I remember picking wildflowers as a little girl in North Florida. My favorite ones were always the purple flowers. Flowers like Spiderwort. Tradescantia virginiana is a three petaled, clump forming species in the Tradescantia family. This family includes a large number of plants that are used as ornamentals. The virginiana, however, is commonly considered a weed, and somewhat invasive, here in Central Florida. However, this tall, grass-like plant has a few fans that can't help but keep it in their gardens as a point of interest.
This plant is high in mucilage, a slimy substance that provides a host of medicinal benefits. However it may have been the origin of a few different common names given to this plant. If you break a tip off of a leaf, or break the stem, then take some of the sap on your finger, when touched by another finger and slowly pulled away it will form a long slender string. This string resembles a spider’s silk. This is one origin of the common name Spiderwort or even the common name of Cow Slobber. However, the most commonly given origin for the name Spiderwort comes from it's traditional use for spider bites.
Tradescantia virginiana is a traditional edible plant that can be prepared in a number of ways. However it's just one species in the Tradescantia family, and not every species is edible. But Spiderwort can be an excellent addition to your family's wild food list. The stems and young shoots can be steamed like asparagus, the leaves and flowers make a great addition to a salad, or dessert. The flowers were also used as a traditional decoration for cakes and other baked goods.
There is one really amazing trait that these flowers posses. They are natural radiation detectors. The stamens of the flowers have fine hairs on them, that are typically a blueish purple. However, when exposed to levels of radiation that are dangerous, those fine hairs turn pink. If the dangerous pollutants get to be really dangerous, the whole flower will turn pink. So just like Marvel's Spiderman, who was bitten by a radioactive spider, the Amazing Spiderwort can be your hero and save you from danger.
Medicinal Uses:Common Names- Spiderwort, Spiderlily, Widow's Tears, Cow Slobber, Virginia Spiderwort
Summary of actions- Analgesic, Anthelmintic, Antidiarrheal, Anti-inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Antiperiodic, Astringent, Demulcent, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Emetic, Emmenagogue, Emollient, Expectorant, Galactagogue, Laxative, Sedative, Stomachic, Tonic, Vermifuge, and Vulnerary.
Edible- The young shoots and leaves are edible both raw and cooked. The flowers wilt under heat, so those are only edible raw. The stems are also edible cooked.
Traditional Native American Uses- The Dakota Indians used to carry spiderwort as a love talisman. The Cherokee used the root as a Cancer remedy, and a tea made from the leaves as a laxative. The Meskwaki used the root as a diuretic. Some tribes also used the gum, which comes from the root, as a remedy for craziness, by making an incision in the head and inserting the gum in that incision.
Wound Care and Insect Bites- The leaves, stem, and flowers can be used to help speed the healing of external wounds. The plant actually gets it's common name from the traditional use for spider bites. It can be used as a poultice to reduce inflammation and itch caused by insect bites.
Kidneys, Colon, and Stomach- A decoction made from the root is used as a laxative, to help improve kidney function, and to soothe stomach aches. The leaves and stems are used to help bulk up stool. The entire plant also contains mucilage, which helps reduce inflammation throughout the entire gastrointestinal track and helps to soothe ulcers.
Female Health Concerns- The root and leaves can be made into a decoction or tea to help reduce menstrual pain. The tea from the leaves is also supposed to help increase milk production in women who are breastfeeding.
Cancers- A number of the Native American Tribes have used this plant for various cancers in their traditional medicine. It's currently being studied for these purposes, though no conclusive evidence has been determined.
Laxative- A tea made from the root can be used as a laxative.
Radiation Detection- The blue hairs on the stamens of the flowers turn pink under the influence of harmful gamma radiation, and under the influence of extreme pollutants, the whole flower will turn pink.
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- This plant may cause skin irritation in some individuals who are sensitive to the clusters of needle-like crystals, called raphides, contained in it's internal tissues.
I hope you have a new appreciation for this common plant. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
References:Plant of the Week- Spiderwort: University of Arkansas: https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/spiderwort-06-23-06.aspx
Mucilage: The Naturopathic Herbalist: https://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/plant-constituents/mucilage/
Spiderwort as an Ornamental: Dengarden: https://dengarden.com/gardening/Using-Common-Spiderwort-As-An-Ornamental-Garden-Plant
Spiderwort Flowers: Gardening Know How: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/spiderwort/growing-spiderworts.htm
Spiderwort, Pocahontas, and Gamma Rays: Eat The Weeds: http://www.eattheweeds.com/spiderwort-pocahontas-and-gamma-rays/
Spiderwort- Tradescantia virginiana: Edible Wild Food: http://www.ediblewildfood.com/spiderwort.aspx
Spiderwort- Tradescantia virginiana: Herb Rowe: https://herberowe.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/virginia-spiderwort-%E2%80%93-tradescantia-virginiana/
Tradescantia: Southern Living: https://www.southernliving.com/plants/tradescantia
Tradescantia virginiana: Fine Me A Cure: https://findmeacure.com/2011/11/04/tradescantia-virginiana/
Tradescantia virginiana: Practical Plants: https://practicalplants.org/wiki/Tradescantia_virginiana
What is Tradescantia?: WiseGeek: https://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-tradescantia.htm