How did joe-pye weed get its name and Where did the term “Joe Pye weed” come from?

Legend hath it that this common tall weed of New England, blossoming with purple flowers in late summer, was so named “from an Indian of that name, who cured typhus fever with it, by copious perspiration,” in the phrasing of the botanist Constantine S. Rafinesque in 1828.

Though that legend has been repeated over and over again by subsequent botanists, its veracity has been questioned in recent years by hard-headed fact finders.

Since typhus has been known by that name only since 1785, when and where was this cure effected? To what New England tribe did this Indian of curious name belong?

Probably the entire story will now never be uncovered, but, writing in The Scientific American (vol. 61, 1945), “On the Fable of Joe Pye,” anthropologist F. G. Speck and librarian Ernest S. Dodge tell of learning through old diaries of the existence of a Joseph Pye, alias Shauqueathquat, in 1787, and, from other evidence, advance the possibility that he was a descendent of the original Joe Pye, a medicine man probably living near Salem, Massachusetts, in colonial times.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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