Grindelia squarrosa a.k.a ."gumweed" of the Asteraceae/Sunflower family is a biennial or short lived perennial found in the Mountain West. It has yellow, daisy-like flower heads and a sticky, resinous sap covers its leaves. It is both edible and medicinal and has been used in European and western herbology and in Native American medicine.
Gumweed is described in several books (Hobbs, 2002) (Kindscher, Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie, 1987) (Kindscher, Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie, 1992) (Moore, 1979) as being useful as edible and medicinal from a western perspective with some information relating it to uses by American Indians. Limited information is currently available in terms of Ayurvedic uses. It is mentioned in Appendix VI "Latin Appendix" of "The Yoga of Herbs" (Vasant Lad, 1986) but does not appear to be described in any depth. It is briefly described in "Planetary Herbology" (Frawley, 1988) and although energetics of the plant are mentioned, no Ayurvedicverbiage or references to vipaka, srotamsi, or specific Ayurvedic treatments are used or made. I did not find any sources on the internet ( including Google search, www.colostate.edu, www.ayurvedicherbsdirect.com, or www.books.google.com) linking gumweed and Ayurvedic medicine. Nor is Grindelia squarrosa listed in any of the currently published volumes of the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia (The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India, 2004, 2007).
Botany and Ecology
Latin Name: Grindelia squarrosa; Grindelia after David Hieronymus Grindel (1776-1836) who was either (depending upon the source) a Latvian, Estonian or Russian botanist. Squarrosa means scabby, scaly or roughened in reference to the leaf like appendages that stick out below the flower head. Common Names: Gumweed, Rosinweed, Tarweed, curly-top gumweed, curly-cup gumweed, rayless gumweed, broadleaf gumplant, Yerba del Buey.
Species: G. squarrosa
Appearance: It grows 0.33 to 3.3 feet with smooth stems, spreading to erect, usually single and branched above. Alternate leaves, oblong with entire to coarsely toothed margins. Flower heads are several to numerous with yellow ray florets up to .5 inches in length. The floral disk is 0.6 to 2.75 inches wide. Bracts of heads resinous and strongly curled. Resin covering the flowers and flower buds is thick and milky and smells balsamic. Its purpose is to ensure pollination should insects fail. The fruit is an achene. Gumweed is tap rooted, and develops a short, vertical rhizome. The root system extends 6.5 feet into the soil, with extensive shallow root development.
Habitat: Disturbed sites, plains, pastures, hills, roadsides, along streams, sands, clays, and sub-alkaline soils; elevations from 3,000-8,000 feet. Gumweed favors dry areas, but grows on moist soils that lack other vegetation. It is probably native to the Great Plains and, perhaps, Rocky Mountain areas; it is widely introduced in other areas.
Ecosystems: (USDA Forest Service)
- FRES15Oak - hickory
- FRES17Elm - ash - cottonwood
- FRES21Ponderosa pine
- FRES26Lodgepole pine
- FRES30Desert shrub
- FRES34Chaparral - mountain shrub
- FRES35Pinyon - juniper
- FRES36Mountain grasslands
- FRES38Plains grasslands
- FRES40Desert grasslands
Range: USA (AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WY), CAN (AB, BC, MB, NT, ON, QC, SK)
Time of Growth: Flowering Jul-Oct.
Ecologic Status: No native status listed (US Dept. Of Agriculture NRCS Plants Database); No Federal legal status (USDA Forest Service); this plant can be weedy or invasive; Gumweed increases with grazing and has a negative economic impact on rangelands. It forms dense, brush like cover in rangelands where there is much broken sod (USDA Forest Service).
Related Species: 28 related species within Grindelia
Other: Unpalatable to cattle, sheep, and horses though sheep will occasionally crop flower heads in the absence of other forage. It is drought resistant due to deep roots and resinous secretions (USDA Forest Service).
