Many different plants in the aster (Asteraceae) family go into bloom this time of year. These are the last blooms we’ll see before moving into winter, and this family provides an important source of nectar and pollen for bees and native pollinators. If the predictions of an extremely cold winter are correct, they’d better stock up well!
Right now, if you’re traveling in the Midwest, you’ll see flashes of purple flowers on tall stalks as your car travels the highways and byways. There are two different colors of purple actually. The darker of the two flowers is called ironweed (Vernonia glauca) The other is Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), aka gravel root or queen of the meadow.
Joe Pye weed grows in low areas and swampy soils, which is why you’ll readily see near roads along ditches. We use the root of this beautiful plant medicinally. In fact, if you dig one up, you’ll see why it’s often called gravel root.
The plant tends to hold the soil, preventing erosion wherever it grows and fixes calcified nodules on some areas of its roots, creating the appearance of stones. As folks first began to dig Joe Pye weed, this gave them the idea to use it for gravel in the urinary tract. This was supported later as we came to understand that many of those stones are formed as a result of improper calcium supplementation.
Joe Pye was reputed to be a real person. It’s said that during colonial times, an Indian medicine man brought this root to settlers during a typhoid outbreak. The plant’s reputation was well-deserved, though its use for deep infection and tissue death in the digestive system isn’t as well-known these days. While it used to be in every colonial garden, it now thrives mainly on its own in untamed areas.
You might consider adding this beautiful plant to your garden, especially if you suffer from arthritis, gout, gallstones or kidney stones. There’s also some evidence that this plant is helpful in the case of diabetes, by preserving kidney health and preventing inflammation damage due to sugar in the blood stream. It’s specific for helping the body to keep things, such as uric acid or sugar crystals, from forming and causing problems. When water is mismanaged in the body, these substances migrate into joints and soft tissue, creating pain and inflammation. It is nice to be able to dig your own root to make a tea or tincture for these times.
There aren’t a lot of downsides to using gravel root, unless you don’t know that you have urinary stones. Passing a stone can be unpleasant, especially if you are using gravel root on its own. To pass a stone, combine gravel root, which is an anti-lithic (stone breaker), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), a demulcent that will make the passing more smooth, and uva ursi (Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi), an antiseptic.
Learn more about healing plants you can grow on your farm:
- You Say Potato, I Say Sunchoke
- Please Don’t Pull the Goldenrod!
- 8 Ways You Can Use and Love Burdock
- Sunflowers: The Cheery Healers
- Got Muscle Pain? Plant Crampbark