A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Blooming Black-Eyed Susans

It is a beautiful early summer day on the Antietam Battlefield! The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the flowers are in bloom!

Here in the Pry Medicinal Garden, our healthy crop of Black-eyed Susans are in peak bloom and looking gorgeous!

The common Black-eyed Susan, or Rudbeckia hirta, is native to a wide swath of Eastern and Central United States. It is type of daisy and coneflower, alternatively known as Golden Jerusalem, Gloriosa Daisy, or Yellow Ox-Eye Daisy. The Black-eyed Susan is, however closely related to another plant in the Pry Garden, the Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. The two were once listed in the same genus.

The Black-eyed Susan has long been associated with Maryland and was officially designated as the state flower in 1918. The flower's association with Maryland stems not only from its ubiquitous summer blooms in open places across the state, but also for its colorful resemblance to the yellow and black Calvert family crest. Cecil Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore, founded Maryland in 1634, though he never personally set foot there.
The modern Maryland state flag, featuring the yellow and black Calvert crest

Cecil Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore

The root of the Black-eyed Susan plant has been used medicinally for untold centuries, beginning with eastern Native Americans. The plant was not officially adopted by either the Union or Confederate Medical Departments, but it continued in popular use as a folk medicine.

Rudbeckia hirta roots

Black-eyed Susan root is and was most commonly used similarly to its cousin the Purple Coneflower. When ingested, it is believed to boost the body's immune system and reduce they symptoms and duration of common diseases like cold and flu. It is also a mild astringent that might be used to relieve minor swelling and skin irritations. It is also believed to be a mild diuretic, promoting urination and removing water from the body. Some accounts indicate that some native peoples may even have used Black-eyed Susan root as an external treatment for poisonous snakebites, though the efficacy of that seems doubtful.

To most people today, the Black-eyed Susan is simply a beautiful summer flower that can be found growing wild and in flower gardens, especially here in Maryland.


  1. I've recently ID'd a plant in our yard as pilewort. I see it's on your list. If interested glad to send seed your way once it blooms and seeds are ready to gather.

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