Learning how to identify and grow this useful plant ensures that you have access to a medicinal herb right in your backyard. (h/t to SurvivalSullivan.com)
Ironweed, which gets its name from its hardiness, has been harvested for its medicinal properties for centuries. The plant has a strong and flexible stem, and it can grow even in adverse growing conditions.
In the U.S., the most common variety of ironweed is tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), which bears lots of brightly colored purple flowers. You can find ironweed in ditches, fields and pastures in many parts of the country.
Ironweed thrives in full sun areas in moist soil, but it can grow in partial shade and in dry or rocky ground. The seeds can be harvested during the early weeks of fall, or you can buy ironweed seeds online.
Ironweed leaves and roots are often used to make a healing tea. Tea made from the plant's leaves is used to treat monthly menstrual problems and pain, as well as post-partum bleeding. Meanwhile, tea made from ironweed root can relieve fever, hemorrhaging and stomach ulcers. (Related: A native tropical Asian plant found to have remarkable antioxidant activity.)
Ironweed is also used to treat:
Make ironweed tea using the plant's leaves or roots to relieve menstrual pain or minor digestive issues. You can use both the roots and the leaves together to reap the most benefits.
When using fresh ironweed leaves and roots, note that your ingredients might get soggy and take longer to brew.
Boost the healing benefits of ironweed tea by adding a teaspoon of honey, ginger or both. Adults should consume at least two standard coffee cups of ironweed tea per day, up to three days or until you feel better.
Ironweed is a perennial that can sometimes be found growing near sweet Joe-Pye-weed or goldenrod plants. Primarily a weedy composite plant, ironweed has alternating leaves throughout its stem.
Ironweed has tubular flower heads in shades of purple, red, white and yellow. Depending on the variety, ironweed blossoms can taste sweet to a little bitter. The bracts at the base of ironweed plants are broad, pointy and spreading.
Ironweed leaves are serrated, blade-shaped and a little hairy. The ends of the plant's leaves converge in a sharp point, like the end of a knife.
Ironweed can grow up to two to three feet wide, but tall ironweed may be slightly less full than other types of ironweed. The plant blooms from May through September in most climates.
If you're foraging for ironweed, look for plants that haven't been exposed to harmful pesticides. Don't pick all of the ironweed from an entire patch, so you can harvest them again next year.
You'll need a small shovel to dig out the dirt surrounding the base of an ironweed plant before you can harvest the root.
Plant ironweed during the early weeks of spring if you're cultivating it from seed. Ironweed seeds can winter over in the ground when planted in the fall, but you need to start them indoors and transplant in spring.
Keep perennial ironweed plants healthy by dividing them every three to four years. Dig up the root of the plants and cut away any dead portions of the root and crown, which often show signs of decay near the center of the root. Cut up the root in chunks, then replant in fresh soil.
Japanese beetles may try to destroy your ironweed plants. To get rid of these pests, sprinkle flour or diatomaceous earth on the leaves of the plant.
Grow ironweed plants in your home garden so you have access to a natural remedy for common complaints like headaches, digestive problems and headaches.