Wild Indigo – Baptisia tinctoria

Wild Indigo - Baptisia tinctoria, photos by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 42

Latin name:

Baptisia tinctoria

Common Name:

Wild indigo, yellow false indigo, horsefly weed

Family:

Fabaceae (Legume family)

Lifespan:

Long-lived shrubby perennial

Reproduction:

Wild indigo is pollinated by bees in spring. After several months the plant fully matures, turning grey and breaking off from the root system, and turning into a tumbleweed that gradually releases the seeds from its pods as it blows around.

Geographic Region:

Baptisia tinctoria lives in the eastern half of the U.S. Specifically, it is found in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. It is also found in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Habitat:

Wild Indigo prefers well-drained soil and thrives in full sun. It is commonly found in meadows and is sometimes found along the sides of roads.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:

Wild Indigo is particularly sensitive to disturbance to its soil, and once it has been established, disturbing its roots can be detrimental to the health of the plant.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Baptisia tinctoria is “Threatened” in Kentucky and “Endangered” in Maine.

Baptisia tinctoria has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Wild indigo was used historically to induce vomiting, clean cuts and wounds, and as a remedy for gonorrhea. It was also used non-medicinally as an inferior substitute for indigo in dyes.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species and Lookalikes:

Several species of butterfly and moth caterpillars use wild indigo as a source of food. It is also one of the only food sources for the larvae of the wild indigo duskywing butterfly (Erynnis baptisiae).

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

Always consult your doctor before taking any new medications or supplements, and use cultivated plants over wild-harvested. Once established, this plant can make a lovely addition to a meadow or cottage garden.

Citations:

  • Chandler, R. Frank, Lois Freeman and Shirley N. Hooper, 1979, Herbal Remedies of the Maritime Indians, Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1:49-68, page 55.
  • Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey, 1975, Cherokee Plants and Their Uses — A 400 Year History, Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co., page 40.
  • Tantaquidgeon, Gladys, 1972, Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians, Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Historical Commission Anthropological Papers #3, pages 37, 70, 128.
  • Speck, Frank G., 1917, Medicine Practices of the Northeastern Algonquians, Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Americanists Pp. 303-321, page 311.
  • USDA, (n.d.), Plants Profile for Baptisia tinctoria (horseflyweed), Retrieved August 18, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=BATI

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