Wild Herbs from the Mountains

Queen Of The Meadow

It was called "queen of the meadow" by the first New England colonists, an appropriate name to describe the stately beauty of this autumn wildflower. Blooming with pink or purple flowers from July through late September, queen of the meadow is today known (less romantically, of course) as Joe Pye Weed. It is a flower of moist soils and mountain fields occurring up to 3000 feet elevation and towering over the rest of the wildflowers - its height may reach from 12-15 feet. 

How did it come to be called Joe Pye Weed? The wildflower was named for a legendary Indian medicine man, Joe Pye, who helped the early colonists through years of epidemic sicknesses in the new land. It is said that Joe Pye cured settlers suffering from typhus by giving them medicine made from "queen of the meadow" root. The Indian doctor also created a tonic from the herbal roots and made a cure for a strange throat malady that affected the settlers' children (later discovered to be diphtheria). The colonists soon concocted their own cures with this magic herbal root, using it as a tea and as a liquid rub for stiff arthritic joints. An old Indian story declared its effectiveness as a love potion - if a male suitor held "queen of the meadow" root in his mouth while talking to his sweetheart, the girl would certainly fall in love with him.

Despite these whimsical uses, however, Joe Pye Weed became popular as a medicine and herb throughout the U.S. in the 1800's. Mountain folk dug the root, then cleaned and dried it in the sun before selling it to pharmacies throughout the country. But gradually it fell into disuse, and is now admired only as a tall beautiful wildflower, swaying in the warm late summer breeze of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

** Additional Info: the Joe Pye Weed is known in herbals as boneset (or thoroughwort), an autumn curative whose leaves and stalks were used as a medicine. Tea brewed from boneset was thought to reduce fever and cause sweating in sick persons. It was also used as a laxative, a tonic, and an emetic (a medicine that causes vomiting). The name boneset comes from a now rare disease that Joe Pye medicine once treated - breakbone fever (dengue). Breakbnone fever, a disease virus carried by mosquitoes, was a problem in Colonial America; its symptoms were: pain in the eyes, muscles, and joints, a skin rash, and sore throat.