One of the things I look forward to most this time of year is a certain, bright red, flower blooming among the piney flatwoods and mixed woodlands that my husband and I tend to venture. We first encountered Cherokee Bean (or Coral Bean) before we even knew what it was. Actually, our friend Justin dubbed it the X Wing plant because the leaves reminded him of the X Wings from Star Wars. (Yes indeed, we are ALL nerds here!) It wasn’t until about a year later that we realized that those leaves belonged to the pretty red flowers we kept seeing in the Winter. In most of the places we tend to hike, the flowers develop at the same time the plant drops it’s leaves, so the flowers and leaves aren’t always present at the same time.
Erythrina herbacea (Coral Bean) is in the Fabaceae (Pea) family. The genus Erythrina includes over 115 species of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants that all have orange or bright-red flowers. They are found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. In North and Central Florida, E. herbacea grows as a large perennial, reaching 6 feet tall before it freezes to the ground in winter. In South Florida it grows as a large deciduous shrub or small tree. This plant can be found from North Carolina through to Texas and further South. It’s range includes all the coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico. It prefers well-drained sand, loam, or clay, and can easily be found in open, sandy woods & clearings of the coastal plains. In Florida, it’s easy to find in mesic hammocks, pine flatwoods, scrub, secondary woods, upland mixed woodlands, coastal dunes, and sandhills throughout the whole state. Blooms are present from Winter until Spring.
Common Names- Coral Bean, Coralbead, Cherokee Bean, Cardinal Spear, Red Cardinal
Scientific Name- Erythrina herbacea
Edibility- The flowers and young leaves are edible cooked. With the leaves, it’s best to play it safe and cook them at least twice, throwing away the water after the first time cooking them.
Summary of Actions- Antiemetic, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Narcotic, Purgative, Tonic
Parts Used- The whole plant can be used, but most commonly it’s the root, seeds, and bark.
Native American Traditional Uses- A number of Native American Tribes had many medicinal uses for this plant, varying between nations and localities. Creek women used an infusion of the root for bowel pain; the Choctaw used a decoction of the leaves as a general tonic; the Seminole used an extract of the roots for digestive problems, and extracts of the seeds, or of the inner bark, as an external rub for rheumatic disorders.
General Tonic and Fevers- A tea made from the leaves can be used as a general tonic, promoting a healthy digestive system and improving health in general. However a decoction of the root can also be used to help reduce fevers.
Nausea and Constipation- A decoction of the root can be used to clear up nausea and constipation. A cold infusion of the root has also been traditionally used for a variety of bowel complaints in women.
Urinary System- The diuretic properties of this plant make it excellent for clearing up blocked urination.
Joint Pain and Numbness- A decoction of the beans or inner bark has been used as a body rub and steam for numb, painful limbs and joints.
Other Uses- Traditional cultures use the seeds as beads. It’s also a beautiful landscape plant for those who want to have a native landscape and who may want to attract hummingbirds.
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- All parts of the plant, but especially the seeds, contain numerous toxic alkaloids, including erysodine and erysopine, and cyanogenic glycosides. They can cause diarrhea and vomiting. The alkaloids have an action similar to the poison curare (Strychnos species) and have been used as a rat poison. In sufficient quantities, the seeds can cause human death.
I only included a basic introduction to this brilliant Florida Native. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook (Bat Lady Herbals) and Instagram (BatLadyHerbalist) for updates on my adventures in Nature. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and what to see more, Become a Patron!
Cardinal Spear: Natural Medicinal Herbs: http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/e/erythrina-herbacea=cardinal-spear.php
Coral Bean: University of Florida Gardening Solutions: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/coral-bean.html
Coral Bean- Hummingbird Fast Food: Eat the Weeds: http://www.eattheweeds.com/coral-bean-humming-bird-fast-food/
Erythrina: Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/erythrina
Erythrina Herbacea: Florida Native Plant Society: https://fnps.org/plants/plant/erythrina-herbacea
Erythrina Herbacea: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=erhe4
Erythrina Herbacea: Useful Tropical Plants: http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Erythrina+herbacea
Erythrina Herbacea (Coral Bean): Find Me A Cure: https://findmeacure.com/2012/04/01/erythrina-herbacea-coral-bean/