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What is Wild Indigo?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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Wild indigo is a plant native to the plains of North America. Several species of wild indigo are utilized and cultivated by humans including Baptisia tinctoria and B. australis. Preparations of wild indigo are sometimes available at health food stores and through practitioners of herbal medicine. These products are often sold in the form of capsules or teas.

While this plant is used as an herbal remedy, it needs to be used with care, and ideally under the supervision of an experienced practitioner. Wild indigo can have explosive effects on the digestive tract, especially in people with conditions like ulcers, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel disease, and severe food allergies. People who take too much wild indigo may experience vomiting and diarrhea and can develop lesions in their intestinal tracts. The herb also appears to have a depressive effect on the respiratory system when taken in large doses, and it can be an irritant.

Historically, this perennial plant was used for a number of purposes by Native Americans. Young shoots of the plant were prepared and eaten as greens, and the roots were sometimes chewed to treat toothache, because wild indigo has some antiinflammatory properties. Inflammation and irritation of the skin could be treated with a gentle wash prepared from this herb, and it was also used as an eyewash. Finally, wild blue indigo could be utilized as a purgative in the treatment of various conditions.

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As the name implies, wild indigo can be a source of blue dye. It is similar to indigo, a dye famous for its rich and intense color. This plant yields a lighter and less colorfast version of indigo dye which may be used in a variety of craft projects. This plant is in the pea family, and in nature, it prefers full sun to part shade, developing green shrubby foliage and spikes of blue, yellow, or white flowers, depending on the species.

Pregnant women should not take wild indigo. The safety of this herbal preparation in breastfeeding women is not known, and women may want to consult their doctors before taking wild indigo supplements if they are breastfeeding. Supplements made from this plant are also not recommended for people with autoimmune disorders.

Research on wild indigo is being conducted to learn more about the compounds the plant contains, for the purpose of determining whether or not it can be used in pharmaceutical development. It may potentially have some applications as an immunity boosting compound.

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