Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family).
By RICHARD E. KUNZE, M. D., of No. 606 Third Avenue, New York.
The Asclepiadaceae comprise the eightieth Order of the Natural System of Plants. The name, which was bestowed upon a genus of this Order, was given in honor of Aesculapius, or Asklepios whose priests or fabled descendants were known as the Asklepiads or priest-physicians and who served the god of medicine in the ancient sanctuaries at Epidauros, Sikyon, Cos, Achaia and elsewhere.
This family consists of shrubs or occasionally herbs, usually with a milky juice, and often twining in habit. They have opposite or whorled entire leaves; the follicular pods, seeds, anthers (connected with the stigma), sensible properties, etc., just as in the family of Apocynaceae, from which they differ in the commonly valvate corolla and in the singular connection of the anthers with the stigma, the cohesion of the pollen into wax-like or granular masses, etc.
The plants of this order have acrid, emetic, purgative and diaphoretic properties. The milky juice is usually acrid and bitter, but occasionally it is bland and used as milk, as in the case of Gymnema lactiferum, the cow-plant of Ceylon.
This order of plants contains about 141 genera, including over 900 species. Here in North America we have the following tribes and genera, classified according to Prof. Gray:
TRIBE I. Asclepiadeae containing the genera Asclepias, Ascerates, Enslenia, and Vincetoxicum.
TRIBE II. Gonolabeae, containing the single genus, Gonolobus.
TRIBE III. Periploceae, which also has but the genus Periploca.
It is not the object of this paper to treat of all these tribes, as that would make it unnecessarily long, but rather to take up the genus Asclepias, L., known as Swallow-wort, Milkweed, Silkweed, containing as it does many species, which are well known and others, that have not yet been investigated by the Medical Profession. The genus of Asclepiads like their namesakes of classic Greece, comprises many species which are not only prominent and beautiful in form, but eminently useful as well in the healing art. Really, the cause they serve is as godly as was the mission of the Greek demigods centuries ago. The fragrant and beautiful flowers which many of them bear serve a three-fold purpose in life.
First. Some of the Asclepiads furnish to myriads of the handsomest of insects the staple of life, which flows from their honey-distilling nectaries. The brightest-colored of butterflies, bumble and honey bees, wasps and other insects, not to mention humming-birds, visit these plants when in flower for one purpose or another. And it has been shown that many of the flowers could not be fertilised without this insect-agency, wherein we observe that life is based everywhere upon reciprocity. Hence it is that one of the North American species, A. tuberosa, had the well-deserved name of Butterfly-weed bestowed upon it. Handsome insects, birds and children of every age and sex, all take alike to handsome flowers. Here then we find among the Asclepiads many forms which are truly aesthetic, not to say Eclectic.
Second. Many Asclepiads produce flowers of exquisite fragrance. One in particular, Stephanotis floribunda, Broug. (Asclepias adoratissima, Hort. Cerol.), which is a climbing, shrubby species of Madagascar, has large umbels of pure white flowers, which it bears in the greatest profusion, and so overpowering in perfume that it is productive of headache in persons of a susceptible constitution. Hoya or waxplant, is another example. A. Cornuti, and A. quadrifolia of this country may be quoted. Many of the more fragrant species are found in low, malarial districts or where there is a rank vegetation constantly giving off poisonous effluvia of decomposed vegetable matter. Who will deny that the delicious odors of such plants help to ozonize the atmosphere of such plague-stricken localities?
Third. Most all of the superodorants and subodorants of the sweet-smelling classes of plants, are highly refreshing and reviving in cases of syncope, inasmuch as they promote stimulation of the olfactory nerves. Can there be anything more grateful to the shocked sense of a person emerging from a foul atmosphere than the fragrant odors of Eau de Cologne? Or, if we prepare a tincture from the most fragrant flowers, we will find that if inwardly administered they will go far toward relieving nervous headache, hysterical disorders and faintness from exaltation of the nervous system depending upon other causes. Examples are: Lavandula vera, Malva moschata,or Musk Mallow, Mimulus moschatus, or muskplant, Convallaria majalis, or Lily of the valley, Ferula Sumbul, or musk-root, and others. In Russia, the peasants even employ a tincture of the flowers of C. majalis for epilepsy, and in Saxony and Thuringia, they are used in the form of a powder as a cephalicum for catarrh.
