Health benefits of Wild Indigo

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Wild Indigo Quick Facts
Name: Wild Indigo
Scientific Name: Baptisia tinctoria
Origin Mainly along the southern Canada and Eastern Side of the United States from Maine to Minnesota and all the way south to Florida
Colors Green at first then turning blue black at maturity
Shapes 2-3 cm long greatly distended, cylindrical pods with a leathery shell
Taste Bitter, Astringent, Pungent
Health benefits Immune System, Pain Relief, Respiratory Health, Skin Health, Gastrointestinal Health, Common Cold, Improve Oral Health, Lymphatic System
Baptisia tinctoria also known as yellow false indigo, wild indigo is an herbaceous perennial plant in the family Fabaceae. The plant is native mainly along the southern Canada and Eastern Side of the United States from Maine to Minnesota and all the way south to Florida, but typically no further than southeast of Louisiana. As it is rare in some parts of its range, it is protected by some state authorities: in Kentucky it is threatened; in Maine it is considered endangered.  Few of the popular common names of the plant are Wild indigo, yellow wild indigo, dyer‘s baptisia, false indigo, horsefly weed, indigo broom, indigo weed, rattle bush, rattle weed, yellow broom, clover bloom, Baptisia, yellow indigo, American indigo, broom-clover, shoofly, blue false indigo, blue wild indigo, indigo carmine and wild indigo root.

The common name of Horsefly weed comes from the old folk use of tying bunches of the plant to the harness of horses where it was said to repel horseflies. The genus name Baptisia is from the Greek word bapto, meaning ‘to dye’ as a dye can be made from the plant but it is inferior. The species name tinctoria, comes from Latin word which means ‘used in dying’.

Plant Description

Wild Indigo is a small, erect, much-branched, upright herbaceous perennial plant that grows about 2 to 3 feet tall. The plant is found growing in dry fields, well drained fields and borders, clearings and on the edges of woodlands, sparse deciduous and conifer forests, deforested areas and roadsides, dry meadows, oak barrens, Pine Barrens and open woods.  The plant prefers a deep, rich, dry to medium, well-drained neutral to slightly acid soil in full sun. It also grows freely in a loamy soil. The plant has a short root stock which is almost woody. Exterior is grey-brown whereas interior is yellowish and filled with numerous light colored fiber. The plant has smooth, glabrous, round, branched, erect stems. Barks are rather scaly or dotted with wart-like outgrowths, and are brown in color.


The leaves are tripartite and alternate, with oblanceolate stalk less (or with very minute stalks) 1 inch long leaflets that have bluntly pointed tips and smooth margins, and a gray-green color on the upper side, the entire leaf on a short stalk. The leaf underside is paler in color, showing a fine vein network between the lateral veins. There is a pair of small stipules at the base of the leaf stalk. Leaves appear about one month before the flowers. Leaves turn black upon drying.


The inflorescence is a loosely constructed terminal raceme of a few flowers at the top of stems above the leaves. Each plant can have numerous racemes. Flowers are perfect, to 1/2 inch long (smaller than other Baptisias) and are on short stalks with corollas in bright yellow, but like most Baptisias, there can be significant variation in color. Green calyx is tubular with 5 pointed lobes while the corolla forms a pea-type flower consisting of 5 petals with the large banner petal turned upward with a notch at the center, and the sides reflexed backward. There are two lateral petals projecting forward which enclose the two keel petals that are usually of a lighter shade, which in turn, house the reproductive parts, which include 10 stamens with yellow anthers and a single style.


Fertile flowers produce a small ellipsoid shaped inflated seed pod about 3/4 inch long, with a strong ridge line, and with the calyx firmly attached to the flower stalk at one end, but separated on the stalk from the pod itself, and the remains of the style at the other. The pod is green at first then turning black at maturity. The pod contains a number of brown kidney shaped seeds which are loose in the pod when mature (causing a rattle – hence one of the alternate names of Rattleweed). The pod splits open along its ridge line at maturity to release the seeds by wind or bird dispersion. As the stems and racemes become somewhat woody, pods frequently over-winter and provide winter interest. Seeds can be germinated in the spring after cold storage and stratification, but not all will be viable.


