Sophora tinctoria (1,2)
Currently: Wild indigo (1-3, 5-9), Baptisia (3)
Historically: Indigo weed (2,8)
Bark of roots (2,5)
Baptisia is a North American native plant that grows in dry hilly woods (4,5,10,11) from North Carolina to southern Canada (4,11). It is a 2-3 foot high perennial, with small alternate trifoliate leaves with rounded apices, and bright yellow flowers (5,11).
Note that some authors including Chevallier (4) refer to Baptisia tinctoria as having purplish-blue flowers. Baptisia australis is a native American plant with purplish-blue flowers, alternate and trifoliate leaves, and grows to approximately 3 feet in height (12). This description fits the erroneous description of Baptisia tinctoria by the aforementioned author. Baptisia australis has similar common names to tinctoria; including blue false indigo, and wild indigo (12). Considering its plant description, distribution (12), and common names, it can be hypothesized that this is the herb the author was referring to. An 1882 text (13) states that Baptisia tinctoria and Baptisia australis can be used interchangeably for medicinal purposes, however this claim is not widely accepted and requires further investigation.
Baptisia tinctoria was a highly valued herb to the native American Indians. It was particularly useful in treating pneumonia, tuberculosis and influenza (5). Baptisia tea was used internally and externally as a wash for smallpox (5), a decoction of baptisia and Juniperus osteosperma was used as a kidney medication (5), and a poultice from baptisia root was used to treat snake bite wounds (4).
Alkaloids (4) including baptitoxine (otherwise known as baptisine) (poisonous) (2,8,14,15).
Glycosides: baptisin (10) (bitter and non-poisonous) (2,8,14,15), and baptin (laxative and cathartic) (2,8,14,15). As well as glycoprotein (16) and arabinogalctan-proteins (AGBs) (17).
Immune stimulant (1,3-5)
Hepatic tonic (1,2, 6-8,15)
Emetic (large doses) (1,2,5,6,11,14)
Glycoprotein derivatives from Baptisia root demonstrated immunomodulatory activity in vitro by stimulating lymphocyte DNA synthesis (16).
Isolated and purified arabinogalctan-proteins (AGBs) from Baptisia root were demonstrated to increase production of IgM (via polyclonal activation of B-lymphocytes), nitrate, and IL6 (via activation of macrophages) in vitro (17).
There have not been any clinical studies conducted on Baptisia alone (3), however, a number of studies have been conducted on standardised herbal combinations containing Baptisia tinctoria root, Echinacea purpurea root, Echinacea pallida root and Thuja occidentalis, including the following:
A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, multi-centre study indicated that a combination of Baptisia, Echinacia and Thuja effectively improved cold symptoms three days earlier than placebo (18).
A small (n53), randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, prospective study found that patients receiving macrolide antibiotics and the above mixture recovered more quickly from an acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis than those receiving macrolide antibiotics and placebo (19).
No conclusions regarding the efficacy of Baptisia can be drawn from these studies. More studies are required using Baptisia in monotherapy to determine its safety and efficacy.
Upper respiratory infections eg tonsillitis, pharyngitis, common cold (2-5,8,15,20)
Conditions with swollen lymph glands (4,7,15,20)
Infected mouth ulcers, inflammation of mouth or teeth (3)
Septic conditions (3) with sluggish capillary flow and oedema (2,8,15)
Eruptive diseases (5,8)
Chronic viral or fungal infections (20)
Infected ulcers (2,6-8,15)
Sore nipples (2,8,15)
Leucorrhoea -douche (2,7,8)
Ulceration of the cervix (8,15)
Nb for all the above conditions Baptisia should also be taken internally (8)
Inflamed eczemas (6,15)
Traditional Indications in Western Herbal Medicine
In addition to the above current-day indications, Baptisia was also traditionally highly valued for treating:
Sore throat of smallpox (2)
Typhoid conditions including typhoid dysentery, typhoid fever, typhoid pneumonia,and typho-malarial fever (2,8)
Septicaemia following abortion (2)
Gangrene (externally & internally) (6,8,15)
Mercurial gingivitis (gargle & internally) (6,8)
Syphilus (externally & internally) (2,6,15)
Scrofulous swellings and abscesses (Internally & externally) (6,15)
Conditions marked by a swollen purple face and discoloration of tongue and mucous membranes (2,15)
There are no known cautions, contraindications or side effects when taken at the recommended doses (3).
