Sunday, August 23, 2009
Elephant's Foot! A strange, but very descriptive name for this wildflower. It is identifiable in all seasons because of its big, flat and fuzzy leaves that hug the ground, but in the fall, it shoots up stalks of purple flowers. They are not rare, but very fun and easy for children to identify. There are other names, Devil's Grandmother (I never found out why!) and Wild Tobacco Plant. I thought perhaps with that last name, it was used for smoking, but the large leaves and the fact that it commonly grew next to large tobacco fields was the answer I found for that one. The Lumbee Indians call it Wood’s Mullein and describe a poultice of it held on the chest to treat pneumonia. For centuries, Mullein has been hailed for many healing abilities. Research indicates some of Mullein's uses are "analgesic, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, antiviral, bactericide, cardio-depressant, fungicide, hypnotic, sedative and pesticide"!! A "heal all" remedy! Elephant's Foot caught the attention of drug manufacturer Parke-Davis in the late 1890's when they marketed a liquid extract of the herb as an expectorant. The interest in the herb did not last, but many Native Americans and old timers still use the large leaves and roots for treatment of sores and even staph infections..as well as for respiratory problems.
Elephant's Foot is a perennial, and it commonly grows in the southeastern United States. It is found in dry, open woodlands. There are similar species that have smaller leaves and clusters of flowers.