Collecting: Flowers are harvested when in full bloom or buds just prior to the opening of the marginal florets and the appearance of the first bright yellow petals. The buds develop and open from May through September, with the best buds available in Leo, mid-July thru mid-August. Hand harvesting is recommended as the gum covers and quickly dries on anything that it comes in contact with. Several buds can be grasped and picked at once and collected in a paper bag. It is recommended to "cool" the buds before confining them if not immediately preparing them otherwise. Seed Collecting: allow pods to dry on plant and break open to collect seeds.
Preparation: Leaves and flowers can be used interchangeably for a tea (decoction); flowers are preferred for tincturing; crushed flowers as a poultice; Fresh, young, sticky flower heads can be used as chewing gum
Medicinal Uses: The medicinal use of gumweed dates back to Native American and folk times and it was listed as an official drug in the United States Pharmacopoeia until 1960. The slightly bitter and aromatic tea may be used for bronchitis or wherever an expectorant is needed; as an antispasmodic for dry hacking coughs (alone or often combined with Yerba Santa). It is believed to desensitize the nerve endings in the bronchial tree and slow the heart rate, thus leading to easier breathing; it merits investigation as a treatment for asthma. The tincture is useful for bladder and urethra infections. Tincture or poultice may be used topically for poison ivy and poison oak inflammations. Other indications include bronchial spasm, whooping cough, malaria, other chronic and acute skin conditions, vaginitis and as a mild stomach tonic. Native Americans (tribes including Pawnee, Cheyenne, Sioux [Lakota and Teton Dakota], Crows, Shoshones, Poncas, Blackfeet, Crees, Zunis and Flatheads) used preparations of curlycup gumweed both internally and externally as washes, poultices, decoctions and extracts to treat skin diseases and rashes, saddle sores, scabs, wounds, edema, asthma, bronchitis, cough, pneumonia, cold, nasal catarrh, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and syphilis, menstrual and postpartum pain, colic, digestive ailments, liver problems and as kidney medicine. The fresh gum was rubbed on the eyelids to treat snow-blindness.
Effects: stimulant, sedative, astringent, purgative, emetic, diuretic, antiseptic, and disinfectant.
Primary constituents: Tannins, volatile oils, resins, bitter alkaloids, and glucosides
Other uses: Ornamental- it produces flowers over along period, even when the soil is poor and dry; young, sticky flower heads can be used as chewing gum; leafless stems can be bound together to make brooms.
Contraindications: The herb is contraindicated for patients with kidney or heart complaints. There may be concentrated levels of selenium as it is a facultative selenium absorber.
Taste/Energetics: determined by several trials of decoction (tea) and dry taste test according to method described in carak samhita
Rasa: moderately tikta (bitter), hint of kshaya (astringent)
Virya: Shita (cold)
Vipaka: Katu (pungent)
Prabhava: Gumweed has affinity for the lungs and respiratory tract and skin. Treatment of bronchitis, asthma and cough is the primary and most often mentioned medicinal use followed by treatment of skin conditions (particularly inflammation by poison oak and poison ivy).
Primary srotas indicated in bold
- Prana vaha srotas-effect on lungs and respiratory tract; stimulating, drying expectorant; antispasmodic
- Anna vaha srotas-effect on stomach-soothing for stomachache
- Ambu vaha srotas-diuretic action; effect on kidneys and pancreas
- Rakta vaha srotas-effect on liver and spleen; skin conditions
- Artava vaha srotas-treatment of menstrual disorders and STDs
- Mutra vaha srotas-effect on bladder and kidneys; use as bladder and kidney medicine; diuretic
Gumweed's tikta rasa indicates its benefit in clearing heat, drying ama, benefitting skin, clearing parasites from GI tract, supporting liver, and clearing congestion from srotamsi. Its kshaya quality indicate drying mucus and stopping leakage, tightens dhatus, cleans mucous membranes, stops bleeding, stops diarrhea and coughs and heals wounds. Its shita virya indicates its use in "hot" and inflammatory conditions and shita herbs usually have an affinity for the stomach, kidneys and bladder. The nature of katu vipaka is to increase dryness, constipation and gas, reduce fertility, aid in reducing kapha and can aggravate vata.
