Wild Indigo





Wild Indigo
Baptisia tinctoria

Family:   Leguminosae
Genus:    Baptisia
Species:  tinctoria


Synonyms:  indigo weed, false indigo, yellow indigo, horsefly weed, American indigo, indigo broom, rattle bush, baptisia.

Description: This herbaceous perennial plant is about 3-6' tall and forms an erect, sparsely branched bush, although it is herbaceous.

The stout central stem and upper side stems are smooth, light green or reddish-purple, and glaucous.

The compound leaves are trifoliate. They are usually greyish-green or blue-green, and hairless. Each leaflet is ovate or oblanceolate and pointed at both ends, with smooth margins, and about 2" long and ¾" across.

The white flowers occur in erect spike-like racemes up to 2' long and are quite showy. They are typical pea flowers in overall structure, and about 1" long. There is no floral scent. The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1-1½ months. The flowers are replaced by large oblong seedpods, which are also rather showy. They are about 2" long and initially green, but later turn black. There is a stout deep taproot and rhizomes that may form vegetative offsets. Once established, White Wild Indigo grows very quickly during the spring – it often towers above the surrounding plants by blooming time.

Habitat: The native White Wild Indigo is widely distributed and occurs in almost every county of Illinois, but it is usually uncommon. In a few areas that are scattered around the state, this plant is locally common. Some local populations may be escaped cultivated plants, or the result of restoration efforts.

Habitats include moist to dry black soil prairies, sand prairies, thickets, edges of marshes and sandy marshes, borders of lakes, limestone glades, and dry clay hills. White Wild Indigo is typically found in less disturbed habitats, partly because of limited seed dispersion. Occasional wildfires are readily tolerated.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun and moist to slightly dry soil. The soil can contain significant amounts of loam, clay, gravelly material, or sand. This plant is not fussy about growing conditions and is easy to grow. However, it dislikes alkaline soil and may fail to bloom in shady conditions. Like other wild indigos, this plant may take several years to reach blooming size, but it is long-lived. The roots increase nitrogen levels in the soil.

Wild Indigo is native to the USA as can be seen above.  Here in Britain, we must buy it from a reputable supplier of herbs, but it is worth having this useful herb in the cupboard for its use against infection and other needs as will be seen below.  Having used this herb in the past I am of the opinion that the Herb Monograph for Wild Indigo is a useful one to have in the arsenal of the folk healer.

Parts used: Root.

Collection: The root is unearthed in the autumn after flowering.

Constituents: flavonoids (flavones and isoflavones), an alkaloid (cytisine, baptitoxin), glycosides, oleoresin, coumarins, resin.

Actions: antimicrobial, antipyretic, antiseptic, mild cardioactive agent, anticatarrhal, febrifuge, circulatory stimulant, anti-infective, alterative, chologogue, laxative, astringent, emetic.

Indications: tonsillitis, pharyngitis, acute catarrhal infections, lymphadenitis, furunculosis, aphthous ulcers, stomatitis, gingivitis, fevers; topically for indolent ulcers, sore nipples, douche for leucorrhoea. Specifically indicated in infection of the upper respiratory tract.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Wild Indigo is of value in the treatment of infections and catarrh of the ear, nose and throat. It may be used for laryngitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis and catarrhal infections of the nose and sinus.

Taken both internally and as a mouthwash, it will help to heal mouth ulcers and gingivitis.

It is used to treat enlarged and inflamed lymph glands and also to reduce fevers.

Externally an ointment will help infected ulcers and boils and will ease sort nipples.

A douche of the decoction will help leucorrhoea (a whitish or yellowish discharge of mucus from the vagina.)

Contraindications: Large doses have caused poisoning, and have a purgative and emetic effect.

Preparation and Dosage:

Decoction:  Put one teaspoonful of the dried root in a cup of boiling water, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, and drink 3 times a day.

Tincture:    1-2 ml. in a little warm water and drink three times a day.

Folklore and Addition comments:

The plant takes its name from the Greek bapto, to immerse.  Any herb that’s Species (special name) is tinctoria is a herb that can be used to produce a dye.

It is always difficult when the herb in question originates and grows in somewhere other than Britain.   It is usually the indigenous peoples that held the knowledge of the folklore of their land, and in this case, the indigenous Indian tribes held their knowledge close to themselves.  The only bits of folklore I can find relates to the Tribal medicine women (the medicine men mostly spoke to the spirits, it was the women who did most of the healing) who used the herb for exactly what it would be used for today.   Although the seed pods, which are quite large and tend to rattle when dried, were apparently used by the young boys of the tribe when dancing or in ritual.