In Chippewa, me’skwana’kuk bu’giso’win meaning swimming, Joe-Pye weed grows well along ponds, wetlands and streams, but any damp sunny area will do. It is one of the pollinator all-stars of edible and medicinal plants.
Joe-Pye weed is common around Haliburton in low wet areas by ponds, marshes, streams, and even damp ditches. One spontaneously appeared by my rain barrel under the roof overhang where it is usually damp. I know of a field of Joe-Pye over 6 foot tall near a muskrat pond, which I almost got stuck in due to the vigorous virgins blower covering the ground.
“Spotted” is the only type listed in Haliburton Flora. Its stems are sometimes completely purple, but often green with purple spots.
Not to be confused with swamp milkweed or boneset, which are similar looking plants around here!
Edible Uses of Joe-Pye Weed
The ashes of its burnt roots can be used like salt. Coltsfoot is another popular salty one and digging up coltsfoot is actually helpful as it’s highly invasive.
While every part of this plant has been used medicinally, at least at some point, I think someone on the Internet confused that with edibility and this spread around. I did a search in a couple edible wild food groups on Facebook to see if anyone just took possibly sketchy Internet information and went with it, and there wasn’t a single person making a salad or anything out of Joe Pye. Phew!
Someone mentioned JP having been in a dry tea mix they bought once. There are apparently potentially liver-damaging, toxic properties to the flowers that have made flower tea related medicinal usage go historical, according to a real life source. And none of my favorite experienced foragers recommend it as an edible. It’s not poison though. What I can say for certain is use caution regarding using the flowers for tea, and definitely avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. (BTW it’s said to have a slight hint of vanilla.)
Medicinal Uses of Joe-Pye Weed
Joe-Pye weed is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astringent and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes for passing kidney stones and a remedy from the root, harvested in autumn, for clearing up gravel/crystals in the urinary tract. It’s called kidneywort. And another folk name is gravelroot, but according to Matthew Wood that is actually named after the calcifications around the root.
One of its folk names is purple boneset. It has similar bone healing properties to its lookalike boneset (we’ll cover boneset some day!)
A treatment for typhus fever was promoted by a man named Joe Pye. A long list of ailments besides typhus are in the historical usage of this plant. At the same time, it doesn’t seem to be the top herb for anything. Not even the modern kidney related, at least as a standalone.. Which is just fine – more for the pollinators!
Alternative Uses of Marsh Milk Weed
You can obtain a pink or red dye from the fruits.
Growing King or Queen of the Meadows
Joe-Pye weed was a popular herb for gardens and it should definitely come back. It’s a powerhouse for pollinators. A plant spontaneously appeared next to my rain barrel and window where I am sitting now, and in the past day I’ve watched a monarch enjoying it, a marbled orbweaver weaving on it, and bees too of course!
There was a bee sleeping on the underpart of the flower cluster one night ago. And the next day someone in Ontario Native Plant Gardening posted pictures of multiple bees sleeping in their Joe-Pye.
Many native plant nurseries stock it, and you can grow it from seed, but germination can be slow and difficult. Since it’s so popular make sure to order early or brush up on the seed sowing particulars early in the year.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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