Other Common Names:
The other common names for the wild indigo are Baptisia, indigo-weed, yellow indigo, American indigo, yellow broom, indigo-broom, cloverbroom, broom-clover, horsefly-weed, shoofly, rattlebush,blue false indigo, blue wild indigo,indigo carmine,rattleweed and wild indigo root.
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.
Wild Indigo was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1831 to 1842 and in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1936.Flowers give way to small inflated seed pods which turn black when ripe and have some ornamental interest. Seeds rattle around in the pods when ripe, thus giving rise to the sometimes common name of rattle weed for this species.
Wild Indigo grows about 2 to 3 feet in height and the clover like 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.
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. The fruit is a 2cm to 3cm long, greatly distended, blue-black pod with a leathery shell and almost kidney-shaped, knobbly seeds.
The Wild Indigo is native to southern Canada and the eastern and north-eastern United States and thus found widely distributed from Maine to Minnesota and south to Florida and Louisiana.
Wild Indigo thrives best in dry, sandy to clayey soils and sparse deciduous and conifer forests, deforested areas and roadsides. It thrives best on dry, poor soils, being seldom met with in alluviums and rich, loamy soils.
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. Wild indigo can be propagated through seeds, cuttings, and divisions. Seeds must be lightly scarified to break the hard exterior, using sandpaper, a knife, or an acid soak; and then soaked in warm water for 24 hours to increase the percentage of germination. Seedlings can also be grown indoors and transplanted, but this method can be stressful for the plants and result in low survival rates. Root divisions, planted on well-drained raised beds and covered with a thick layer of mulch to prevent weeds, have been successful. This can be done in the spring or fall; plants and rows should be spaced at least 18" apart. Cuttings have been advocated as the easiest means of propagation, as many can be taken from a mature plant. These can be taken any time from late spring to late summer, and planted after three months. Controlling weeds is important for successful cultivation, particularly in the first year. 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.
The bright yellow flowers of the Wild Indigo are in bloom from June to August.
Pests and Diseases
Root rot, fungalspots, blights, blotches nematodes and powdery mildew are some rarely occuring diseases seen in wild indigo. Sometimes it is disturbed by insects like agelgids, beetles and caterpillars.
The herbs and
the roots are the most commonly
used parts of the plant for
its medicinal and commercial value.
Medicinal and Commercial Applications
• The black root of wild indigo was used to make blue dye as well as to treat several types of infections; including those affecting the mouth and gums, lymph nodes, throat, and ulcers.1 in the past, wild indigo was used to treat more severe infections, such as typhus.
• Native Americans commonly used the plant in poultices to treat snake bites.
• The root of Wild Indigo is used treat fevers, scarlet fever, typhoid and pharyngitis.
• Externally, the herb was used in an ointment for sores, cuts and wounds.
• Canadian tribes used the plant to treat gonorrhea and kidney disease and are also used as an expectorant.
• The plant was also useful as a dye with the leaves, yielding an indigo colour and the wood also yields a red colour.
• The grounded seeds are mixed with buffalo fat and are applied as an ointment to the abdomen to treat colic.
• Research indicates that extracts from Baptisia species are potential stimulants to the immune system.
• A decoction of the root soothes sore or infected nipples and other skin conditions.
• Wild indigo is effective in treating chronic viral conditions and chronic fatigue syndrome.
• Homeopathic tinctures are used to treat gastrointestinal infections.
• Gargles and mouthwashes are used for infected mouth and throat conditions, including canker sores, gum infections, and sore throats.
• Wild indigo has also been used to treat septic and typhoid cases with prostration and fever, as well as diphtheria, influenza, malaria, septic angina, and typhus.
• The herb is particularly effective in infusions and decoctions for such upper respiratory infections as tonsillitis and pharyngitis, as well as chest and gastrointestinal infections.
• Douches are made from these forms to treat leucorrhea a whitish or yellowish vaginal discharge.
• Its antimicrobial and immunostimulant qualities combat lymphatic problems; and, when used with detoxifying herbs, help to reduce enlarged lymph nodes.