Beardtongue (In Love with the Penstemon)

See Some Penstemon Varieties in Galleries on Click Here

When my husband came home with his arms groaning under the weight of a number of excellent perennials, one of his gifts that spring was a waving, supple and brilliantly crimson Beardtongue. The tag said that it was a tender perennial, meaning that the plant had little chance to survive our very cold winter, here in eastern Ontario.
I know how to treat tender perennials, though, and after a summer of vivid, perpetual rich blooming, during which time the plant grew three feet tall, I wrapped my still-flowering Beardtongue in burlap for the winter. Though the leaves dried overwinter, they were still green when I unwrapped the plant in the Spring.

If you wait until late May to unwrap a tender perennial like my Penstemon (called, incongruously, "Golden-Beard Penstemon" as well as "Scarlet Penstemon",) the plant flowers in June, and keeps creating satin brilliance on long stems of handsome bells long into the deep Fall.


I found many sites on the Internet that gave me a healthful impression of this lovely herb.
Two recent books define folk or indigenous alternative medicine of the South West US and also the healthful properties of many almost unknown wildflowers.

Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest, by Charles W. Kane is a book which notes that Penstemon Beardtongue is used in the Southwest largely for the healing of wounds, and topically for minor skin irritations like stings or sunburn.
I wish I could afford the two books that I am linking to here. The generous sample shown online is enough to launch a thousand explorations.

The Complete Book of Flower Essences

This book, by Rhonda M. Pallas Downey quotes from the Materia Medica among other sources, offering many folk names for just one of the over two hundred Beardtongue species

nb: There are 250 species native to North America.

Scarlet Penstemon has other names; Golden-Beard Penstemon, Beardlip Pen, Red Pens,Southwestern Pen, Hummingbird Flowers

It's name means Means "Five Stamens", deriving its Botanical name from Latin barba and barbatus (beard).

Downey enriches the work on herbs and healing immeasurably by offering the "Chakra Correspondence", meaning the significance for the bodys' centres of each herbs' vibration. Its "primary quality is courage".

"Energy Impact" or "Chakra Correspondence" 1st, 2nd 3rd and 5th chakras (Ayurvedic) :

Doctrine of Signatures

Downey writes about the Beardtongue bells, and the "funny little face" having teeth and little lips, lending its "signature" to the concept that this herb relates to the throat chakra.

See, also "Doctrine of Signatures" p.329, The Complete Book of Flower Essences: 48 Natural and Beautiful Ways to Heal ... By Rhonda M. PallasDowney

Traditional Use in Native American Medicine

Beardtongue has traditionally been used as a poultice for swellings, gun and arrow wounds, eyewash; a tea drunk for contipation, stomach ache, internal injuries, bronchitis, kidney problems and whooping cough.

Arizona use: for stings and sunburn.

LINK: Arizona Herbal Use

Fresh leaves mixed with sweet almond,apricot kernel or olive oil (3 types of oil) can be used as a skin salve for irritations of outer skin, lips, and anus .

Navaho Indian application: med for the broken bones of sheep.

The Large Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus) was used by the Dakota Indians, in a decoction of roots to treat chest pains

The Kiowa made this to treat stomachaches.

The Pawnee used a tea made of the leaves to treat fever and chills.
The roots were chewed to a pulp and placed it in a cavity to relieve toothache pain.

historical use,'Medicinal Herb Facts'

In Herbal medicine of the American Southwest, the text informs you that the "Anthocyanins are structure-enhancing, and mainly responsible for the flowers' coloring, these are useful in "augmenting the skins' repairing process".

Use in the southwest is largely as an external med for the healing of wounds, and minor irritations like stings, bites, rashes and poorly healing tissue, use.

Beardtongue grows in many colours, blue, red, purple,white, and in many sizes. It is commonly found on clay-rich hillsides in the South West of the US.. Picked when in flower,the upper herbage is used fresh or dry.

Chemistry and Cancer



Copyright © 1996 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.

Regular paper: researchers: Grzegorz Bazylaka, , Andrzej Rosiakb and Cheng-Yang Shic

Systematic analysis of glucoiridoids from Penstemon serrulatus Menz. by high-performance liquid chromatography with pre-column solid-phase extraction
a Biochromatographic Laboratory, Human Nutrition Division, Hygienics Department, Medical University of ódz, Jaracza 63, PL-90-251, ódz, Poland

"...five valeriana-type esterified glucoiridoids which consist of penstemide, serrulatoloside, 8-epi-valerosidate, 7-desoxy-8-epi-valerosidate and serrulatoside traces of four non-esterified glucoiridoids, i.e. harpagide, aucuboside, loganine and plantarenaloside..."


"The described chromatographic assay for penstemide, which exhibits potential antitumor activity against the P-388 lymphocytic leukemia cells, was applied to the monitoring and standardization of growth conditions for the callus cultures of P. serrulatus"

c. 1998

Link to Penstemon Images

Pink "Firecracker" Penstemon,

Esmaas Wild Garden

See Some Penstemon Varieties in Galleries on Click Here

Flickr Gallery allows a gallery of 18 flowers or whatever item you wish to catalogue


Family: Scrophulariaceae

Similar Species: Penstemon aridus and P. attenuatus have glandular flowers and inflorescences. P. rydbergii has smaller, more densely clustered flowers and glabrous anthers (Fertig et al. 1994).


Sparsely- vegetated calcareous rock outcrops and rocky soil within sagebrush, juniper, Douglas-fir, and limber pine communities.

Populations on the Tensleep Preserve are found mostly on upland sites with thin soils. Elevation 5200-8500 feet.

Wyoming Natural Diversity Database- Author: Walter Fertig

Plant Profile:Native Plant, Suite 101 .com Angela England


Blue Penstemon Penstemon azureus

"Gentle courage. Risks of the heart.This flower represents introspection, night sky, moon, stars, and Goddess energy. ..."

LINK: medicines by: High Sierra Botanicals, High Octave Healing

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