***The seeds of these plants are considered poisonous to humans and livestock.
The colors of Appalachian Harvest time for me are purple, deep green, red and most importantly, gold. Goldenrod, one of our beloved friends is waving merrily but mysteriously from roadsides all over the Southeast. Another golden yellow flowering friend, Black eyed Susans, cluster together in yards and old fields and sitting bunched up in vases on the clean linen table cloths. Rudbeckia hirta or the black eyed Susan is a native plant to the U.S. and parts of Canada and it is widely distributed. There are multiple species and folk names for these aster family beauties. R. hirta is an annual to short-lived perennial and looks very similar to R. fulgida, but its flowers have a dark brown or brown-maroon center and fuzzy stems.
Despite this plant being native, its name bears the fingerprints of colonization. There is a English settler legend says that the name black-eyed Susan originated from an Old English Poem written by John Gay entitled ‘Sweet William’s Farewell To Black-Eyed Susan’. The poem was about how these wildflowers and the Sweet William plant (Dianthus barbatus) bloom together.
Cherokee or ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯᎢ folks call this plant “deer eye” or “little sun” depending on the species in Tsalagi or Cherokee language. I think these names are beautiful and suit them very nicely. As relatives to the Echinacea plants I have been fascinated to learn more about the rudbeckia’s medicinal properties and ethnobotanical history. The roots have been used as a decoction to treat colds, flus, and worms, both spiritual and physical in children amongst Ojibwa and many other nations.
They were also used as a wash for snakebites. The Menominee and Potawatomi nations used this plant to increase the flow of urine and the root tea was also used as general wash for cuts, scrapes and wounds. In Appalachian and Southern folk medicine the leaf tea is a general tonic. Tommie Bass, infamous Southern folk herbalist, knew of it as a Potawotomi cold remedy and a bitter tonic. One interesting thing I have read is that Deer eye has a connection to Buffalo as well, for as the buffalo were killed in the Western lands of this continent, it was said this flower migrated East.
Rudbeckia speciosa has been studied for its immunostimulating properties and seems to have outdone echinacea species when observed in inbred mice. While each species is slightly different in its chemical composition and further research is needed, this is promising that many of the rudbeckia species may be able to stand alongside or even contain more antimicrobial activity than previously expected.
I love to gather these beautiful Autumnal flowers for bouquets and their beauty this time of year. The blossoms also make a wonderful yellow dye. Easy to grow, beautiful to behold and full of a long history of human relationship, this merry flower never fails to brighten the rooms they adorn.
Bukovský M, Vaverková S, Kost'álová D. Immunomodulating activity of Echinacea gloriosa L., Echinacea angustifolia DC. and Rudbeckia speciosa Wenderoth ethanol-water extracts. Pol J Pharmacol. 1995 Mar-Apr;47(2):175-7. PMID: 8688891.
Capek, P., and A. Kardoaova. Structural Characterization of an Acidic Heteropolysaccharide from Rudbeckia Fulgida, Var. Sullivantii (Boynton Et Beadle). Chem. Pap. 55.5 (2001): 311-18.
Medicinal Plants Of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, 1st Edition, pages 60-62 , publisher: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1979.
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