Wormgrass is my favorite name for this valuable wild plant. Native Americans used it as a medicine to help cure intestinal worms- primarily round worms. The Creek and Cherokee Native American tribes also collected these plants for sale to the European traders.
In the 1810 book Medical Botany, the author William Woodville described the dosage and effects on a small child: "To a child of two years of age, who has been taking 10 grains of the root twice-a-day, without having any other effect, than making her dull and giddy, I prescribed twenty-two grains morning and evening, which purged her briskly, and brought out 5 large worms." What kind of large worms? Round worms seemed to be the only intestinal worms that Indian Pink was useful against.
Unfortunately for this wildflower, the plant was over harvested during the early 1800's because of its medicinal properties.
Fortunately for the wildflower (but unfortunately for the recipient) the cure would sometimes kill the patient. Some of the documented side effects of Indian Pink included: convulsions, coma, dilated pupils, eye convulsions, accelerated heart rate, dilerium, vertigo and sometimes death. By the mid 1800's, it had fallen out of favor with medical practicioners as a result of these dangers. The following as an account from a 1879 medical book of someone suffering from the side effects: "Suddenly affected with complete mental derangement precisely of that kind which is sometimes produced by the seeds of Stramoninm; he distorted his countenance into a variety of shapes was affected by alternate fits of laughing and crying and run and skipped about the room incessantly; the pupils were greatly dilated and his talk was wild and incoherent; these symptoms went off in the course of about twenty four hours and left him quite as well as he had been before the pink root."
The plant has made a comeback. It can be found in the Southeastern United States in wooded, well-drained areas. It is a lovely wildflower that has played an important part in the lives of many of the earliest settlers to the United States.