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Hydrastis Canadensis. Golden Seal, Yellow Puccoon.

Botanical name:

Ohio Kercuma, Ground Raspberry.

(Golden seal is endangered. Don't use it unless you know it's cultivated, not wildcrafted. -Henriette)

Description: Natural Order, Ranunculaceae. The hydrastis is an herb with a perennial root (rhizoma) and annual stem. The stem is simple, erect, eight to fourteen inches high, round, pubescent, becoming dark purple, and bearing at its top two large and unequal leaves, one of which is a little above the other. Leaves somewhat cordate at base, four to eight inches long and nearly as broad, dark-green, strongly palmate-veined, hairy, serrate; the upper one sessile, in three large and shallow oval lobes; lower one short petiolate, and of from five to seven unequal, shallow and oval lobes. Flowers solitary, rising on a short peduncle in the axil of the upper leaf, small; of three petaloid, flesh-colored or nearly white sepals, which are oval, downy, fall off very early, and leave the stamens and pistils bare; corolla none. Stamens many; pistils twelve or more; ovaries as many as the pistils, ripening into a globular head of red, raspberry-looking, and slightly fleshy berries, each ovary one to two-seeded, and crowned by its short and persistent pistil. Blooming in April and early May, and ripening its fruit the last of May and early in June.

Hydrastis is found in most parts of the United States and Canada, preferring shady places, where the soil is rich, soft, and damp. The root is used in medicine. It lies horizontal several inches below the surface; its caudex is from one to three inches long, usually less than one-fourth of an inch in diameter, solid, knotty, tortuous, muddy-yellow without, and clear chrome-yellow within, with numerous fibers along its sides and under surface; the fibers three to five inches long, brittle when dry, and of the same general characters as the caudex. These roots are a pure and rather permanent bitter, neither so intense nor disagreeable as gentian. They contain a moderate portion of resinous material, together with hydrastia and an extractive, and a yellow coloring matter. This coloring material may be made to strike a bright chrome yellow on wool and other goods. Water extracts most of its medicinal qualities; so does absolute alcohol; and diluted alcohol acts rather effectually upon it.

Properties and Uses: This root is one of the purest tonics, the stimulating property predominating, but the relaxing well marked. It acts slowly and steadily, holding its influence for several hours. Its influence upon the system is very general; and there seems to be no organ or tissue but can be benefitted by its appropriate use, though it is most prominently advantageous to mucous membranes, the digestive apparatus, and the uterine organs. Though a stimulant, and hence sustaining to the circulation, it never excites or forces the pulse; and is unlike almost all other stimulating tonics in soothing the irritation connected with feeble and congested conditions of mucous membranes. Though claimed by the Eclectics as a remedy "peculiar" to them, it was known to Allopathy long before that system was known in our country; and to Drs. C. F. Rafinesque, S. Thomson, and M. Mattson is due the merit of introducing it to general practice, and fully teaching its true character and value, ere American Eclecticism had an existence. Prof. J. King, in his Eclectic Dispensatory, claims to have been the discoverer (!) of its valuable action on mucous membranes about the year 1840 though he made no such claim in his first edition, 1852; but this use was clearly set forth in Rafinesque's Medical Flora as early as 1824, (§128,) and was currently recognized by the old Thomsonian physicians and journals of New England during the years 1828 to 1848, before Dr. King was a "Thomsonian" doctor in Rhode Island. This is a small matter; but it illustrates the source from which Eclecticism obtains its knowledge, and the manner of obtaining it. (See Dicentra, and Mitchella.)

In its action on mucous membranes, hydrastis first secures the separation and discharge of any viscid secretion; then diminishes the secretion without reducing it below the normal quantity, and renders it more healthy in character; and at the same time relieves turgid conditions and achings, and disposes any ulcerated portions to heal. These actions are very decided and peculiar, and render this agent one of rare value in all affections that come under this head. Among these are purulent and granular ophthalmia, with ulceration of the cornea; in which hydrastis with a limited portion of lobelia, capsicum, or myrrh, (according to the conditions,) makes one of the most effective washes. In nasal catarrh, as a snuff; in aphthous sore mouth, as a wash with myrica; in diphtheria and scarlatina, with myrica, capsicum, and myrrh, as a gargle; and in leucorrhea and catarrh of the bladder, both by the stomach and as an injection, it is second to no agent. In the second stage of dysentery, it may be used in moderate doses to much advantage; and in chronic dysentery and diarrhea, and in either chronic or typhoid ulceration of the bowels, is unsurpassed. The same action is exhibited to equal advantage in catarrh of the bladder, gleet, and the second stages of gonorrhea; in all of which either the infusion or a solution of the solid extract may be used as an injection by the urethra, while the agent is also taken inwardly. The ease it gives to the achings peculiar to these maladies, as also to cystic congestion and chronic difficulties of the prostate gland, is gratifying; and weak kidneys are also much improved by its inward use. In such cases, however, as exhibit actual sub-acute inflammation of the bladder or bowels, it may prove too exciting. It is of use in some forms of spermatorrhea, and may be combined successfully with althea rosea or celastrus. Added to relaxant cough sirups, as that of aralia, it sustains the respiratory apparatus.

