Cyprus Mail

Plant of the week: Powerful sedative used by Native Americans for a host of problems

Name: Wild Woodbine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

Otherwise known as: Jessamine

Habitat: A perennial climbing member of the Loganiaceae family growing up to 12m in humus-rich forest soil in North America. It has opposite, green, lanceolate leaves bearing clusters of fragrant, yellow trumpet-shaped flowers in the axils.

What does it do: Woodbine was little known and unvalued by Europeans until the exodus to America by the early settlers, that formed within their society, a group of physicians known as ‘the eclectics’ who studied the folk medicine of the Native Americans. Each of the tribes had their own medicine man who had extensive knowledge of the chemical compounds and the curative properties of the local plants. The eclectics observed how the Shamen would extract essences from roots to treat wounds or relieve pain but were keenly aware that the dosage was imperative: too much, and the patient died.

The Plains Tribes used the plant to treat sexually transmitted diseases, dysentery, diarrhea, fevers, insomnia, pelvic disorders in women, leucorrhoea and severe pain.

The plant doesn’t grow well in northern Europe, so it is not commonly used by European herbalists although homeopaths find the essences useful effective in treating migraine, facial neuralgia, cramp, intermittent claudication (disabling lameness or pain in the calf muscles) and coccydinia (pain in the coccyx).

It is a powerful relaxant to the central nervous system, a sedative, a vasodilator, anti-spasmodic, anti arrhymia, female hysteria and a tranquilliser. The plant has value as a hypertensive. However, all parts are toxic and should only be administered by qualified herbalists.


Alexander McCowan is author of the World’s most Dangerous Plants


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