French Name—Indigo trefle.
German Name—Farbende Baptisia.
Officinal Names—Baptisia tinctoria, herba & radix.
Vulgar Names—Wild Indigo, Indigo weed, Horsefly weed, Yellow broom, Clover broom, Rattle-bush, Yellow Indigo.
Synonyms—Sophora tinctoria, Lin. Podalyria tinctoria, Mich. &c.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Michaux, Pursh, Elliot, Weems, Thacher Dispensary, Comstock, Schoepf, Bart. M. Med. fig. 29.
Genus BAPTISIA—Calix bilabiate, four cleft. Corolla papilionaceous, petals nearly equal, vexillum laterally reflexed. Stamina ten, free unequal. Pistil stipitate, ventricose, many seeded—Leaves ternate.
Species B. TINCTORIA—Very smooth and branched, leaves small nearly sessile, folioles cuneate, obovate, obtuse; racemes terminal, few flowered; pods ovate on long pedicles.
Description—Root perennial, large and woody, irregular, blackish outside, yellowish within, fibres lighter. Stems two or three feet high, round and smooth, yellowish green with black dots, very much ramified; but branches thin and with small leaves. These leaves are alternate, and with three folioles nearly sessile, obovate, smooth, of a bluish green; stipules minute, evanescent, oblong, acute.—Flowers bright yellow, in small loose spikes at the end of branches, pea like, but smaller.—Calix campanulate bilabiate, upper lip entire or notched, lower trifid.—Stamina inclosed deciduous.—Pistil single and stipitate, succeeded by a swelled oblong pod of a bluish black color, with a row of small rattling seeds.
History—This plant has the appearance of a small shrub and broom: it blossoms in July and August. The whole plant (even the flowers) often become black in the fall or in a herbarium; it dyes a kind of blue like Indigo; but greatly inferior. The young shoots are eaten like those of Poke in New-England, and are like it of a drastic nature. It is often used to keep off the flies from horses, as these insects appear to avoid it.
Several other species grow in the Southern and Western States, which have probably similar qualities. The B. australis with large blue flowers, very ornamental, grows on the banks of streams: the B. alba has white flowers, &c. These plants were annexed to Sophora by Linnaeus, and to Podalyria by other botanists, until properly separated by Ventenat, &c.
Baptisia belongs to the great natural order of LEGUMINOSE plants, (bearing pods,) and to the section Lomentaceous, having free stamina: also to DECANDRIA monogynia of Linnaeus.
Locality—Found all over the United States from Maine to Louisiana and Illinois, in woods, and on hills; it prefers dry and poor soils, is unknown in rich loamy soils, and seldom met in alluvions.
Qualities—The whole plant, but particularly the root, is nauseous, subacrid, subastringent, but inodorous. It is active and dangerous in its fresh state, if taken internally; but loses much of its action by long keeping, and by boiling. Its active principles are little known; it contains tannin, indigo, and an acid.
Properties—Astringent, antiseptic, febrifuge, diaphoretic, purgative, emetic and stimulant. It is a valuable remedy for all kinds of ulcers, even the foulest, either gangrenose, phagedenic, or syphilitic: also for almost every sore, such as malignant ulcerous sore throat, mercurial sore mouth, sore nipples, aphthous, chronic sore eyes, painful acrid sores, and every ulcerous affection. It must be used externally in strong decoction as a wash or in fomentation, also in poultice, or ointment with lard or cream.
This is one of the most powerful vegetable antiseptics in putrid disorder and in internal mortification, it may be given internally at the dose of half an ounce of a decoction, made with twenty times its weight of water. It stops gangrene, has cured Scarlatina anginosa, inverted uterus, and sometimes putrid and typhus fevers. As a cathartic and emetic, it is inconvenient and variable in results.
Substitutes—Kalmia latifolia—Charcoal—Tonic Barks—Rubus villosus—Collinsonia Canadensis—Solanum dulcamara & S. virginicum, &c.
Additions and corrections
14. BAPTISIA TINCTORIA—Useful against painful swellings in fomentations, and employed against snake bites by the northern Indians.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.