The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Silphium perfoliatum
  • Silphium perfoliatum

Common Name

cup-plant, square-stemmed rosinweed.

Related Species

Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum (L.) Cronquist – cup plant

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

Native to tall grass prairie of the midwest U.S.  Habitat preference is moist woods, prairies and low ground. Blooms late summer.


A coarse perennial, 3-6 ft. tall with numerous large, yellow composite flowers. Each flower head has 20-30 yellow rays and darker yellow disks. Stout leaves are joined at stem to form a small cup that holds water and attracts birds.(Wildflower Center)

This species has square stems and leaves that are mostly opposite, egg-shaped, toothed, with cuplike bases that hold water (Kindscher 1987). The flower heads are rich, golden yellow, 2.5 centimeters in diameter, and closely grouped at the tips of the stems (Hunter 1984). The small, tubular disk flowers are in the middle of the flower and is sterile and does not produce fruits (Ladd, 1995).

Portion of the Plant Used

Leaves and roots.

Traditional Uses

Chippewa Indians used the simple or compound decoction of root for “stoppage of periods,” for back and chest pain and for lung hemorrhage. A poultice of moistened, dried root was applied to wounds to stop bleeding.

Iroquois  used the decoction of roots as an emetic and as face wash for paralysis. Burned root soot was placed on child’s cheek to prevent them from seeing ghosts. Meskwaki used the root to “alleviate the vomiting of pregnancy.” Infusion of root taken by women to prevent premature birth. Root used to reduce profuse menstruation and as an anti-emetic during pregnancy.

Ojibwa infusion of root taken for lumbago and other rheumatic back pains, stomach trouble and hemorrhage.

Cup plant’s young leaves were cooked in the spring as a green (Kindscher 1987). It was also used as a chewing gum to help prevent vomiting (Runkel & Roosa 1989). The Winnebagos tribe believed that this species has supernatural powers. They would drink a concoction derived from the rhizome to purify them before going on a buffalo hunt. It is used in the treatment of liver and spleen disorders and has also been used to treat morning sickness (Moerman 1998).


Silphium perfoliatum L. species is currently the object of many scientific investigations (Clevinger J. A., Panero J. L., 2000; Han K. J., Albrecht K. A., Mertens D. R., Kim D. A., 2000; Han K. J., Albrecht K. A., Muck R. E., Kim D. A., 2000).  Interests  are associated with its melliferous, fodder, medical and ornamental properties (Kowalski R. , Wolski T. 2003).  Studies performed upon biological activity of ethanol extracts from Silphium perfoliatum L. showed their regenerative action during post-scald wound healing at rats.

High-performance liquid chromatography analysis revealed that leaves, inflorescence and rhizomes of Silphium perfoliatum L. contain following phenolic acids: caffeic, p-coumaric, ferulic, protocatechuic, p-hydroxybenzoic, vanillic and chlorogenic both in free and bonded form (Kowalski R. , Wolski T. 2003).