Wild indigo, a perennial herb that originates in the eastern United States, grows annually from Maine to Florida and west to Minnesota. Widely used in the U.S. and Europe, its anti-viral properties make it a popular plant for removing toxins and treating a variety of conditions. This herb also goes by the names rattlebush, baptisia, clover broom, shoofly, yellow indigo, horsefly or indigo weed, and false indigo.
The wild indigo plant has a deep root system and contains both fruit and flowers. Half-inch, bright yellow blooms flourish in the summertime on the top branches. Pea-sized, capsule-shaped, blue-black fruit pods hold several seeds and sit on a stalk. Blue-green leaves, which turn black in color when drying out, sprout from a 2- to 3-foot-high stem.
This herb prefers rich, well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. Soak stored seeds in warm water for a day before planting them in late winter or early spring. Once planted, leave it alone and exposed to full sunlight. When the seeds transform into seedlings, place each in a separate pot, then move them to a permanent position in spring or summer when the plants grow larger.
North American Indians boiled the roots of wild indigo and used it as an antiseptic to treat various ailments, such as wounds and skin disorders. Some of the earliest Americans made dyes from the herb, and herbalists in Europe used it for treating throat, mouth, gum and lymph node infections and ulcers.
Doctors used extracts from wild indigo to alleviate typhoid fever, leading to the approval of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in the early 1800s. Today, doctors recommend its usage in combination with other herbs to improve the body's immune system.
Wild indigo has many uses. Combined with thuja and echinacea, the wild indigo herb can help alleviate the aches and pains of the common cold and flu. Mouthwash contains extracts from the roots, which can also be used to treat mouth sores, canker sores, sore throats and gum disease. The herb also helps relieve tonsillitis, pharyngitis and other upper respiratory infections. In small doses, use wild indigo as a laxative.
However, the plant's use isn't just for medicinal purposes. Some farmers use it to ward off flies from horse stables by fastening bunches of the herb to the harnesses.
Form, Dosage and Side Effects
Take the wild indigo herb in the form of an infusion or a tincture. For an infusion, boil 1/2 tsp. in a cup of water for 10 to 15 minutes and drink two or three times a day. For the tincture, fill a dropper once or twice and take two to three times a day. Since it tastes bitter, you may want to add a sweetener.
Large doses of the herb may be toxic and cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, respiratory paralysis and even death. Also, if you're expecting a child or nursing, avoid consuming wild indigo.