Of this genus, the following species may be mentioned: Asclepias Cornuti, common milkweed or silkweed, which is sometimes described as A. syriaca, in medical A. asthmatica, A. crispa, A. curassavica, the bastard or wild ipecac of the West Indies, Kurki of India, bloodweed and blood flower (Strictly speaking, the name of Blood-flower, according to Don, belongs only to the African genus Haemanthus, of the order Amaryllideae.) so-called A. decumbens, described by Linnaeus as a species, was determined by Rafinesque to be only a variety of A. tuberosa or pleurisy root. A. gigantea, or madar bark of India. A. incarnata, or swamp milkweed, rose-colored silkweed, white Indian Hemp, etc. A. leucophylla, or white-leaved Asclepias, is the variety obtusa, A. nivea, or snow-white Asclepias and almond-leaved Asclepias, is said to be a plant of North America and St. Thomas (?). A . procera, the root of which is used in the East like ipecac, is a shrub of Persia and Egypt. A. rosea, or rose-colored Asclepias of India, is a shrub now known as Oxystelma esculentum, A. tuberosa, or butterfly-weed, white root, pleurisy-root, tuberous-rooted Asclepias, etc., belongs to North America. A. undulata, which Rafinesque claims to be a variety of A. tuberosa. A. Vincetoxicum, or swallow-wort of Asia and Europe has been used the longest time of any known species. The writer is in the possession of an English translation of the ancient Dutch Herbal by Rembert Dodoens (Dodonaens), "imprinted at London, in 1619," which spoke highly of it. A. volubilis, one of the wax-plants, is better known by the name of Hoya viridiflora.
If any of the younger enthusiasts of our profession should wish for a more extensive field of observation they will find enough of material among the following North American species, to wit: A. arenaria, A. brachystephana, A. brevicornu, A. consanguinea, A. Douglasii, A. erosa, A. involucrata, A. jamesii, A. Linaria, A. longicornu, A. longipetala, A. macrotis, A. Meadii, A. nummularia, A. obtusifolia, A. ovalifolia, A. pampercula, A. perennis, A. phytolaccoides, A. princeps, A. purpures-cens, A. quadrifolia, A. rubra, A. Sullivantii, A. variegata, A. verticillata, A. vestita, and others.
We will now pass on to the consideration of a few of the species which have been and are still used on account of their economic and medicinal value to mankind.
* * * *
Asclepias asthmatica, now recognised under the name of Tylophora asthmatica, and inhabits the Indian Peninsula, Ceylon and the Moluccas. It is a twining, shrubby species, which yields a strong white, silky fiber, and has yellowish or orange-colored flowers. The roots are acrid and in large doses act as an emetic, in consequence of which they are substituted in India for Ipecacuanha, and in smaller doses often repeated act as a cathartic. It has been successfully used in Madras for epidemic dysentery in the British camp, as stated by Dr. James Anderson, the Physician-General. Burnett says that it is also valuable as a sudorific, and peculiarly beneficial in humoral asthma. The Sinhalese call this plant Binooga, and the natives of Madras, Koorinja. It is the Cynanchum Ipecacuanha of Willdenow, and C. vomitorium, of Lamarck.
Asclepias crispa, of the Dutch apothecaries, which is now classified as Gomphocarpus crispus, inhabits the Cape of Good Hope. It is an evergreen under-shrub, having yellow flowers, which grow in axillary or terminal umbels. The Dutch farmers of the Colony call it bitterwortel, and it is found on hilly places on the western coast of the Cape. Dr. L. Pappe, of Cape Town, says that the root is extremely bitter and acrid, and, on account of its diuretic properties, a decoction or infusion has been recommended in various kinds of dropsy, and a tincture made of the same is said to be a valuable remedy in colic.