Gumweed would probably be most helpful for kapha and pitta prakrutis as it is bitter and astringent and has special affinity for lungs and skin. It may best be avoided in large doses by vata because of its rasa; however it may be a helpful medicine when vata is involved as it is not so extremely bitter and drying as to be vata provoking when used in small doses and/or balanced with other herbs. Generally it would be beneficial for kapha respiratory congestion, pitta inflammatory conditions and vata spasmodic conditions in the lungs. It could be employed when any of the previously mentioned srotamsi are affected. It may be useful as an occasional tea for kapha and/or pitta-especially in the summertime and as a medicinal tea for respiratory congestion, especially in the damp spring. It might also be used as a salve or lotion for pitta type skin conditions, a blood purifier and liver cleanser or as a poultice of dried flowers and leaves for swelling and inflammatory skin conditions.
Comparison with Western uses
The classification of gumweed's rasa and virya validate and align themselves with its historical uses by Native Americans and in western herbology: it was actually used for what the Ayurvedic classifications indicate. Vipaka, however, is unique to Ayurveda and in this case indicates the pungent quality who's drying and kapha reducing characteristics were still recognized and utilized in the western treatments.
Generally speaking, the western use of medicines is focused on treating a specific ailment not necessarily considering the person in which that ailment occurs; i.e. the same medicine may be prescribed for all people having a particular condition. From an Ayurvedic perspective, medicines are prescribed taking many factors into consideration such as prakruti, vikruti, the severity of the illness etc. One medicine with similar characteristics may be chosen over another because of this yukti (tailoring treatment to the individual). In addition, synergistic combinations of medicines are used to enhance the properties of each and to avoid complications of giving large doses of one medicine. This being said, the prescription of Grindelia squarrosa in an Ayurvedic context would be based upon the patient as a unique individual.
(n.d.). Retrieved Jan. 2009, from USDA Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/grisqu/all.html
(n.d.). Retrieved Jan. 2009, from Flora of North America: http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=242416609
(n.d.). Retrieved Jan. 2009, from US Dept. Of Agriculture NRCS Plants Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=GRIND#
Curly-cup Gumweed. (n.d.). Retrieved Feb. 2009, from Montana Plant Life: http://montana.plant-life.org/species/grindelia_squarro.htm
Frawley, M. T. (1988). Planetary Herbology. Lotus Press.
Hobbs, S. F. (2002). Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Kindscher, K. (1987). Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
Kindscher, K. (1992). Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
Lad, D. V. (2006). Textbook of Ayurveda: A Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment (Vol. II). Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press.
Lad, D. V. (2002). Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda (Vol. I). Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press.
Moore, M. (1979). Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe: The Museum of New Mexico Press.
Pole, S. (2006). Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Elsevier Ltd.
The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India (Vols. I-V). (2004, 2007). New Delhi, India: CCRAS.
Two buds and a Leaf: Poplar buds, grindelia buds and fig leaves. (n.d.). Retrieved Feb. 28, 2009, from ryandrum.com: http://www.ryandrum.com/twobudsoneleaf.htm
Vasant Lad, D. F. (1986). The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved Jan. 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achene
 An achene (also sometimes referred to as "akene" and occasionally "achenium" or "achenocarp") is a type of simple dry fruit produced by many species of flowering plants. Achenes are "monocarpellate" (formed from one carpel) and indehiscent (they do not open at maturity). Achenes contain a single seed that nearly fills the pericarp, but does not adhere to it. In many species, what we think of as the "seed" is actually an achene, a fruit containing the seed. (Wikipedia)
By Annalise Ozols, Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula 2009