Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis
Blue Wild Indigo or Blue False Indigo, (Baptisia australis) is an herbaceous perennial and member of the pea family. The genus name is derivative of the ancient Greek word, bapto, which means “immerse”, while the detailed name australis is Latin for “southern”. Other common names include Indigo Weed, Rattleweed, Rattlebush and Horse Fly Weed. The plants’ dye is regularly substituted for that of the superior dye attained from the Indigofera tinctoria, which affirms the common name “blue false indigo.”
It inhabits much of central and eastern North America, but is primarily dominant in the Midwest. However, it has been successfully established well beyond these natural ranges. The plant demands low maintenance and is very resilient. It generally stands about 3 feet tall and 2 feet broad, although it may reach heights of 5 feet and a width of a little over 3 feet. Its deep blue flowers that emerge in late spring and early summer make Blue Wild Indigo a favored addition to any garden. Florists commonly garnish flower arrangements with the seed pods, which contributes largely to its purpose for cultivating. Many Native American tribes utilized various parts of the plant for many purposes. They would use the deep blue blooms as a source of blue dye, and homeopathic concoctions made from the roots were created to treat tooth aches and nausea.
Blue Wild Indigo thrives best in well-drained, stony soil rid of lime in full sun to part shade. It prefers direct sun and only requires watering when there has been little rainfall. In the fall, the leaves tend to drop, but this can be avoided by trimming the dead stems as they die back. The plant is most hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. It grows wildly at the edge of woods, beside streams, or in open meadows. It sometimes suffers complication seeding itself in nature due to parasitic weevils that invade the seed pods, producing low amounts of viable seeds.
The plants are upright and emerge from the rhizomatic network with deep, branched roots which aid the plant in periods of drought. When the roots are removed from the earth, they appear woody and black in color with wart-like nodules. The stems are stout and hairless. When broken, a sap secretion is released that turns dark blue upon exposure to the air. The grey-green, trifoliate leaves are organized alternately with further divisions of clover-like, oval-shaped leaflets. The leaves appear about one month before flowering and are discarded about one month after the pods are formed. Light blue to deep violet pea-like flowers are displayed from upright terminal racemes emerging at the pinnacle. The flowers reproduce bisexually and bloom from April through August. The fruit is a bluish black color and oblong shaped with a sharp tip at the apex. The hardened pod ranges in length from 1 to 3 inches by 0.5 to 1 inch broad. When a plant reaches maturity, many freely arranged kidney-shaped seeds of yellowish brown color develop inside the plant. Once the seeds reach full maturity, the stems become a silvery grey color and break off from the roots. The pods remain attached and are carried by the wind along with the stems to other locations to reproduce.
Blue Wild Indigo has many medical advantages. It gives relief to infection, runny nose, fever, and even functions as a laxative. However, this plant is considered toxic and must only be taken under instruction of a qualified practitioner. It is not for use extensively or if pregnant.
Native Americans learned how to make tea from the root of the Blue Wild Indigo plant to help induce vomiting and also to provide relief to diarrhea. A cold tea was administered to end vomiting, a warm, moist root extract compress was used as an anti-inflammatory, and tiny bits of root held in the mouth helped rid toothaches. There has been investigation for the use of this plant as a potential stimulant for the immune system. Some remedies for pneumonia, tuberculosis, influenza have been produced from extraction of an active ingredient in the stem of the Blue Wild Indigo. Native’s also utilized the plant for smallpox treatments and external cleansing wash. In early 19th century, attempts were made to treat typhoid fever from the plant extract. Now days, the plant is utilized for treatments of infection in the upper respiratory tract, common cold, tonsillitis, stomatitis, inflammation of mucous membrane, fever, ointment for ulcers, and inflamed nipples. Ironically, over-medicating can cause some of the same ailments it treats including, vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal discomfort.
There are still many other purposes for the plant. Some have used Blue Wild Indigo as a fly repellent near farm animals. There is also evidence of the plant being utilized in Witchcraft for creating spells of protection. It has been said that keeping a leaf of Blue Wild Indigo in your pocket will bring you protection.