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Apocynum cannabinum - L.                
Common Name Indian Hemp
Family Apocynaceae
Known Hazards All parts of the plant are poisonous[1, 4, 19, 62]. It contains toxic cardioactive glycosides[222].
Habitats Gravelly or sandy soil, mainly near streams[4]. A common weed of cultivated land[60], usually found in shady or moist places[94].
Range North-eastern N. America.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Apocynum cannabinum is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4. It is in flower from Jul to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Lepidoptera.

USDA hardiness zone : 4-8

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Apocynum cannabinum Indian Hemp

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. Wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Apocynum cannabinum Indian Hemp
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Meadow;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Seed.
Edible Uses: Gum.

Seed - raw or cooked[257]. It can be ground into a powder and used as a meal[94]. A latex obtained from the plant is used as a chewing gum[61, 94, 177]. After the latex has been squeezed from the plant it s allowed to stand overnight to harden into a white gum[257]. The latex was sometimes mixed with clean clay[257].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antirheumatic;  Cardiotonic;  Diaphoretic;  Diuretic;  Emetic;  Expectorant;  Tonic;  VD;  Vermifuge;  Warts.

Indian hemp is an unpleasantly bitter stimulant irritant herb that acts on the heart, respiratory and urinary systems, and also on the uterus[238]. It was much employed by various native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide variety of complaints including rheumatism, coughs, pox, whooping cough, asthma, internal parasites, diarrhoea and also to increase milk flow in lactating mothers[257]. The plant is still used in modern herbalism, but it should be used with great caution, and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner if taken internally[[4, 222, 238]. See the notes above on toxicity[4, 222]. The root is cardiotonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic and expectorant[4, 46, 61, 94, 238]. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use[238]. The fresh root is the most active part medicinally. It has been used in the treatment of syphilis and as a tonic[207]. A weak tea made from the dried root has been used for cardiac diseases[207, 222]. A tea made from the root has been used as a vermifuge[213]. The milky sap is a folk remedy for venereal warts[222].
Other Uses
Fibre;  Gum;  Latex.

A very good quality fibre obtained from the bark is used for making clothes, twine, bags, linen, paper etc[1, 46, 61, 92, 94, 95, 189, 257]. It is about 12 - 18mm long[189]. Very strong[99], it is used as a flax substitute[57], it does not shrink and it retains its strength in water[99]. The fibre is produced late in the season[85], it can be harvested after the leaves fall in autumn but is probably at its best as the seed pods are forming[169]. When making paper, the stems can be retted by leaving them in the ground until they are dry in the winter or they can be harvested in late summer, the leaves removed and the stems steamed to remove the fibre[189]. The stems are then cooked for two hours with lye and pounded with mallets[189]. The plant yields a latex which is a possible source of rubber[46, 61, 177]. The latex is also used as a chewing gum.
Cultivation details                                         
Succeeds in sun or shade in most well-drained moist soils[169, 238]. Plants can be invasive[200]. The young shoots of this plant are extremely attractive to slugs[K].
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in late summer and overwintered outdoors. The seed requires a period of cold stratification if it is to germinate well[238]. Prick out the seedlings when large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter, planting out in late spring of the following year[K]. Division in spring just before active growth begins[200]. Plants can also be divided in the autumn[238].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[57]Schery. R. W. Plants for Man.
Fairly readable but not very comprehensive. Deals with plants from around the world.
[60]Hitchcock. C. L. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest.
A standard flora for Western N. America with lots of information on habitat etc. Five large volumes, it is not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[85]Harrington. H. D. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains.
A superb book. Very readable, it gives the results of the authors experiments with native edible plants.
[92]Balls. E. K. Early Uses of Californian Plants.
A nice readable book.
[94]Sweet. M. Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West.
Useful wild plants in Western N. America. A pocket guide.
[95]Saunders. C. F. Edible and Useful Wild Plants of the United States and Canada.
Useful wild plants of America. A pocket guide.
[99]Turner. N. J. Plants in British Columbian Indian Technology.
Excellent and readable guide.
[169]Buchanan. R. A Weavers Garden.
Covers all aspects of growing your own clothes, from fibre plants to dyes.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[189]Bell. L. A. Plant Fibres for Papermaking.
A good practical section on how to make paper on a small scale plus details of about 75 species (quite a few of them tropical) that can be used.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[207]Coffey. T. The History and Folklore of North American Wild Flowers.
A nice read, lots of information on plant uses.
[213]Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Gino Leonardo DI MITRI (Italy) Fri Nov 25 2005
There is a dissertation written in 1804 by Giuseppe CAPECELATRO, archibishop of Taranto:"Memoria dell'apocino". Capecelatro was a late fellow and scholar of the italian linnaeism. Best regards,

look for Capecelatro Giuseppe

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