Family: Scrophulariaceae (Figwort)
Scientific Name: Veronicastrum virginicum
Native, colonizing wildflower from 3-6′ tall that grows in rich woods and moist prairies. Has a central taproot as well as underground running rhizome roots.
Watch for: Toothed, lance-shaped leaves, 3 to 7 whorled leaves per node, white or pale pink flowers in dense spikes at the ends of branches.
Other names: Bowman’s root, Physic Root, Black Snake Root, Tall Speedwell, Leptandra, and Whorly Wort.
History: The roots are long sought after for their medicinal uses. The Meswuakies use Culver’s root (Black Snake Root) as a remedy for constipation and to dissolve gravel in the kidneys. It could also be drunk by women in labor for strength. The Chippewas steep five roots in a quart of water to make a tea that was both a purgative and a blood cleanser. The Menominis use it as a strong purgative, or “reviver”. From this use it became known to purify. Early Anglo-settlers caught on to the Menomini’s use of it as a purgative, eventually using it as a substitute for traditionally using mercury. Culver’s Root was popularized by Peter Smith, who wrote the Indian Doctor Dispensatory in 1813.
Tidbits: It was said in early settler folklore to often be found with evil medicines, so that a sorcerer may undo his work. It was also found in war bundles, used to purify people, animals, medicine, and weapons.
Gardens/ Cultivation: Culver’s root is tall, durable, and easy to grow. It flowers from July to September, and sometimes needs staking because of it’s height and weight. It also makes a nice, long-lasting cut flower for fresh flower arrangements. It’s available from nurseries specializing in native plants, and has cultivars called ‘Lavender Towers’ and ‘Fascination’.
Kindsher, Kelly. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, Kansas, 1992.
USDA Plants Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/