What is Apocynum?

Marjorie McAtee

Apocynum, also known as dogbane or Indian hemp, is a perennial herb with medicinal properties. The plant is native to North America and valuable for its roots and dried rhizomes. Native Americans are believed to have once used the plant widely for fiber. The plant is believed to contain a cardiac tonic from the digitalis group, which can be used to slow the pulse to treat some heart problems. Apocynum has also been traditionally used to treat rheumatism, syphilis, and other illnesses.

Calotropis procera is also in the dogbane family of plants.
Calotropis procera is also in the dogbane family of plants.

Indian bane, a member of the apocynum family of plants, is what people usually mean when they talk about apocynum. Apocynum is a perennial herb that can grow to between 5 and 6 feet (1.5 to 1.6 m) in height. The leaves are typically dark green on top, but can be downy and pale on the underside. The leaves are usually elliptical in shape and 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) long.

The flowers of the apocynum are generally white with a red tint and often produce a nectar that attracts insects. When insects land on the flowers of the Indian hemp plant, they usually land on a set of five scales found inside the corolla of the bloom. When pressed, these scales typically bend inward, trapping the insects inside.

The roots and stems of the apocynum normally contain a milky sap that dries into a consistency similar to that of rubber. The roots and dried rhizomes of the plant are used medicinally. The roots are said to be mostly odorless and to have a starchy taste and bitter aftertaste.

Indian hemp is considered a somewhat invasive plant. It typically flowers from May to August and can often be found in its natural habitat, the forests, pastures, and disused open spaces of North America. Native Americans are believed to have once used the bark of the Indian hemp plant to make fibers for nets, fishing lines, twine, and clothing.

The roots of the Indian hemp plant have been traditionally used in medicinal preparations to treat illnesses such as syphilis, rheumatism, and scrofula. The roots of the Indian hemp plant are believed to contain a cardiac tonic that can be used to slow the pulse. Apocynum is generally recognized as a powerful hydragogue, or cathartic that helps eliminate fluid from the bowels.

Nausea and diarrhea may occur as side effects of using this plant medicinally. Though long used medicinally, the roots and rhizomes of the apocynum plant can be toxic when administered in high doses. Those who wish to use this perennial herb medicinally would be well advised to seek the guidance of a professional.

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