Rattlesnake Master or Eryingium yuccifolium looks like something taken out of the southwestern United States. The name is derived from an old belief that its roots have the ability to heal snake bites. Although there is currently no scientific evidence to support older claims of medicinal properties by Native Americans, Rattlesnake Master was a popular herb used in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first person to document its medicinal uses was an 18th century Indian trader by the name of James Adair. James Adair recounted tales that the Indians would chew on the root, blow it in their hands, and then handle rattlesnakes without any damage. Despite many of these stories, the use was not wide spread, but rather used in bitter teas as an antidote for various maladies. These included venereal disease, snakebites, impotence, expelling worms, and to induce vomiting.
This is quite a striking plant growing anywhere from 2 to 5 feet in height. The foliage of the plant is stiff with small prickles running along the up to 3 foot long leaves edge. The leaves of the Rattlesnake Master are most similar to that of a Yucca plant. The flowers are born in spherical, thistle-like heads that are around 1 inch diameter, and the individual flowers are a greenish white and are surrounded by larger pointed bracts. The fruit essentially looks the same as the flowers, the only difference is it is a darker dull brown and it remains on the stalks for the remainder of the season. The fruits are sometimes gathered and used in dried flower arrangements, but they provide equal interest in the winter landscape.
This particular plant is more of an accent plant, and a grouping of 3 are quite sufficient. This plant should also be used in the rear of the bed because the flower stalks can and most likely will reach up to 5 feet in height. This is a great plant to use in roadside plantings, prairie restoration, prairie landscaping, wildlife cover, and also in wildflower gardens because of its attractive appearance.
Rattlesnake Master can be seen throughout Reiman Gardens, but a great place to visit it is in the South Mixed Border right by the Dancing Chimes. It is a great example of what this plant looks like in the landscape and a nice example of how to use it in your own garden. Who knows when you might need the Rattlesnake Master’s healing powers.