Herb: Indian Hemp

Latin name: Apocynum cannabinum

Synonyms: Apocynum sibiricum

Family: Apocynaceae (Dogbane Family)

Medicinal use of Indian Hemp:

Indian hemp is an unpleasantly bitter stimulant irritant herb that acts on the heart, respiratory and urinary systems, and also on the uterus. 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. 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. See the notes above on toxicity. The root is cardiotonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic and expectorant. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. The fresh root is the most active part medicinally. It has been used in the treatment of syphilis and as a tonic. A weak tea made from the dried root has been used for cardiac diseases. A tea made from the root has been used as a vermifuge. The milky sap is a folk remedy for venereal warts.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Gravelly or sandy soil, mainly near streams. A common weed of cultivated land, usually found in shady or moist places.

Edible parts of Indian Hemp:

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

Other uses of the herb:

A very good quality fibre obtained from the bark is used for making clothes, twine, bags, linen, paper etc. It is about 12 - 18mm long. Very strong, it is used as a flax substitute, it does not shrink and it retains its strength in water. The fibre is produced late in the season, it can be harvested after the leaves fall in autumn but is probably at its best as the seed pods are forming. 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. The stems are then cooked for two hours with lye and pounded with mallets. The plant yields a latex which is a possible source of rubber. The latex is also used as a chewing gum.

Propagation of Indian Hemp:

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. 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. Division in spring just before active growth begins. Plants can also be divided in the autumn.

Cultivation of the herb:

Gravelly or sandy soil, mainly near streams. A common weed of cultivated land, usually found in shady or moist places.

Known hazards of Apocynum cannabinum:

All parts of the plant are poisonous. It contains toxic cardioactive glycosides.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.