Asclepias curassavica, is indigenous to South America and the West Indies, where it is called bastard ipecac, bloodweed, etc. In Trinidad, where it is the gayest and commonest weed, it bears the name of Negro Ipecacuanha. It is an upright plant of three feet or more in height. The flower has a scarlet corolla and yellow appendages. The fibrous root, which when fresh exudes a milky juice, is used by the negroes in doses of twenty or forty grains as an emetic. The roots appear to be also purgative. A decoction is said to be efficacious in gleets and fluor albus. Barham asserted that it would stop bleeding when other remedies had failed. The expressed juice of the leaves is said to act as an efficient anthelmintic. Rafinesque states that it is also used in clysters for dysentery and piles. A. P. De Candolle mentioned its remedial properties as early as 1804. Dr. Guimaraes of Rio Janeiro, who experimented with this plant on the lower animals, has determined its physiological action. He says that it is a cardiac poison, resembling Digitalis in its action. It is an excitant of the vaso-motor centres. A preparation made from the stems of the plants exercises a more rapid and marked effect on the heart than one prepared of the roots. Now if the plants which grow in Brazil are so much stronger than the ones found in the West Indies it should be ascertained. According to a statement made by Dr. C. W. Hansen (now deceased), in the Therapeutic Gazette of Vol. I., page 64, it is given in Jamaica to persons troubled with worms, in doses of one drachm to one ounce, on an empty stomach. Rather a heroic dose for a cardiac poison! What is wrong?
Asclepias gigantea, at present better known as Calotropis gigantea, is the mudar bark of India, where it is also called madar, akum, yercund, and vasuka. It grows abundantly in Hindostan and the Punjaub. It is also naturalised in the West Indies, and in Jamaica it is called French Jasmin. It is a large shrub, sometimes with a stem as large as a man's leg, and it has large flowers of rose-color and purple, with a corolla two inches in diameter. The ash-colored bark abounds in an acrid, milky juice, and the root, which is the part mostly used, is a medicine of much importance in India. Dr. Honigberger says that the native doctors, use the leaves, buds, bark of the root, and juice. Sushruta recommended it for "deranged bile." It is employed in epilepsy, hysteria, lockjaw, convulsions of children, paralytical disorders, cold sweats, venereal complaints, poisonous bites, etc. Its properties are emetic, purgative, diaphoretic and alterative, according to the dose and form of the drug used. The fresh juice is applied for specks of the cornea. Mudar bark is employed also in cases of elephantiasis, lepra, rheumatism and hectic fever. The root, according to Dr. Honigberger, is used in cancer, and the seed in diarrhoea. The dose of the powder is from three to thirty grains. An infusion is made with three drachms of the root to eight ounces of boiling water. The inspissated juice is much employed. Mudarine, an extractive substance, was found in it by Cassanova, and the activity of the plant seems to be owing to that principle. Ainslie, Roxburgh, Cassanova, Duncan and others speak highly of this drug. It appears that several other species of Asclepias are sold in the bazaars of India, under the name of madar, nearly all possessing analogous properties.
Asclepias nivea, or snow-white and almond-leaved Asclepias, is, according to Bosse, indigenous in St. Thomas. But Loudan gives North America as its habitat, and Prof. Gray designates it under the name of A. variegata, or variegated Asclepias. It is a plant growing three feet high, having white flowers. The juice of its jointed fleshy roots is very effective in bringing away worms. The root dried and powdered is frequently used by the negroes as an emetic, and therefore known also as wild ipecacuanha.
Asclepias procera, now described under the name of Calotropis procera, inhabits Persia, Arabia and North Africa. It is a shrub or small tree, ten to twenty feet high. The stem is covered with a hoary pubescense. Flowers in a terminal panicle, of a dull purple bordered with white on the upper side, silvery on the under side, juice extremely acrid. Prosper Alpinus says that it was successfully administered as a remedy for ringworm and other cutaneous affections, and that it is also a powerful depilatory. A. P. De Candolle states that it is used in the place of ipecac. Prof. Royle says that this or an allied species produces a kind of manna called Shukkr oal askur. Prof. Perleb states that the leaves of this shrub, as well as the larvae of a cynip, which feed thereon, are covered by a white saccharine substance, which is gathered for domestic as well as medicinal uses. Serapion has already mentioned this sugar under the name of Zucharo hahoscer. It is furthermore said that this manna is obtained only from the shrubs found in Persia, but not from those of Egypt.
