Herbs & Plants

Baptisia tinctoria, Wild Indigo

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Botanical Name:Baptisia tinctoria
Pea (Fabaceae)
B. tinctoria
Common Names:Baptisia, indigo-weed, yellow indigo, American indigo, yellow broom, indigo-broom, cloverbroom, broom-clover, horsefly-weed, shoofly, rattlebush.

Habitat:This native herb grows on dry, poor land, and is found from Maine to Minnesota, south to Florida and Louisiana.

Wild indigo (also called yellow wild indigo) is an upright, smooth, shrubby perennial which typically grows 2-3′ tall and occurs in open woods and fields from Maine to Florida and west to Minnesota. It features small, bright yellow to cream, pea-like flowers (to 1/2″ long) in numerous, sparsely-flowered clusters (terminal racemes to 4-5″) on stems extending above a foliage mound of stalkless, clover-like, trifoliate, gray-green leaves (leaflets to 1″ long). Blooms in late spring to early summer. Flowers give way to small inflated seed pods which turn black when ripe and have some ornamental interest.(CLICK & SEE) Seeds rattle around in the pods when ripe, thus giving rise to the sometimes common name of rattleweed for this species. Baptisia comes from the Greek word for dye and tinctoria comes from the Latin word for dye, all of which somewhat redundantly gets the point across that this is a dye plant which was used by early Americans as a substitute, albeit an inferior one, for true indigo (genus Indigofera) in making dyes.

Many who have been brought up in the country will recognize in the wild indigo the plant so frequently used by farmers, especially in Virginia and Maryland, to keep flies away from horses, bunches of it being fastened to the harness for this purpose.
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Wild Indigo grows about 2 to 3 feet in height and the cloverlike blossoms and leaves will show at once that it belongs to the same family as the common clover, namely, the pea family (Fabaceae.) It is an erect, much-branched, very leafy plant of compact growth, the 3-leaved, bluish green foliage somewhat resembling clover leaves. The flowers, as already stated, are like common clover flowers-that is, not like clover heads, but the single flowers composing these; they are bright yellow, about one-half inch in length and are produced in numerous clusters which appear from June to September. The seed pods, on stalks longer than the calyx, are nearly globular or ovoid and are tipped with an awl shaped style.

Another species, said to possess properties similar to those of Baptisia tinctoria and substituted for it, is B. alba R. Br., called the white wild indigo. This plant has white flowers and is found in the Southern States and on the plains of the Western States……..CLICK & SEE

Root: Wild Indigo has a thick, knotty crown or head, with several stem scars, and a round, fleshy root, sending out cylindrical branches and rootlets almost 2 feet in length. The white woody interior is covered with a thick, dark brown bark, rather scaly or dotted with small, wartlike excrescences. The root breaks with a tough, fibrous fracture. There is a scarcely perceptible odor and the taste, which resides chiefly in the bark, is nauseous, bitter and acrid...CLICK & SEE

Cultivation: Wild indigo thrives in dry open areas with a little shade. The beans can be sown after the last frost, or the plant can be sprouted indoors in flats and transplanted. The plants should be grown at least 24″ apart. It does not tolerate frost well. The root is harvested after the fruits ripen and the plant begins to die, generally in September of the second year but possibly earlier, depending on the climate. It thrives best in southern states with a long growing season.

Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Best in full sun. Tolerates drought and poor soils. Over time, plants form slowly expanding clumps with deep and extensive root systems, and should not be disturbed once established. Difficult to grow from seed and slow to establish. Plants take on more of a shrubby appearance and tend to open up after bloom. Light trimming or shearing foliage after bloom helps maintain rounded plant appearance and obviates any need for support, but eliminates the developing seed pods.

Collection:The root of Wild Indigo is collected in autumn, and brings from 4 to 8 cents a pound.

In some sections the young, tender shoots are used for greens, like those of pokeweed, but great care must be exercised to gather them before they are too far advanced in growth, as otherwise bad results will follow.

Cottage gardens, prairies, meadows and native plant gardens. Effective in naturalized settings. Best as a specimen or in small groups. May be used in borders, but flowers are smaller and less showy than many of the other Baptisias.A blue coloring matter has been prepared from the plant and used as a substitute for indigo, to which, however, it is very much inferior.

Medicinal Uses:
Large doses of Wild Indigo are emetic and cathartic and may prove dangerous. It also has stimulant, astringent and antiseptic properties, and is used as a local application to sores, ulcers, etc.

Although not as well known, false indigo is comparable to Echinacea.  The root is used to enhance the immune system and to combat infection.  The polysaccharides it contains have been shown to stimulate antibody production.  A few Native American tribes used the roots and sometimes the leaves both internally and externally to treat cancer.  It is considered particularly effective for upper respiratory infections such as tonsillitis and pharyngitis, and is also valuable in treating infections of the chest, gastrointestinal tract and skin.   Its anti-microbial and immunostimulant properties combat lymphatic problems.  When used with detoxifying herbs such as burdock, it helps to reduce enlarged lymph nodes.  It was once used to treat typhoid and scarlet fevers.  An astringent and antiseptic, it is an ingredient in ointments, poultices, and washes for skin ulcerations, infections, boils, and even staph infections.  Foul discharges with a dark purplish discoloration are definite indications for baptisia.   It is also added to douche formulas for vaginitis and taken as a tea, as well as a douche for cervical ulcerations.  False indigo has been recommended to reduce inflammatory diseases, including arthritis.  Prescribed along with Echinacea angustifolia for chronic viral conditions or chronic fatigue syndrome.  A decoction of the root soothes sore or infected nipples and infected skin conditions.  Used as a gargle or mouthwash, the decoction treats canker sores, gum infections, and sore throat. Solvent in alcohol and boiling water.

Preparations made from the roots and leaves were used by North American Indians (Mohicans and Penobscots) in poltices to treat bruises, snake bites and superficial lacerations. Such preparations have effective antiseptic properties.

Among the Cherokee and Iroquois, wild indigo is a traditional remedy for various sorts of pain, as well as for ailments of the liver and venereal disease. Among the Eclectic Physicians of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the plant was esteemed as a remedy in cases of intermittent fevers, typhus, and dysentery. Modern research has found that this plant stimulates the immune system. Although wild indigo is not extremely rare or extremely popular, it is uncommon in some parts of its range. If research into this plant makes it a popular remedy as it did for echinacea, there is a real possibility that wild indigo may disappear from these parts of its range.

Baptisia tinctora is used as a Homeopathic medicine (botanical). Homeopathic potencies accredit their strength and efficacy to the electromagnetic signatures of the original substrate; these are scientifically created dilutions and succussions of medicines such that generally not even a molecule of the original substrate or medicine is present in the medicine.

As a Homeopathic or used simply as a micro-nutritional, it has demonstrated effectiveness against the following symptomology: pulse frequent, full and soft; -chilly sensation over back and lower limbs; -thirst and flashes of heat over the face; feverishness with feeling all over as if bruised; great languor; feels sick all over, restless and uneasy; -difficult breathing, cannot get a full breath from lack of power in breathing organs; sharp pains in chest when taking a long breath; -restless sleep before midnight; -predominance of gastric symptoms; frontal headache, dizziness and sensation of weakness all over, especially lower limbs (Lilienthal) -indescribable sick feeling (Boericke).

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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