Añil del Muerto (Spanish). Family: Asteracea. Genus and species: Verbesina encelioides.
Añil del muerto, a plant with bright yellow flowers and blue-green leaves, begins blooming near the end of July and throughout most of August in Northern New Mexico. In most years, this annual plant will be seen blooming in huge numbers, preferring vacant open areas where the soil has been disturbed in the preceding years. So far this summer, its numbers are greatly reduced due to the lack of rain.
Añil del muerto, or golden crownbeard, is often considered a "weed," but let us remember that Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Though many readers may not know the virtues of this bright yellow flower native to North America, it is an important medicinal plant and well-known to the descendants of Spanish explorers and Native Americans of the Southwest.
Añil del muerto means "the bluing of death" and likely refers to the leaves that are bluish and the plant's preference to grow in recently disturbed soil, such as that of graves.
As medicine it is an anti-inflammatory due to the presence of azulene blue in the flowers. It has also been used as a tea for arthritic discomfort, to reduce fever and increase sweating, and to reduce inflammation of the mouth and gums. Topically it has been used as compresses, soaks and salves for inflammation, such as hemorrhoids, postpartum inflammation and skin ulcers. Among the Diné (Navajo), añil del muerto is called ildi ylinlcini and is reportedly used for intestinal gas, cramping and as protection from lightning.
Ironically, this useful plant is also one our most potent allergens. and when it blooms, many people react with sneezing and congestion. Añil del muerto has also poisoned livestock due to the presence of the alkaloid galegine.
Interestingly, it was research into the alkaloid galegine in the early 1920s for its use in treating malaria that resulted in the development of the drug Metformin for diabetes. Añil del muerto is not recommended as a remedy for diabetes due to the presence of galegine and its potential toxicity. Additionally, if used internally at all as in the traditional Diné traditions, it should not be used daily due to the presence of galegine.
Consult your health care practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication.
Rob Hawley co-owns the Taos Herb Company. Contact the store at (575) 758-1991 or taosherb.com