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Apocynum Androsaemifolium. Bitter root, Dogsbane, Wandering milkweed, Black Indian hemp.

Related entry: Apocynym cannabinum

Description: Natural Order, Apocynaceae. Herbaceous, perennial, indigenous to America, growing along fences and upon hill-sides. Stem erect, three to five feet high, branched above, reddened on the south surface. Leaves opposite, entire, mucronate, two to three inches long, one to one-and-a-half wide, on petioles one-fourth of an inch long, dark-green above, paler beneath. Flowers in loose, nodding cymes, terminal and axillary, on the upper parts of the plant; pale-white, slightly blushed or striped by the sun. Calyx very small. Corolla monopetalous, one-third of an inch long, with five short and spreading lobes. Stamens five, on short filaments, arising from the base of the corolla, alternate with five glandular teeth or nectaries; anthers cohering to the stigma by the middle. Ovaries two. Fruit a pair of slender follicles, three to four inches long, distinct, drooping; containing many small, oblong seeds, with a crown of downy pappus on each. The whole plant yields a glutinous, milky juice, when wounded. June and July.

The root of this plant is many feet in length, creeping horizontally, and tapering from the size of a man's finger; blackish-brown without, grayish-white within, with a very thick corticle; milky. The root, or more properly the corticle, is the medicinal part. It is permanently bitter; yields much of its properties to water and all of them to alcohol; and contains an active resinoid, also a less active extractive matter. Age impairs its powers.

Properties and Uses: The root of this article has by some been called poisonous, but we are abundantly able to certify to the contrary. It is one of the powerful and reliable articles of a harmless materia medica; and the virulent qualities which attach to some plants of the same botanical order--such as the nux vomica and the upas--in no degree belong to this agent. (§30.) It is a stimulant and relaxant about equally; manifesting its powers slowly, and quite persistently. Most of its action is expended upon the gall-ducts, gall-cyst, and tubuli of the liver--in distinction to leptandra and all other agents which promote the secretory function of the liver itself. This article also extends its influence to the muscular and mucous coats of the bowels, and to the kidneys; while its action directly upon the stomach is sufficiently marked to have led to its classification among the tonics. In excessive doses--as of forty to sixty grains--it will induce very persistent retching, with the ejection of great quantities of mucus; and the absence of any fluids in the stomach, makes this vomiting quite unpleasant, and often followed by persistent languor. It should never be used for purposes of emesis; though its action in this respect is wholly unlike that of veratrum, to which some have compared it. It is reputed diaphoretic, but is of no practical value in this connection.

By its action on the biliary passages, it secures a free discharge of bile, thus unloading the gall-cyst and relieving turgescence of the liver. It is peculiarly indicated in jaundice; and in all cases where a sallow skin, clammy and yellow tongue, and clay-colored or dark faeces, indicate deficient excretory action of these ducts. Most of these cases, with their long train of gastric and nervous symptoms, usually pass under the general term of "biliousness," and are treated by hepatics; but an excernant like the apocynum, should find the first place in them. It is best fitted for sluggish cases, where the pulse and the sensibilities are below normal; and this class of jaundiced patients sometimes need no other article. When feverishness, a hard pulse, and pain, are present, it is not an appropriate agent. It serves a good purpose in some cases of gall stones.

In securing a discharge of bile, and in further acting on the bowels, it becomes an efficient cathartic. Stools following its use are a trifle soft, and may even be made thin by large doses; and its action on the muscular rings is shown by its occasionally griping. A fair dose usually acts in about six hours. It is best given in dry faeces and muscular torpor, (especially of the lower bowel,) with bilious symptoms, when the system is sluggish; but is not suitable for sensitive and irritable conditions, nor is it best when piles are present. Its gripings are best obviated by combining it with soda or other alkali, and with zingiber and anise, or other stimulant. By its action on the rectum, it usually stimulates the uterus somewhat.

It is seldom valued for its action on the stomach, though expended upon the gall-ducts, gall-cyst, and tubuli of the liver--in distinction to leptandra and all other agents which promote the secretory function of the liver itself. This article also extends its influence to the muscular and mucous coats of the bowels, and to the kidneys; while its action directly upon the stomach is sufficiently marked to have led to its classification among the tonics. In excessive doses--as of forty to sixty grains--it will induce very persistent retching, with the ejection of great quantities of mucus; and the absence of any fluids in the stomach, makes this vomiting quite unpleasant, and often followed by persistent languor. It should never be used for purposes of emesis; though its action in this respect is wholly unlike that of veratrum, to which some have compared it. It is reputed diaphoretic,. but is of no practical value in this connection.

By its action on the biliary passages, it secures a free discharge of bile, thus unloading the gall-cyst and relieving turgescence of the liver. It is peculiarly indicated in jaundice; and in all cases where a sallow skin, clammy and yellow tongue, and clay-colored or dark faeces, indicate deficient excretory action of these ducts. Most of these cases, with their long train of gastric and nervous symptoms, usually pass under the general term of " biliousness," and are treated by hepatics; but an excernant like the apocynum, should find the first place in them. It is best fitted for sluggish cases, where the pulse and the sensibilities are below normal; and this class of jaundiced patients sometimes need no other article. When feverishness, a hard pulse, and pain, are present, it is not an appropriate agent. It serves a good purpose in some cases of gall stones.

In securing a discharge of bile, and in further acting on the bowels, it becomes an efficient cathartic. Stools following its use are a trifle soft, and may even be made thin by large doses; and its action on the muscular rings is shown by its occasionally griping. A fair dose usually acts in about six hours. It is best given in dry faeces and muscular torpor, (especially of the lower bowel,) with bilious symptoms, when the system is sluggish; but is not suitable for sensitive and irritable conditions, nor is it best when piles are present. Its gripings are best obviated by combining it with soda or other alkali, and with zingiber and anise, or other stimulant. By its action on the rectum, it usually stimulates the uterus somewhat.

It is seldom valued for its action on the stomach, though by macerating four ounces of the crushed roots for a week in a quart of 76 percent alcohol. But this preparation is seldom used, as it is generally preferable to add a portion of the apocynum to tonics and alteratives, and make a compound whisky or wine tincture in the usual mode.


The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com



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