Black Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta

Black Eyed Susan flowers
Black Eyed Susan flowers

Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his Dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,

Lest precious tears should drop from Susan’s eye.

from “Black-Eyed Susan”
by John Gay

This perennial herb is probably the most common of all American wildflowers. It is endemic throughout all of North America, and was at one time thought of as native to the plains, but in reality is native to the eastern part of North American, east of the Rockies.

The Cherokee called Awi akta, (deer eye) since the domed brown center resembles the eye of a white tailed deer of the east. The other named in Cherokee is a ga do li, ne ge i means ‘black eye.’ The Cherokee mixed it with yellow dock (Rumex crispus) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium)  and used in liquid form to treat earache. It was also used for treating urinary tract infections and other complaints. Dr James Duke, PhD states it is a strong immune stimulant.

Mary Chiltoskey (Cherokee) reported it was used to make a wash for ‘women’s private parts.’ It was combined with hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) and fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum)  to treat swelling and back pain.

The Potawatomi used the flowers to make a yellow dye. They mixed them with rushes to afford some variation in the color of their woven mats and other things.

The Black-eyed Susan is reputedly a toxin for grazing animals, cattle, sheep and pigs being the most susceptible. It is also the state flower of Maryland since 1918.


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