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Tephrosia virginiana : A Rotenone


Turkey pea, Hoary pea, and Cat gut. Other Names: American Garden Rue, Catgut, Devil's Shoestring, Rabbit-pea, Horey turkey peas, Virginia Pea, Virginia Tephrosia

Goat's rue is a source of rotenone, a substance poisonous to cold blooded animals but not warm blooded. Indians pulverized the root, bark, stems and sometimes leaves and tossed this substance into a pool of water. Fish were poisoned or stunned by the rotenone and floated to the top allowing the Indians to gather the fish. The plant used to be fed to goats to increase their milk production.

All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested. The name "Devil's Shoestring" is so called because of the long, slender roots.


"They would dam up the river and get out in the water and pound the roots between two rocks. In a short time the larger fish would rise and the small ones die. They seemed to go crazy and were easy to spear or shoot with an arrow, which had a string attached which prevented loss of the arrow."

Goat's Rue is normally 1 to 2 ft. tall, covered with silky silver hairs. Root is long and tough. Each of the large flowers is pea like, 1/2 to 3/4 in. long, yellowish at the top, and purplish-pink below. Gather after flowers bloom, dry for later herb use. Flowering Period: June - July. Due to its long taproot, this plant is drought resistant.


"On the west side of the Kiamashi River, above the old Rock chimney crossing, is a creek known as Salt Creek. They dammed this creek where it emptied into Kiamichi, with logs and brush, then they poisoned the water with the roots of a weed called devil's shoe string. Every man brought a bunch of roots, which they pounded with hammer or mallets, on rafts made of logs tied together and by floating up, and down the creek the water was soon poisoned. They commenced pounding the roots early in the morning and by ten o'clock the fish were coming to the top of the water, then they began to throw them out, onto the creek banks, catching them with gigs, spears, pitchforks, or anything that they could hold them with. Father said the fish were not poisoned, but blinded, or drunk, that if they were poisoned, would likely kill the people who ate them."

The map shows areas where native Goat's Rue wildflower plants grow wild, it is hardy over a much wider area if planted. It has probably moved farther west by now.


"Each man would dig ten bunches of "Devil's shoe string" and get him a block of wood and set it at the edge of the water and go to pounding that stuff with a little mallet and swishing the weed in the water. Waders and swimmers would go out in the water and stir up the water, which by that time would be looking milky. The fish would get drunk on that juice and pretty soon the heads of fish would begin to pop up and we would shoot them with the bow and arrows."