, the plants and creatures, the clouds above constantly dissolving into new formations—each gift of nature possessing its own radiant energy, bound together by cosmic harmony.” Ruth Bernhard. Ruth was a photographer and colleague of Ansel Adams. She once said she was interested in the little things that nobody observes or thinks are of any value. Now you know about Queen’s Delight!