The leaflets and branches of the indigo plant yield an exquisite blue dye; people around the globe have used it to color textiles and clothing for centuries. Before the development of synthetic blue dyes, indigo was cultivated for this pigment rather than for medicinal use.
In the traditional medicine of India and China, indigo was used in the treatment of conditions we would now call epilepsy, bronchitis, liver disease, and psychiatric illness. 1 However, there is no real scientific evidence for any of these uses.
Warning : Several species of indigo are poisonous. See Safety Issues for more information.
Based on its traditional use for liver problems, researchers have investigated whether indigo might protect the liver against chemically induced injury. Animal studies do suggest that extracts of the indigo species Indigofera tinctoria protect the liver from damage by toxic chemicals. 2,3 No human trials, however, have been performed to examine indigo's effects on the liver.
The species Indigofera oblongifolia has been tested for its antibacterial and antifungal activity. 4 In a test tube trial, this plant showed significant activity against certain types of bacteria and fungi. This research is still in its preliminary stages, so it is too early to tell whether Indigofera oblongifolia will prove useful for the treatment of any infectious diseases.
Note : A different plant called wild indigo ( Baptisia tinctoria ), in combination with echinacea and white cedar, has been studied as a possible immune stimulant. 5 However, wild indigo is not part of the Indigofera family of plants and is not discussed here.
The indigo species Indigofera tinctoria has a history of use in traditional medical systems, and is regarded by herbalists as safe, other than the occasional allergic reactions that have been reported. 6 However, comprehensive safety tests have not been performed. For this reason, indigo should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, young children, or individuals with severe liver or kidney disease. Safety in other individuals is unknown.
The species Indigofera spicata (formerly Indigofera endecaphylla ), however,is poisonous: it has killed cattle and other animals 7,8 and has caused birth defects in rats. 9 Other indigo species have also been found to be lethal. 10,11 For this reason, it is important to avoid ingesting indigo internally unless you are absolutely certain that it has been harvested and processed by expert, reliable individuals.
3. Anand KK, Chand D, Ghatak BJR. Histological evidence of protection by Indigofera tinctoria Linn. against carbontetrachloride induced hepatotoxicity—an experimental study. Indian J Exp Biol . 1981;19:298–300.
5. Wustenberg P, Henneicke-von Zepelin H-H, Kohler G, et al . Efficacy and mode of action of an immunomodulator herbal preparation containing Echinacea, wild indigo, and white cedar. Adv Ther. 1999;16:51–70.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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