Herb: Pipsissewa


Latin name: Chimaphila umbellata


Synonyms: Pyrola umbellata


Family: Pyrolaceae (Wintergreen Family)



Medicinal use of Pipsissewa:

Pipsissewa was much used by many tribes of native North American Indians to induce sweating and treat fevers, including typhus. The plant contains hydroquinones which have a pronounced disinfectant effect within the urinary tract and modern day herbalism mainly employs the plant to treat urinary problems such as cystitis and urethritis. The whole plant is alterative, antibacterial, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, rubefacient, stimulant and tonic. An infusion is used in the treatment of various problems related to the urinary system, it is also prescribed for more serious conditions such as kidney stones and gonorrhoea. A decoction is very efficacious in the treatment of skin diseases. Used externally, the fresh leaves are rubefacient and internally they are of great use in cardiac and kidney diseases, chronic rheumatism and scrofula. Only the leaves are officinal, though the whole plant is often used. The plant is loaded with the biologically active compounds arbutin, sitosterol and ursolic acid. Arbutin hydrolyzes to the toxic urinary antiseptic hydroquinone. The plant contains glycosides and an essential oil that are used as an astringent and tonic. The plant is harvested when in flower, and the leaves on their own can be harvested during the growing season. They are dried for later use. A homeopathic remedy is made from the leaves. It is used in the treatment of inflammations of the urinary system.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Shrub

Height:
35 cm
(1 foot)

Flovering:
July to
August


Scent:
Scented
Shrub

Habitat of the herb:

Dry coniferous woods in Europe. Moist woods, particularly coniferous stands, and along mountain streams from the lower hills to about 2,500 metres in Western N. America.

Edible parts of Pipsissewa:

The leaves are nibbled, brewed into a tea or used as a flavouring in root beer. They have a delicious scent and flavour. An extract of the leaves is used to flavour candy and soft drinks. In Mexico the herb is used in the preparation of "navaitai", an alcoholic beverage produced from sprouted maize. A tea can be made from an infusion of the stems and roots.

Other uses of the herb:

The plant's stoloniferous root system, and dwarf spreading habit make it a god ground cover, though it is a difficult plant to establish and grow well. The plant is used in perfumery because of its delicate scent.

Propagation of Pipsissewa:

Seed - this is very difficult to germinate, see the notes above in cultivation details. It is best sown in a shady area of the greenhouse on moist sphagnum peat as soon as it is ripe. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a shady position in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division. Rather difficult because the plant is very sensitive to root disturbance. It is best attempted in the spring as the plant comes into growth. Cuttings of softwood, June in a frame. Use some soil from around an established plant.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry coniferous woods in Europe. Moist woods, particularly coniferous stands, and along mountain streams from the lower hills to about 2,500 metres in Western N. America.

Known hazards of Chimaphila umbellata:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.