It improves appetite and digestion; and through the stomach proves one of the most acceptable of all general tonics in indigestion, feeble assimilation, biliousness, leucorrhea, prolapsus, and all forms of debility. As a tonic in cellular dropsy, it is worthy of the first place. It is well received in all cases, except true gastritis. It mildly facilitates the discharge of bile from the gall-ducts and liver tubuli, and thus slowly overcomes some forms of costiveness, (§172;) yet it is not to be classed as a cathartic, and its toning influence will arrest undue mucous discharges though the agent is in no sense an astringent. It has an excellent sustaining influence on the nervous tissues, and upon the pulse when its caliber is diminished from nervous fatigue and exhaustion; when it is suitable in the later stages of typhus, variola, scarlatina, excessive suppuration, and other exhaustive maladies. This action, combined with its influence upon the stomach and gall-ducts, makes it useful in the treatment of ague, where it is often associated successfully with quinine; and is itself a mild antiperiodic, especially suited to gastric intermittents. Like other tonics that influence the gall-ducts, it sometimes secures the expulsion of worms; and Prof. J. E. Roop tells me that it alone is worthy of the first consideration in all forms of chronic jaundice.

As an external application, it is valuable in weak and degenerate ulcers, scrofulous ulcers of the low grade, and bruises and wounds where there is a tendency to congestion without incipient mortification. It relieves the aching of such sores, and advances the healing process; and by combining with it a moderate quantity of lobelia or of capsicum, it may be used in application either to sub-inflammatory or to indolent and putrescent conditions. It is one of the best remedies, in powder, for dressing irritable chancres and buboes; and may be used in all forms of local syphilis, by adding to it a modicum of lobelia, sanguinaria, or capsicum, according to the needs of particular cases. It may also be used as a wash, or added to cerate or glycerin and used as an ointment, for purposes of local dressing. I would also particularly commend a decoction of it as a wash to a part or the whole of the surface, in the maturating stage of variola; in which it at once allays the itching, relieves the nervous system, and so tones the new cuticle under the pustules as greatly to lessen the danger of pitting. It may be used several times a day upon the face and hands, each application being followed with a light dressing of sweet oil; and my eighteen years of experience with it in this form, justifies me in speaking of its value in the highest terms.

While hydrastis is thus one of the most serviceable and general of all the tonics, it will be seen that there are some conditions where a more relaxant, and others where a more stimulating article of the same class should be preferred. And for securing its local benefits, it is usually preferable to combine it with an excess of other and more specific articles. (§265.) Thus, it may be associated with euonymus, fraxinus, or eupatorium perfoliatum, when its main influence is required upon the hepatic organs; with mitchella, caulophyllum, convallaria, or liriodendron, when its tonic impression is especially desired on the uterine structures; with quinia or salacine, when it is employed to favor an antiperiodic result; with rheum, when the bowels are particularly to be impressed; and with Composition Powder, when it is advisable to secure a tonic influence upon the nervous peripheries and small blood-vessels throughout the frame. (§248.) It is seldom added to alterants, as it naturally has but slight influence over the glandular structures; but in scrofula, when it is so important to cut off the source of impurity by sustaining digestion and assimilation, it can be used to advantage in company with alterants. This whole article may sound like exaggerated praise of this agent; but, when kept to its true place, I am fully confident that it will be found deserving of every thing here said in its favor. When used in conditions to which either boneset, wahoo, or fraxinus, on the one hand, or sabbatia, helonias, or cinchona on the other hand, would be more applicable, it will of course not accomplish work for which it is not suited.

The dose may range from two to twenty grains every four or six hours, according to the objects sought and the condition of the patient–small doses being best for the bowels and subacute conditions of the uterus and bladder; large doses for depressed and atonic conditions. Half an ounce to a pint, forms the ordinary infusion. It may be used with advantage in subservience to leaves of amygdalus, eupatorium purpureum, althea rosea, and copaiva, for affections of the bladder and urethra; to aralia racemosa, prunus, and polygala, for the lungs; and to leonurus, scutellaria, and liriodendron, for nervous feebleness and palpitation. It enters into special compounds mentioned under althea rosea, populus, frasera, fraxinus americanus, liriodendron, and angustura.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Extract. The extract of hydrastis from decoction does not present the full strength of the article, hence the preparation should always be of the hydro- alcoholic class. It is a good basis for pill-mass when concentrated tonics and stimulants are to be used, as quinine and capsicum. Three to five grains dissolved in four ounces of water, form a valuable injection in gleet and the later stages of gonorrhea.