Baptisia comes from the Greek word for dye and tinctoria comes from the Latin word for dye, all of which slightly redundantly gets the point across that this is a dye plant which was used by early Americans as a substitute, although 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.

Health Benefits of Wild Indigo

Listed below are few of the popular health benefits of using Wild Indigo herb:

1. Immune System

The major effects of Wild Indigo are related to the immune system, mainly when it comes to the treatment of infections. It has long been trusted on to clear up infections of the mouth, gums, and throat, as the powerful concentration of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components is able to quickly ease discomfort and eliminate any dangerous pathogens or bacteria present in those bodily systems. Research has also shown that the immune-modulatory effects of Wild Indigo on the propagation of white blood cells can help in strengthening your immune system, which is a very exciting development in alternative medicine.(1), (2)

2. Pain Relief

If you have focused pain in any area of your body, you can topically apply Wild Indigo and the analgesic properties of the herb will take over.  In traditional medicine, this was commonly done to the nipples for women with sensitivity in that area. This can also be used for those with wounds, post-surgery pain, and arthritic symptoms.(3)

3. Respiratory Health

If you are suffering from a sore throat or an inflamed respiratory system, which often happens with conditions like bronchitis or the flu, it can act as an expectorant, eliminating mucus and phlegm that can build up in your respiratory tracts and catch bacteria and pathogens.  The anti-inflammatory effects of Wild Indigo can also help to reduce irritation in the tracts and speed the healing process following a respiratory illness.(4)

4. Skin Health

Though skin ulcers are not the most common form of this condition, they do occur and need to be treated. Topical application of Wild Indigo herb can help to alleviate this condition and treat the underlying cause as well. In terms of other skin conditions, such as irritation, age spots, wrinkles, and blemishes, Wild Indigo can also be used to soothe inflammation.(5)

5. Gastrointestinal Health

Those people who have suffered from an ulcer know that it can be extremely painful and difficult to treat, so a natural solution is obviously quite valuable. In traditional medicine, Wild Indigo was frequently used to treat gastric ulcers, due to its anti-inflammatory abilities and specific antioxidant effects that caused a reduction in the size of ulcers and helped to prevent their further development. (6)

6. Common Cold

Although this may seem to fall under the category of the immune system, the powerful effects that Wild Indigo has been shown to have on the common cold and influenza deserve its own classification.  If you have a weak immune system and are frequently ill, then adding Wild Indigo herbal supplementation may be a wise choice. (7)

7. Improve Oral Health

Many people have poor oral health but don’t even know about it, as it is frequently only evidenced by bad breath, minor pain, or some bleeding while brushing. Wild Indigo is particularly effective at treating oral conditions like gingivitis and infections of the teeth and gums.

8. Lymphatic System

It can be difficult to treat certain organ systems of the body, and Wild Indigo cannot always do it alone. This herb is commonly combined with other herbal substances, such as pokeroot and cleaver, for issues of the lymphatic system, such as inflamed lymph nodes, which is often the sign of an infection. Again, the naturally antiseptic and antibacterial nature of Wild Indigo can help prevent these small issues from progressing into something more serious.

