By Barbara Walvoord, 6/19/14
As you walk along Basset Brook Road and look into our hedges and fields, one of the most numerous native wildflowers you will see now is the fleabane. There are 183 species of fleabane, and many, many more species of daisies, the larger family to which fleabanes belong. At Lathrop, we seem to have the Lesser Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus). It has a small white or purplish-white flower with many petals, like a daisy, and a relatively large, flat, yellow center.
The great thing about fleabanes is that they are native to our area. They evolved with our local insects. Thus, unlike alien plants, fleabanes provide food for insects, including the larvae of several kinds of butterflies and moths (http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Wildflowers_Kimonis_Kramer/PAGES/DAISYFLEABANE_PAGE_FINAL
People from the ancient Egyptians to American colonists believed that the dried flowers could rid a house of fleas. Starlings, according to one source, line their nests with fleabane to keep mites away, and colonists stuffed their mattresses with it, but modern sources are skeptical about its flea-fighting powers. Maybe not fleas, but fleabane is toxic to cows and goats, mollusks, and fungi that infect strawberry plants.
Native Americans used it in their smoking mixture, and for a variety of medical problems including hemorrhages, colds, coughs, diarrhea, headache, and bad vision. They smoked it, snuffed it, and mixed it with other herbs as a poultice. The Cherokee started friction fires with the dried stalk of a fleabane, which they called “firemaker.” (http://healthyhomegardening.com/Plant.php?pid=2203).