Occasionally referred to as Joe Pye weed, gravel root is a large herbaceous plant growing perennially and belongs to the Asteraceae (Daisy) plant family. This plant grows up to a height of five feet (1.5 meters) and is useful as a beautiful add-on to any garden or in the form of a border to protect privacy. The stems of gravel root are strong, unfilled and purple hued and wrapped with vortexes of four to eight deep green, spear-shaped, indented leaves that grow up to a maximum of one foot in length.
An arched cluster of flowers whose color varies from rose pink to white appear on top of every stem. Each flower of gravel root is approximately one foot across and they bloom during the August-September period. The root of this herbaceous plant is wooded, broad and purplish brown having a flesh that is cream colored. The whole herb is harvested when it is in full bloom.
As mentioned earlier, the gravel root plant is also known as Joe Pye and this alternative name is said to be in respect of the Native American who had employed the herb to cure typhus suffered by New Englanders. In addition, the indigenous tribes in North American also used this herbaceous plant in the form of a diuretic and also for treating medical conditions that affected the genitourinary (the genital and urinary organs) system. The Pharmacopoeia of the U.S. had catalogued gravel root between the period 1820 and 1842.
Aerial parts, root, rhizome.
As the common name of this plant hints, gravel root is an extremely useful herb for treating problems of the urinary tract. In effect, this herb helps to avoid the formation of stones in the kidneys and gallbladder and may also shrink the existing stones in these organs. In addition, gravel root is effective for treating medical conditions like cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder), enlarged prostate or other types of obstruction, urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) as well as gout and rheumatism. The root or rhizome of this herb is believed to facilitate in treating rheumatism and gout by augmenting the elimination of waste products from the kidneys.
Several indigenous tribes in North America still believe that the Joe Pye weed or gravel root is an aphrodisiac (a substance that increases sexual drive).
The whole gravel root herb is employed in the form of an alternative medicine and the roots being the most potent part. Bruised leaves of the herb have an aroma similar to that of an apple and they are dehydrated and burnt to keep away flies. The dried roots and flowers of gravel root are infused to prepare an herbal tea that works as an effective diuretic and helps in alleviating problems of the kidneys as well as the urinary tract. This tea is also used to promote sweating and alleviate high fever.
While the native tribes of North America have been using gravel root for therapeutic purposes for centuries, when the European settlers arrived in the continent, they were fast to espouse the herb and the plant continues to be used in contemporary herbal medicine. The entire gravel root herb, particularly its root, possesses diuretic, astringent, tonic and nervine properties. It is especially useful in treating the problems of the genitals, the urinary tract and the uterus. Gravel root is particularly useful for its actions as an energizer and diuretic. In addition it is also valuable for its astringent attributes. An herbal tea prepared with gravel root rhizome and leaves is employed to get rid of stones from the urinary system, to cure urinary incontinence (inability to restrain urine discharge) in children and impotence. The leaves as well as the flower-bearing stems of the gravel root are harvested in summer prior to the opening of the buds and dried for use when necessary. The roots of gravel root, which are considered to be the most potent part of the herb, are dug up in autumn and dried for future use.
Habitat and cultivation
The herbaceous perennial plant gravel root is native to North America and is found growing naturally in damp woodland and meadows extending from southern Canada to Florida and westwards to Texas.
Gravel root plants thrive well in common garden soil which has adequate drainage, but can retain moisture in sun or partial shade. Plants belonging to this species may be cultivated in somewhat rough grass that can be mowed or cut every year during autumn. Gravel root has the ability to tolerate extreme cold conditions and can endure as low temperature as approximately -25°C. The crushed leaves of gravel root have an aroma that is akin to that of vanilla/apple. These plants appear to be unaffected by the intrusion and preying by rabbits. Interestingly enough, butterflies are drawn by gravel root. This species may be propagated by its seeds or root division.
The seeds of gravel root should be sown in spring in a cold frame and it is advisable that you only cover the seeds. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, prick them individually and plant them in separate pots. The young plants may be transplanted into their permanent positions outdoors during the summer. Propagation by division of roots should ideally be done in spring or autumn. It is quite simple to grow the plant by root separation and it is possible to re-plant the thickets into their enduring positions outdoors.
When gravel root is grown in the gardens, this plant blends excellently with showy grasses to offer a typical ‘prairie' appearance, but also appears similarly effectual when grown with lofty sub-tropical flowers, for instance Dahlia, Salvia, Canna and Brillantaisia in a range of colors, including white, pink, blue and cerise.
The plants require cutting to the ground during winter. The height of the plants notwithstanding, they hardly require staking (poles to support the plants). In effect, there are various cultivars of gravel root, counting ‘Purple Bush' and “Gateway'.
Gravel root is used in different formulations, such as tincture and decoction, for therapeutic purposes.
Decoction: To prepare a decoction, add one tsp. of gravel root to a cup of water and boil the mixture. Allow the mixture to simmer for about ten minutes. This decoction needs to be taken internally thrice every day.
The aerial parts as well as the root or rhizome of gravel root are used for therapeutic purposes. While the aerial parts are used to prepare infusion and tincture, the root of the plant is used to prepare a decoction and tincture.
Collection and harvesting
The root as well as the rhizome of gravel root ought to be unearthed during autumn when the herb has stopped flowering. They are subsequently rinsed, sliced, dried and preserved for future use.