Traditional uses and benefits of Wild Indigo

  • Wild indigo was a favorite medicine of the N. American Indians, a decoction of the roots being used as an antiseptic wash for wounds and skin complaints.
  • Modern research has shown that this acrid bitter herb encourages the immune system and is mostly effective against bacterial infections.
  • Tea made from the roots is cholagogue, emetic, febrifuge and purgative.
  • Fresh root is also considered to be antiseptic, astringent and laxative.
  • Infusion is used in the treatment of upper respiratory infections such as tonsillitis and pharyngitis, and is also valuable in treating infections of the chest, gastro-intestinal tract and skin.
  • Plant’s antimicrobial and immune-stimulant properties combat lymphatic problems, when used with detoxifying herbs such as Arctium lappa it helps to reduce enlarged lymph nodes.
  • It is frequently recommended, along with Echinacea, in the treatment of chronic viral infections or chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Decoction of the root soothes sore or infected nipples and infected skin conditions.
  • When used as a mouth wash or gargle the decoction treats mouth ulcers, gum infections and sore throats.
  • Fresh root, including the bark, is used to make a homeopathic medicine.
  • It is used especially in the treatment of certain types of flu.
  • It possesses wound healing properties and treats Cuts, Boils, Injuries, Ulcers and Infection. It is applied topically over cuts and scratches.
  • It also treats inflammation caused by boils, ulcers and injuries.
  • The topical application of herb destroys and prevents the growth of ulcers and boils.
  • It reconstructs the skin tissues and repairs the injured part of the body.
  • It is an effective mouthwash. It heals mouth ulcers, gingivitis and controls pyorrhea.
  • Herb decoction treats canker sores, gum infections and sore throat. It also treats Gum Inflammation.
  • It treats ear, nose and mouth infections.
  • It capably treats upper respiratory tract infections.
  • It cures nasal congestion or blockage.
  • It treats gastric problems, indigestion and peptic ulcers. It relieves vomiting, gastric fever and pain in the gastric region.
  • It treats problems related with unhealthy Abdomen. It treats soreness in the gallbladder, diarrhea and blood in stool.
  • It efficiently regularizes the menstrual flow. It prevents delayed and painful menses.
  • Tea of the root was used as a laxative and antiseptic, as a wash for cramps and wounds, and gargled for sore throats.
  • It has also historically been used to treat typhus and scarlet fever.
  • Amongst the Cherokee, it was commonly prepared as a remedy for toothaches by simply pulping the root and pressing against the tooth.
  • Decoction of the root was said to alleviate cramps of the stomach and intestines when rubbed directly on the area.
  • Internally, decoction was made to address severe coughing with blood, and also used as a tonic kidney remedy.
  • Beach recommended using the bark in a strong decoction to treat nearly every kind of sore, from sprains and bites to sore eyes and gangrene.
  • Beach recommends a preparation of a strong decoction thickened with slippery elm and applied locally to irritated or inflamed tissues.
  • It was applied in typhoid fever, peritonitis, typhus and venereal diseases.
  • Powdered herb was applied to scrofulous swellings‖ and abscesses.
  • Native Americans commonly used the plant in poultices to treat snake bites.
  • Canadian tribes used the plant to treat gonorrhea and kidney disease and are also used as an expectorant.
  • 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.
  • Wild indigo is effective in treating chronic viral conditions and chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • 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.
  • Douches are made from these forms to treat leucorrhea a whitish or yellowish vaginal discharge.
  • Its antimicrobial and immune-stimulant qualities combat lymphatic problems; and, when used with detoxifying herbs, help to reduce enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Baptisia tea was used internally and externally as a wash for smallpox.
  • Decoction of Wild Indigo and Juniperus osteosperma was used as a kidney medication.
  • Poultice from Wild Indigo root was used to treat snake bite wounds.
  • It has also been found to be of use in the treatment of infections of the ear, nose and throat.
  • Wild Indigo helps to treat a toothache.

Other Facts

  • This species is related to the tropical plant Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) and, like that species, contains a blue dyestuff in the leaves.
  • Dyestuff is only contained in very low concentrations, however, and a very large quantity of leaves would be required to obtain reasonable quantities of indigo.
  • Yellow dye can also be obtained from the plant.
  • If the growing plant is harvested and hung up, it is said to repel flies.
  • Wild Indigo also has a reputation for protecting horses and mules from flies by attaching the plant to the harness explaining the common name of horsefly weed.
  • Young Indian boys used the pods as rattles when they pretended to take part in ceremonial dances.


  • The plant is poisonous in large quantities.
  • It may cause Irritation of the eyes.
  • It may also cause dermatitis.
  • Avoid with inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases.
  • Caution is advised in the internal use of this plant, large or frequent doses are potentially harmful.
  • It may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and asphyxiation.
  • Large doses may be toxic. It may even cause death.
  • Consultation with a qualified Health care practitioner is must before use.
  • Avoid use during Pregnancy.
  • A person with autoimmune disorder should avoid using it.
  • Small children should only be recommended this herb under the guidance of a qualified health care professional.






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