Asclepias rosea, or rose-colored Asclepias, is to-day recognised by the name of Oxystelma esculentum, and is indigenous in the contingent of India. This shrub is found among bushes along the banks of water-courses and pools. The large flowers appear in axillary racemes externally of a pale rose-hue and internally purplish. Leaves linear-lanceolate. Roots fibrous. De Candolle claimed that it is eatable, but later botanists have contradicted that assertion. Dr. Wise says that its Sanskrit name in India is Payasya, and Prof. Lindley states that it is known to the Malabar people as Ourril Palay. Sushruta, that ancient Indian authority, recommended it for "deranged bile." It is now principally used as a gargle for aphthous affections of the mouth and fauces.
Asclepias Syriaca, or Syrian silkweed and milkweed, was supposed to be a native of Asia and Northern Africa, as the name would indicate. Yet nearly every English botanist declares it to be a North-American species, and a native of Canada and Virginia. Prof. Gray says that its first Linnaean name does not belong to this country, although frequently referred to by medical writers. American botanists recognise the plant of this country which answers a description of the former, under the name of A. Cornuti, and even many Europeans follow suit. In fact, whatever is said of the one, refers to the other as well. English authors inform us that the young shoots of A. Syriaca are eaten by the French Canadians as we consume asparagus, and the botanists of the Greater Britain tell us the same about our A. Cornuti. Canadians also are accredited with making a sugar of the flowers, which secrete a very sweet nectar, and of collecting the cotton from the pods to fill their beds. Ornithologists know that some of our feathered tribe resort to the latter mode of housekeeping in a very neat and artistic way. Parkinson calls this plant Virginian silk. A string of what Schleiden calls the bass-cells of the A. Syriaca, was found tied around a wine-case in Pompeii. How then could a Syrian silkweed be a native of the New World? The medicinal properties will be considered in common with A. Cornuti.
Asclepias undulata, according to Rafinesque, is but a variety of the butterfly-weed. In Osiander's Volksmedizin, however, and Most's Encyklopaedie, it is stated that according to Thunberg, the roots of A. undulata are used at the Cape of Good Hope for their diuretic properties. If this be so, then it cannot be our A. tuberosa.
Asclepias vincetoxicum, or common white-flowering swallow-wort, so named from the fancied resemblance of the follicles or seeds to a swallow flying, is indigenous to Northern Asia and Europe, excepting England. This plant is now known by the name of Cynanchum vincetoxicum, and the specific name has reference to its supposed alexipharmic virtues, which the ancient herbalists were so fond of ascribing to this herb. The plant is from one to three feet high, and has a creeping root, which is the part used. The flowers are whitish and secrete much honey, on account of which the plant is much visited by bees. The stem yields a. strong fibre, and the silk of the follicles can be made into fabrics. The root at first has a sweetish followed by an acrid taste. The properties of the plant are emetic, purgative, diuretic and diaphoretic, according to the dose exhibited. It was formerly much used in dropsies, suppressed menstruation, scrofula, abscesses, dermoid affections, etc., in doses varying from twenty to thirty grains of the powder. The Finns employed it in cases of snake-bite. In the older pharmacopeias this drug was described under the name of Rad. Hirundinariae (from hirundo—a swallow). Turner, the oldest English herbalist does not describe its virtues, and says that he has not seen it growing in England.
In Robert Lovell's PAMBOTANOATIA, printed at Oxford, in 1665, a copy of which is in the writer's library, occurs the following references in regard to this species of Asclepias, to wit: "Temperature, the roots are hot and dry and alexipharmick, CAESALPINUS. The roots boiled in wine and drank help the tormina, the stinging of serpents and deadly poyson. The leaves boiled and applied as a pultis help the sores of the paps and matrix. Indian swallow-wort, Vincetoxicum Indicum. Temperature, (ALPINUS,) the milkie juice is very hot and purging, Virtues—The leaves applied heal tetters, and take haires from the skin. (JOHNSON.) The leaves boiled and applied as a pultis help hard swellings and paines caused by cold. The silke serveth for many known uses. (TURNER.) It bringeth down the flowers, and helpeth the bitings of a mad dogge, wound and ruptures: and the root drank in wine helpeth the dropsie. (PARKINSON.) Drank in wine daily it helpeth the plague." It must have enjoyed a high reputation in those days.