II. Tincture. Crushed hydrastis, three ounces. Macerate with diluted alcohol for forty-eight hours; transfer to a percolator, and treat with diluted alcohol till two pints and four ounces have been used; press the dregs strongly, and filter. It may be employed in doses of from one to three fluid drachms, but is seldom used.

III. Fluid Extract. Macerate one pound of crushed hydrastis for two days with twelve fluid ounces of seventy percent alcohol; transfer to a percolator, add four ounces more of the same strength of alcohol, and then add water, setting aside the first six fluid ounces that pass. Continue the percolation with water till the roots are exhausted, and evaporate to ten fluid ounces. Mix the two products; and any settlings that may remain may be dissolved in half an ounce of seventy percent alcohol, and mixed with the other liquid. Some use fifty percent alcohol, setting aside the first eight fluid ounces, which forms a somewhat less efficient preparation than that made on the stronger menstruum, but one not so likely to produce deep turbidity when added to other liquids. It represents the plant quite fully. Dose, from five to fifteen drops, in sirup.

IV. Hydrastin. There has been a great deal of disputation as to the nature of this article, whether it is a resinoid or an alkaloid. The confusion has been much increased by W. S. Merrill putting upon the market three separate articles under the names hydrastin, hydrastine, and hydrastia; and claiming them as so many distinct principles, but without very clearly defining his method of manufacture. To Dr. H. H. Hill, of Cincinnati; is unquestionably due the credit of first pointing out the correct method of procuring this article, and of honorably making known his process to the profession. Though his plan has been varied by different pharmacists, and possibly improved on to a limited extent, the course he pursues is the basis upon which all the others rest, and is at once the simplest and most profitable. It is substantially as follows: Any suitable quantity of the crushed root is macerated in absolute alcohol for twenty-four hours; then transferred to a percolator, and treated with absolute alcohol till exhausted. The tincture thus obtained is evaporated to the consistence of a very thin sirup, poured at once into five parts of cold water, allowed to stand for a few hours, (or until perfectly cold,) and then decanted into another vessel so as to free it from the dregs of extractive matter which will have accumulated on the sides of the first vessel. To this liquid is added diluted muriatic acid, till the acid is very slightly in excess, or till the precipitate ceases to fall. This precipitate is the beautiful lemon- yellow crystals of hydrastin, (or muriate of hydrastia.) These may be washed with distilled water upon a close muslin filter, till no acidulous taste remains in the washings; and then dried and pulverized. The powder is a beautiful chrome-yellow, neutral in character, very bitter, and of strong medicinal action. The tonic dose is from one to five grains; and from ten to fifteen grains as an antiperiodic. For antiperiodic purposes, I have found the best results from combining it with half a part of piperine.

The above process of Dr. Hill has been varied by Dr. Greve, of Cincinnati, by using sulphuric instead of muriatic acid; thus forming sulphate of hydrastia, of the same characters as the above muriate. Several Eastern manufacturers use muriate of ammonia instead of muriatic acid; the alkaloid hydrastia seizing the acid and setting the ammonia free–thus accomplishing the same result in an indirect manner. This latter method does not leave the pharmacist with the best means for knowing how much muriatic acid will be required, (the quantity varying with different specimens of the root;) hence he is liable to use an excess of muriate of ammonia, and in any case must get rid of this free ammonia. The hydrastin obtained by this method is nearly white.

The alkaloid principle hydrastia, which is thus obtained as a precipitated neutral salt, may be dissolved from the root to a very large extent by boiling water; and precipitated, as above, by adding muriatic acid to the boiling decoction. If the decoction is allowed to cool below the boiling point before it is strained off, the hydrastia re-precipitates into the roots; and if the acid is not added while the decoction is at a boiling heat, the hydrastin will carry down so much extractive matter as soon to fall into a gummy mass. The amount of hydrastin thus obtained is not so large as the process by alcohol; but the product is perhaps equally good, provided the fluid be quickly decanted from the precipitate, and the precipitate well washed. Dr. Hill patiently worked out the problem of obtaining those crystals uniformly and profitably–first from the boiling decoction, and then from the alcoholic tincture, as above detailed–after reading the process for obtaining crystals of populin without acid, as alluded to in Turner's Chemistry; so that the merit of the procedure is virtually Dr. Hill's own.


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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