Wild Indigo

A genus of 20 or more species of hardy N American perennials. One or two are grown as border plants for their yellow, white, or blue lupine-like flowers. Charles Millspaugh (Medicinal Plants, 1892, republished as American Medicinal Plants, 1974) wrote of B. tinctoria, "young shoots of this plant resemble in form those of asparagus, and are used especially in New England, in lieu of that herb for pottage". The name is derived from the Greek bapto, "to dye", since some species yield dyes. Baptisia tinctoria grows in dry woodlands and prairies from Massachusettes to Florida, and was well known to various native N American tribes before entering the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (1831-42). The Mohicans and Meskwaki made a decoction of the roots as an antiseptic wash for wounds. Other species such as B. australis, B. bracteata (syn. B. leucophaea), and B. lactea (syn. B. leucantha) are also used medicinally.

Erect, much-branched perennial with clover-like leaves to 8cm (3in) across, and arching racemes, to 10cm (4in) long, of small, yellow pea flowers in summer, followed by brown pods, 1cm (3/8in) long.

Common Name:
Wild Indigo
Other Names:
Indigoweed, rattleweed
Botanical Name:
Baptisia tinctoria
Native Location:
Eastern N America
Well-drained, sandy soil in sun. Large roots resent disturbance.
By seed sown when ripe; by division in early spring.
Roots are lifted in autumn and dried for use in decoctions, liquid extracts, and tinctures. They can be kept for up to two years.
1.2m (4ft)
60cm (24in)
Parts Used:
An acrid, bitter, antiseptic herb that stimulates the immune system and is particularly effective against bacterial infections. It also lowers fever and has laxative and emetic effects.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for tonsilitis, pharyngitis, and upper respiratory tract infections; excess causes nausea and vomiting. Externally for boils, ulcers, gum disease, sore nipples, and vaginitis. Regarded in Ayurvedic medicine as a cooling alterative, which can have deleterious effect if take for too long or in excess. Combines well with Capsicum frutescens (see tabasco pepper), Commiphora myrrh (see myrrh), and Echinacea purpurea (see echinacea) for throat infections; with Arctium lappa (see burdock), Phytolacca americana (see Indian poke), and Viola odorata (see violet) for boils and swollen lymph glands; and with Cephaelis ipecacuanha (see ipecac) for aphthous ulcer. Used in homeopathy for influenza and sore throat associated with nervous exhaustion.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pp 140-141