Asclepias volubilis, at present better known by the name of Hoya viridiflorae, or wax-plant, is one of handsomest of the climbing Asclepiadaceae. It inhabits tropical Asia, but can be found as a cultivated plant in our conservatories. The air of a hot-house during the time of inflorescense is fairly loaded with its delightful perfume. Its waxen, greenish flowers are very rich in honey, and it is said that one or two flowering plants placed in a vinery of ripe grapes will entice the wasps from eating the fruit. According to Wight, the root and tender stalks nauseate and promote expectoration. The leaves, which are very thick and shining, when peeled and dipped in oil, are much esteemed by the natives of India, as a discutient in the stages of boils; when the disease is more advanced they are employed in the same way to promote suppuration. It is an officinal drug of India, and according to Dr. Honigberger, the leaves are useful in sore fauces and throat. Perhaps Asclepias carnosa (Bot. Mag.), the Hoya carnosa, of R. Brown, or flesh-colored waxflower, which is the most frequently met-with species of our green-houses, possesses similar properties.
We will now pass on to the consideration of a few of our North-American species, which have certainly been long enough known, but in the aggregate are too little used by the American practitioner. While Old-School physicians, such as Schoepf, Barton, Bigelow, Tully and Rafinesque, originally introduced them to the notice of the profession, it remained for the Thomsonians and Eclectics to bring them into more general use, and help to place them on a footing with our best American remedies.
Asclepias Cornuti, or common milkweed, cottonweed and silkweed, is certainly not an uncommon weed of this country. It is found in sandy waste fields, on the roadside, and embankments of railroads, and on account of its broadly-ovate leaves at once a common landmark and conspicuous plant. The dull-pinkish or greenish-purple flowers, which grow in large axillary, drooping umbels, are noted less for their beauty than fragrance, which is very sweet. No one species seems to be richer in honey than this kind, and it is recommended to be cultivated because it furnishes such excellent bee-food. Its nectar contains so large a percentage of honey that the flowers are constantly visited by bees, butterflies and other insects. The packets of pollen of the silkweed adhere by a glutinous substance to wasps and bees, so as to make them prisoners for life sometimes. The whole plant when wounded pours forth a milk of rather an acrid and nauseous taste. Very few larvae of insects feed on the leaves, and no animals will touch it. Sulz says that eighty parts of the milk contain five of caoutchouc, one-half part of gum, two of sugar and salts, three and one-half of a wax-like fatty matter, and sixty-nine of water. Asclepione, a crystalline, resinous substance, has been obtained from the milk of this plant. The seed-pods are filled with a fine, long, silky fiber, which the Indians make into a hemp for strings to their cows. The tribe of Indians formerly inhabiting the valley of the Arkansas knew this plant by the name of Ne-pe-sha, and used the roots in decoction for the cure of dysentery, dropsy and asthma.
In medicinal properties it is claimed to be emetic, purgative and anthelmintic in large doses, diuretic, diaphoretic, anodyne, emmenogague, and alterative according to the dose administered. Dr. Richardson gave it in asthma, catarrhal and rheumatic affections, and in typhoid pneumonia with excellent results; and says that it not only relieves pain, dyspnea, cough, and promotes expectoration, but likewise induces sleep. In fact, he states that it may be employed in the place of A. tuberosa, if the latter cannot be obtained. To the majority of physicians it is best known as a diuretic, and a good one it is. As long ago as 1825 Ives published that many cures had been made with it in dropsy. Samuel Thomson does not mention this plant, but Wooster Beach, who like many other half-breeds obtained nearly all of his thunder from Barton, Rafinesque and Bigelow, describes this plant under the name of A. syriaca, in his Reformed Practice, edition of 1833. Prof. John King says that it may be used in suppression of urine, and Dr. Elisha Smith recommends a tincture of the root made with gin in dropsy and gravelly disorders. Dr. J. P. Thomas, of Pembroke, Ky., whose brother is quoted as an authority in the 14th edition of the U. S. Dispensatory, says that he has used this remedy with success in all kinds of dropsy; and that it always acts as a diaphoretic when enough is given, falling short of emesis. He prefers a decoction, when used for dropsy. He has used a weak tincture in strumous conditions with good results.
