- Family Leguminosae (Fabaceae)
- Baptisia tinctoria
- Baptisia bracteata
- Horse-fly Weed, Rattlebush, Rattlepod, Indigo Broom, Yellow Wild Indigo, Plains Wild Indigo, False Indigo, Bastard Indigo
- Take only under professional supervision.
- Excess intake can be poisonous, although authorities do not agree on just how much is excessive.
The Fabiaceae/Leguminosea family is a very large one, consisting of some 400 genera and 10,000 species of plants of which Wild Indigo is but one. Native to eastern North America, Wild indigo grows from North Carolina to Canada in dry, hilly woods. It is an herbaceous perennial, growing to about four feet, having a smooth stem, cloverlike leaves, and purplish-blue flowers in small terminal clusters. The wild indigos are spectacular in flower; and, if they were easily propogated, they would be more common as an ornamental. Wild indigo seeds must be stratified for several weeks or scarified with a file to break their hard coat. Seeds gathered in the wild are often infested with weevils and should be frozen until ready to plant. However, all too often, the resulting seedlings are weak and often die.
Native Americans commonly used the plant in poultices to treat snake bites, and European settlers learned to do the same.
Young Indian boys used the pods as rattles when they pretended to take part in ceremonial dances.
The Mohicans and Penobscots used a decoction of the root to bathe cuts and wounds.
Native Americans also used the root to make a tea to treat fevers, scarlet fever, typhoid and pharyngitis. Externally, the herb was used in an ointment for sores.
Canadian tribes used the plant to treat gonorrhea and kidney disease, and an expectorant.
The plant was also useful as a dye with the leaves, yielding an indigo colour, and hence its name. The wood also yields a red colour.
The Pawnee ground the seeds, mixed them with buffalo fat, and applied the “ointment” to the abdomen to treat colic.
The Mesquakies used the white wild indigo (B. lactea) to promote vomiting and to treat eczema. They also boiled it and applied it to long-standing sores and to the nasal membranes to treat catarrh. For knife or ax wounds, they would mix the stems and twigs of the white indigo with the bark of the sycamore.
Wild Indigo was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1831 to 1842 and in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1936.
German research indicates that extracts from Baptisia species are potential stimulants to the immune system.
Yellow wild indigo contains the alkaloid anagyrine, while the white wild indigo contains the alkaloids baptisin and cytisine. The wild blue indigo contains several alkaloids, including cystisine, N-methylcytisine, sparteine, anagyrine, rhombifoline, tinctorine, and lupaninne. Most are toxic in isolation, but no human poisonings have ever been reported. However, the plants should still be used with extreme caution.
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. Externally, these forms make a good wash for skin infections, or made into ointments to treat sore nipples or painless ulcers. 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, helps to reduce enlarged lymph nodes.
Prescribed with echinacea, wild indigo is effective in treating chronic viral conditions and chronic fatigue syndrome.
A decoction of the root soothes sore or infected nipples and other skin conditions.
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 typoid cases with prostration and fever, as well as diphtheria, influenza, malaria, septic angina, and typhus.