Monday, July 26, 2010

STALKING THE JOE PYE WEED

I’ve been on many plant-collecting field trips with my friend, Victoria, who is a botanist, and most of them took place during the hottest part of summer. My grandson, Martin, also accompanied us on all of the trips and was delighted to have his own small spade to dig in the hard-baked soil and unearth weed specimens during July and August. Most of the time, Vickie was in pursuit of Eupatorium, a dirty white flowered weed (my description) that is her field of expertise in the world of botany. On one trip I was delighted to discover a member of the Asteraceae family of the genus Eupatoriadelphus commonly called Joe Pye weed, which has beautiful lavender florescence and can be used as an ornamental. The weed also has healing properties. It used to be in genus Eupatorium, Victoria says.

Yesterday, as we rounded a curve just off Highway 41, I spied this amazing Joe Pye weed, blooming at the edge of a wood near our cottage. “Hay la ba,” I cried in Cajun dialect, “it’s dat purple flower I like so much.” The sight was quickly photographed with the cell phone, and I hope it loses none of the beauty we attempted to capture through an iPhone!

Joe Pye was a Mohican Indian healer who practiced alternative healing during colonial times, using a concoction derived from the plant to cure typhus fever. The weed is often called gravel weed or kidney root, and Indian tribes, who are known for using many grasses and plants to heal illnesses, used it to wash wounds and to prevent infection. Joe Pye weed is still used by those who believe in the efficacy of herbals in healing infections. Joe Pye weed teas are often brewed to use as a diuretic to treat kidney stones and to treat rheumatism and gout.

I’d venture a guess that the weed was used by traiteurs in performing miraculous healings during the 18th century in Louisiana. I included some of the healings that traiteurs accomplish with weeds and grasses in my book, MARTIN’S QUEST, a young adult book about a grandmother traiteur and her grandson, who also practices alternative healing. In the book, the traiteurs practice alternative medicine in a contemporary setting.

The Joe Pye weed that we photographed was covered with small, silver spotted skippers, probably male, who were perched on the purple flowers, one of their favorite-colored flowers. Their wings are brown/black, and the forewing has transparent gold spots; the underside of the wing has a metallic silver band. The sight of both flower and skippers lent beauty to a hot summer day on the Cumberland Plateau. I’m told that Joe Pye weed is a plant that will last until the first frost, so we have time to photograph it with a real camera. Apologies to Steve Jobs. But the iPhone was only a 3G.
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