By Christine Tailer
Fleabane is a wildflower to some, a weed to others, and then there are those who even choose to plant it in their gardens. This has been such a wonderful spring for wildflowers here in the creek valley, perhaps because of the cool weather, but no matter the reason, fleabane is blooming everywhere. Its many dainty flower heads perch on tall willowy stems, the flowers ranging in color from white to pink and lavender. The stalk has only a few leaves, perhaps not wanting to distract from the plant’s pretty blooms.
The tall, stout, yet dainty fleabane seems to love the sunshine. It grows all along the creek valley road and the edges of our farm fields, and even though I have known fleabane for years, I have never taken the time to do more than appreciate its beauty as I pass by, but this year, perhaps because I see fleabane growing absolutely everywhere, I decided it was high time to learn. No matter what I am doing, or where I look, fleabane is there. I believe I’d have to wear blinders not to see it, and so I set out to learn.
I learned that fleabane is a native wild flower, and blossoms from late spring, throughout the summer, and well into fall. Each plant is adorned with multiple dainty flower heads, sometimes as many as one hundred. The flowers themselves are small, and each has numerous thin petals surrounding a bright yellow center. This spring, I have come across fleabane as tall as my waist, though I do not remember it being so tall in years past. It usually seems to grow up to my knees.
Of course, I wondered how fleabane got its name. Well, as one might expect, it seems that the plant is believed to be the bane of fleas! Historically, the flower heads were brought inside and placed throughout homes to help keep household fleas at bay. The dried flowers were even sewn into sachets and placed in drawers, but it seems that I am not a flea. When I buried my nose deep in the diminutive flower heads, I couldn’t detect any scent at all.
I have, however, seen honeybees and other pollinators flitting around the flowers and gathering the yellow pollen. It is likely not the scent, but rather the flowers’ bright yellow center, that attracts the pollinators, and it is certainly a good thing that honeybees like fleabane, for as we know, fleabane blooms all throughout the dry end of summer and into the fall, a time when most other wildflowers have died back.
As might also be expected, the Native Americans knew fleabane well, and put it to medicinal use. They made a poultice from the flowers that they applied to their foreheads to treat headaches. They boiled the roots for a tea that was used to treat colds. The dried plant was burnt and the smoke inhaled for treating coughs, and they made a salve from the boiled plant, mixed with tallow, or rendered fat, that they applied to sores to aid with healing. Apparently, fleabane contains caffeic acid, a compound that both works as a stimulant and has antioxidant benefits.
As for me, I believe that I will simply continue to enjoy fleabane’s beauty as it grows all throughout the creek valley. I may even gather a few bouquets to brighten up the cabin, though honestly, it seems that at this time of year, we are hardly ever inside. I really could not be any more thankful for our creek valley life, and thank you fleabane, for brightening our world.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.