Indian Hemp Identification:
A perennial with opposite leaves that secretes a milky sap when bruised or broken, reaching 5 to 6 feet in height.
Leaves: Opposite, simple, lanceolate-oblong to ovate-oblong, 2 to 5 inches long, 1/2 to 1-1/2 Indian Hemp Flowers
inches wide, on short stalks or sessile, smooth, smooth above, sometimes silky hairy beneath, and have pointed or rounded ends with a short flexible point at the tip. The leaves turn golden-yellow in the fall.
Stems: Lack hairs, often have a reddish-brown tint when mature, become woody at the base, and are many-branched in the upper portions of the plant.
Roots: These plants may be found growing in colonies due to a long horizontal rootstock that develops from an initial taproot.
Flowers: Small, white to greenish-white, and produced in terminal clusters (cymes).
The flower size is 1/4 inch wide. Blooms first appear in late spring and continue into late summer. They appear in dense heads followed later by pods.
Fruit: The slender, pointed fruits turn reddish-brown when mature and develop into two long 4 to 5- inch long pods containing numerous seed with tufts of silky white hairs at their ends.
Note: The stems and leaves secrete a milky sap when broken. Sprouts emerging from the underground horizontal rootstock may be confused with Common Milkweed emerging shoots. However, Indian Hemp is not related to Milkweed, despite the milky sap and the similar leaf shape and growth habit.
Flowers: June – August.
Family: Apocynaceae ( Dogbane Family)
Other Names: Black Hemp, Black Indian Hemp, Canadian Hemp, American Hemp, Amy Root, Bowman;s Root, Bitterroot, Hemp Dogbane, Indian Physic, Rheumatism Weed, Milkweed, Wild Cotton, Choctaw Root.
Habitat: Found in thickets, gravelly or sandy fields, in meadows, along creek beds, irrigation ditches, and fence lines in cultivated pastures. New England to Florida, parts of the southeast, Texas to California and north to British Columbia.
History: The common name, Dogbane, refers to the plant’s toxic nature, which has been described as “poisonous to dogs.” Apocynum means “Away dog!” and cannabinum means “like hemp,” in reference to the strong cordage that was make by weaving together the stem’s long fibers.
The first European settlers in North America found the natives from many tribes produced a fiber from this plant that rivaled that of hemp they were used to. Strong, long lasting ropes and fine fishing line could be make from it and nets from the fiber held up well in water. The American Indians produced many useful items from the fiber such as pouches and bags, quilts and clothing. Europeans observed native women making thread from the plant with no other equipment than their hands and thighs which they used to roll the fibers into threads. The fibers have been found in archeological sites thousands of years old.
Parts Used: Root & rhizomes in late fall.
Constituents: Apocynin, apicynein, gallic acid, gum, resin, starch, tannin, and wax. It also contains the glycosides cymarin and apococymarin, which have shown anti-tumor activity.
Medicinal Properties: Cardiotonic, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Emetic, Expectorant, Tonic and Vermifuge.
Uses: The dried and powdered root was used by Native Americans as a snuff to cause sneezing and thus relieve a head cold. The plant taken internally could produce anything from a mild diuretic and laxative effect to a purgative effect with profuse sweating depending on the dose and the potency of the plant. Some tribes used it as a tonic. The Chickasaw and Choctaw reportedly used it to treat syphilis by chewing the fresh root and swallowing the juice.
Indian Hemp can be toxic if too much is taken, but tea from the roots has been used for: headache, earache, nausea, insanity, dropsy, jaundice, nervousness, worms, diarrhea, constipation, and urinary difficulties. The tea also raises blood pressure and strengthens the heartbeat. A wash from the root relieves dandruff. Alcoholism is also said to be cured by the tea of the Indian Hemp, and the juice from the stem is believed to cure warts.
Preparation and Dosages:
Tincture: [1:5, 50% alcohol] 5 to 20 drops, up to 4 times a day. (Use carefully.)
Warning! Contains toxic cardioactive (heart-affecting) glycosides.