Abscess root (polemonium reptans) — alternative medicine of North American plants

Also Known As:

  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Greek Valerian
  • Blue Bells
  • False Jacob’s Ladder
  • Sweat Root
  • Greek Valerian American Root
  • American Greek Valerian Root
  • Creeping Polemonium


RANGE: Northeastern United States, south to Georgia and west to Minnesota and Oklahoma.

HABITAT: Rich woods, damp ground and along shady river banks. This species is most often found in moist wooded areas, often along creeks. This plant is threatened in Michigan and endangered in New Jersey.

DESCRIPTION: Perennial member of the Phlox family, Abscess Root is a common wildflower of early spring with attractive sky-blue flowers. This species spreads quickly with its creeping roots, and may form large mats where it becomes established. Attractive small plant for the shade garden. Self-seeds.

The stems are 9 to 1O inches high, much branched, bearing pinnate leaves with six or seven pairs of leaflets. The nodding, blue flowers are in loose, terminal bunches. The slender rootstock, when dried and used as the drug, is 1 to 2 inches long and 1/8 inch in diameter, with the bases of numerous stems on the upper surface, and tufts of pale, slender, smooth, wiry, brittle roots on the underside. The rootstock has a slightly bitter and acrid taste.

MEDICINE: Astringent, alterative, diaphoretic, expectorant.

Abscess Root is used to treat pulmonary diseases. Even in moderate doses, it is a powerful diaphoretic and cause profuse sweating. The herb, both an astringent and antiseptic, soothes inflamed bronchial mucosa and promotes the rapid healing of an ulcerated throat. The most valuable aspect is its use as an expectorant. It will quickly remove mucous from the lungs and bronchi, and as the herb also produces a slight vasodilative action, it makes breathing easier and reduces coughing.

The Meskwaki Indian people used a compound containing the root of this plant as a powerful urinary or physic. Native Americans also use the root for piles or hemorrhoids, to induce sweating and vomiting, and to treat eczema. The drug has been recommended for use in febrile and inflammatory eases, all scrofulous diseases, in bowel complaints requiring an astringent, for the bites of venomous snakes and insects, bronchitis, laryngitis and whenever an alterative is required. It is reported to have cured consumption; an infusion of the root in wineglassful doses is useful in coughs, colds and all lung complaints, producing copious perspiration.


Flowers: Gather the flowers in Spring. They are edible.

Root: Gather in Fall. Prepare tincture or infusion or dry for further use.

Tincture – Dose: 1-2 fluid ounces, two or three times a day.

Infusion – Dose: 1 teaspoon of dried root to 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes. Take tablespoon full doses throughout the day for coughs, colds and congestion.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top