False Indigo grows best between zones 3-9. It grows as shrubs or herbs to between 3-5 ft tall with spreading branches of 3-4 ft, and should therefore be planted 24-30 inches apart. This plant got its name because it was used as a substitute for Indigo to create dyes. The plant needs full sun to partial shade with medium to dry soil, and does not bloom well in acidic soil (1). Blue wild indigo belongs to the plant family Fabaceae, also known as the pea family. Additionally, blue false indigo is a plant native to Illinois, which is environmentally beneficial because it helps restore local habitats by conserving water and attracting native species. It also fixes nitrogen in the soil, which makes it a great companion plant for native grasses. However, the plant is considered toxic and contains alkaloids that make the plant unpalatable for grazing animals (3).
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Blue false indigo is considered to have low levels of toxicity and is considered likely to contributing to the development of severe diarrhea and anorexia (3). However it has been used as an antiseptic, antiseptic, anti-catarrhal, febrifuge, and stimulant purgative. Blue false indigo is thought to stimulate the immune system to purge any infections. Some ailments it is used for include ear, nose, and throat infections. Native Americans used the root of False Indigo for purging purposes as well, and was most commonly ingested as a cold tea to stop vomiting. Sometimes people would chew on the root to soothe toothaches (5). A formulation of the stem has been used externally as a wash to treat smallpox and other similar skin ailments. Blue false indigo should only be used under the supervision of a trained professional. Side effects of ingesting blue indigo may include vomiting, diarrhea and gastrointestinal spasms (4).
Significance to Cultural Communities
The plant is used in witchcraft practicing cultures, who associate it with femininity and Venus. False Indigo is regarded as protective and is used around the home and it’s also used in spells and amulets for protective purposes. People who engage in these practices regard this plant as especially protective for household pets (4). Indigo is bundled and hung off the tack of a working animal. Some people that practice witchcraft keep a leaf in their pockets for protection outside of the home (5). Lastly, the Cherokee Native Americans would use the blue indigo dye for their clothes - a practice which was later passed down to the early pioneer settlers. The Osage Native people would make washes for the eyes from the indigo plant while the Cherokee would brew it as a tea to prevent vomiting. The children would use the dried pods of the indigo plant as rattlers, with the loose seeds shaking inside of the pod (3).
1. “Blue False Indigo, Baptisia australis.” Master Gardner Program, Division of Extension. 12. Feb, 2018. <https://wimastergardener.org/article/blue-false-indigo-baptisia-australis/>
2. “Growing Guide Baptisia (Wild Indigo).” White Flower Farm. http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/growing-baptisia.html
3. Broyles, Patrick J. “Plant Guide: Blue Wild Indigo.” USDA NRCS, January 14, 2004. http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_baau.pdf
4. “Blue False Indigo.” Witchipedia. http://www.witchipedia.com/herb:false-indigo
5. Jordi, Rebecca. “Blue False Indigo: Baptisia australis.” Horticulture: University of Florida Nassau County Extension. http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/demogarden/plants/bluefalseindigo.html