It is summertime and many plants are blooming, including one of my favorites, the Cardinal Flower. Lobelia cardinalis can be found growing wild as a native plant in this region, but it can also be seen in the Pry House Garden. This time of year it gives bright scarlet blooms that really stand out.
I have stumbled on cardinal flowers growing in the wild several times recently. They usually are a water-loving plant, growing on riverbanks, swamps, and other freshwater wetlands with a little bit of shade.
|Cardinal Flower at the Quarry Pond|
at Fountain Rock Park in Frederick County, MD - 2014
|Cardinal Flower on the bank of the Shenandoah River|
at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park - 2012
Perhaps one of the reasons why I like the cardinal flower so much is that I have struggled with it for multiple seasons. I tried growing them from seed, but very little came of that effort. Another year I purchased the plant and seemed to do well, but never flowered and never came back after winter.
|Cardinal Flower in the Pry Garden - 2014|
The Iroquois had many medicinal uses for cardinal flower. The root was boiled together with the root of Cichorium intybus and the liquid was used to treat fever sores. The mashed roots, stems, leaves, and blossoms were made into a decoction and drank for cramps. The plant was also used as an emetic for an upset stomach from eating something bad. The plant was added to other medicines to give them more strength. The Delaware used an infusion of the roots to treat typhoid. The Meskwaki used this plant as a ceremonial tobacco, throwing it to the winds to ward off a storm. The Pawnee used the roots and flowers of cardinal flower in the composition of a love charm.
Cardinal flower was also employed by some peoples to treat colds, flu, chest congestion, bronchitis, and the respiratory symptoms of other complaints. Writing in 1863, Confederate Surgeon and bontanical medicine expert Dr. Francis Porcher also noted that cardinal flower had been used by native peoples as an anthelmintic, meaning that it expelled parasites from the body.
|Cardinal Flower at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park - 2012|
It does not appear that anyone today is marketing cardinal flower as a nutritional supplement or herbal remedy, and for good reason; as a member of the Lobelia family, cardinal flower is considered toxic to humans. There appears to be no strong evidence, apart from centuries of tradition, that Lobelia cardinalis actually possesses any medicinal qualities.