Vivid green leaves are bisected with a lightning-bolt of white. A tall pale stalk of white flowers rises from this small, ground-level rosette of leaves. This is rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia), a distinctive little plant that grows in Northern California (and many other parts of the country).It’s in the orchid family–look close and you’ll see the flowers have the typical orchid look, of a mouth gaping open with a cute little tongue hanging out. I’ve usually seen them growing in shady forested understories.
Apparently rattlesnake plantain can be used as a chewing gum, but though many places repeat that fact I haven’t yet found any information about which parts or how it is used. Traditionally, it was thought to have medicinal properties–particularly having to do with childbirth. It was chewed to help ease delivery and also to affect the sex of the baby–but again, there’s no details about this. It was also used in assorted other treatments for things such as colds, rheumatism, toothache and stimulating the appetite.