There are no known adverse effects when used in pregnancy or lactation (3).
Excessive doses may cause nausea and vomiting (2,4,8,15), and may induce gastro-enteritis (2,8).
Decoction: Bring 1 cup of water & ½ to 1 teaspoon of Baptisia root to the boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drink three times per day (7).
Tincture: 1-2ml tincture three times per day (7).
Liquid extract: 2.6ml of 1:2 liquid extract per day (3).
Traditional solvents: alcohol, boiling water (2,5).
Decoction: boil 1 ounce of powdered bark in 2 pints of water down to 1 pint. Give 1 tablespoon every 1, 2, or 4 hours as required (2). Reduce dose if it causes nausea or vomiting (2).
Alcoholic extract: 1 to 4 grains every 2, 3 or 4 hours (2).
Externally: an aqueous infusion of fresh baptisia applied 2-3 times per day, or an ointment made with 50% Vaseline and 50% specific baptisia (2).
1. Duke JA, Bogenschutz-Godwin MJ, duCellier J, Duke PA. 1929. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd edition. Boca Raton, USA: CRC Press.
2. Felter HW, Lloyd JR. 1898. King's American Dispensatory. Sandy, Oregon: Eclectic Medical Publications.
3. Bone, K. 2003. A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs: Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient. St Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingstone.
4. Chevallier A. 2001. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley.
5. Hutchens AR. 1973. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications Inc.
6. Lyle TJ. 1897. Physio-Medical Therapeutics, Materia Medica and Pharmacy. London: Medical College of Herbal Practitioners.
7. Hoffmann D. 1996. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Dorset: Element Books.
8. Felter HW. 1922. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Sandy, Oregon: Eclectic Medical Publications.
9. TGA Approved Terminologies for Medicine - Herbal Substances AAN List. 2008. Australian Government Department of Health and Aging. Accessed 15 September 2008.
10. Remington JP, Wood HC (Editors). 1918. The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edition. Accessed 21 September 2008.
11. Grieve M. 1973. A Modern Herbal. Revised edition. Surrey: Merchant Book Company Ltd.
12. USDA Plant Guide. USDA National Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture. 2008. Accessed 19 September 2008.
13. Milton Welch J. The Medical Flora of Kansas. Transactions of the National Eclectic Association. 1882-83, Vol. X. Accessed 18 September 2008.
14. Sayre LE. 1917. A Manual of organic materia medica and pharmacognosy. 4th edition. Accessed 22 August 2008.
15. Ellingwood R. 1919. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. Accessed 22 August 2008.
16. Beuscher N, Scheit KH, Boinet C, Kopanski L. Immunologically active glycoproteins of Baptisia tinctoria. Planta Medica 1989; 55(4):358-363.
17. Classen B, Thude S, Blaschek W, Wack M, Bodinet C. Immunomodulatory effects of arabinogalactan-proteins from Baptisia and Echinacea. Phytomedicine 2006;13:688-694. [Abstract online]. Available: Science Direct. [20 August 2008]
18. Heinneiske-von Zepelin HH, Hentschel C, Schnitker J, Kohnen R et al. Efficacy and safety of a fixed combination phytomedicine in the treatment of the common (acute viral respiratory tract infection). Current Medical Research and Opinion 1999;15(3):214-227.
19. Hauke W, Kohler G, Henneicke-von Zepeli HH, Freudenstein J. Esberitox ® N as supportive therapy when providing standard antibiotic treatment in subjects with a sever bacterial infection (acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis). Chemotherapy 2002; 48:259-266. [Abstract online]. Available: Karger
20. Mills S, Bone K. 2000. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
This monograph was authored in 2008 by Beth Engwirda, a student in Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Naturopathy programme, and edited by Nena Aleschewski BNat. While the author and editor have strived to cite published information accurately, Southern Cross University will not be responsible for any inaccuracies that may have occurred.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you wish to use herbal medicine as part of your health care, seek the advice of an appropriately qualified practitioner.
Updated: 16 October 2012