The dose of the powder is from one to three scruples, and of the decoction from one to four fluid-ounces. The dose of the tincture, whether made from the green or dried root, will always be according to strength. The Indians, who generally used their medicines in the green state, attributed emetic properties to this plant. Certain it is that the acridity found in the fresh juice, and which nauseates when taken inwardly, is absent in the dried root. The latter at first has a sweetish and is then followed by a pleasant bitter taste. Therefore it is also a tonic.
Asclepias decumbens, which was referred to by the older writers as a distinct species, turned out to be a mere variety of the butterfly-weed, and will be included when we come to consider the latter and more proper name.
Asclepias incarnata, or swamp milk-weed, white Indian hemp, and flesh-colored Asclepias, is found in wet meadows, along the banks of streams and in damp places all over the country east of the Mississippi river. This plant has delicate pink or flesh-colored flowers, abounding in honey and attracting beautiful insects, like many other Asclepiads. But its flower is not quite so fragrant, neither is the plant as tall as A. Cornuti. The stem is covered by a fiber as strong as that of flax. Several varieties of this worthy species are known to exist, including A. pulchra, A. glabra, and the albino variety, A. alba. The glabrous variety is more often met with the further south we go. The leaves of this species are opposite and pointed at both ends, rather lanceolate in shape. This plant when wounded exudes less milk and it is not so creamy and viscous as that from A. Cornuti. It is also less potent therefore in medicinal properties. The whitish fibrous roots are the part used in medicine, but have not the acridity of the last mentioned species. A. incarnata contains, according to Jos. Y. Taylor, (1875) a trace of volatile oil, two acrid resins, an alkaloid which was not obtained in the pure state, fixed oil, albumen, pectin, starch, glucose, and yields 8.25 per cent. of ashes.
Prof. Kost considered it a milder diuretic than the foregoing species; also aperient and alterative. He believed it to be good in visceral obstructions, in particular those of the urinary organs. Water extracts its properties. The earliest writers on the American Materia Medica, out of pardonable ignorance or possibly some imposition practiced on them by individuals of questionable character, made the assertion that in medicinal properties the species A. cornuti, A. incarnata, and A. tuberosa resembled one another very much (The same is even now asserted in Hille and Maisch's National Dispensatory.) and could be promiscuously and safely substituted in the place of the other, when either one was not to be had. Now, in conformity with the descended habits of our Darwinian ancestors, the whole batch of early and late Eclectics, as well as Old-School brethren, who have been found guilty of writing books previously compiled by more comprehensive brains, have each and all helped to disseminate false theories founded only on gainsay. Yet we find individuals enough who are too lazy to work themselves, who are always ready to help themselves to other men's labors without even offering the slightest acknowledgment for the favors so obtained. And so greedy and selfish are some of these plagiarists, that in their haste facts and errors alike are seized upon and republished over their signatures! Literary as well as other pirates always leave a clue which establishes their identity.
Inasmuch as these three species differ so widely in their essential and sensible properties, how then is it possible that they should be so much alike in their therapeutical effects? If the average physician would only study nature a little more and certain gilt-edged volumes a little less, then the world would be the wiser for the change. A Dr. Sabin, of New York, as stated in JONES and SCUDDER'S Materia Medica, "esteemed it highly as a poultice for tumors and inflammatory affections. The dose of the powdered root is from one to three scruples; of the decoction from one to two fluid-ounces, and of the tincture or fluid-extract, according to strength and quality."
Asclepias leucophylla, or white-leaved Asclepias of our Western States. It is an erect plant from three to five feet high; leaves broadly cordate at base and tapering to a sharp, bristly point, rather white tomentose, from three and a half to four inches long, and one and a quarter to one and a half wide; flower in lateral and terminal umbels, with a yellowish-green corolla and yellow crown. The leaves as well as the flowers are quite tomentose, and this species is therefore nearly related to two other white-woolly species of our southwestern Asclepiads, namely, A. vestita, and A. eriocarpa.
It is found in dry, sandy places of California, Utah, and elsewhere. Dr. C. C. Parry says that it is found an the "washes" of the Vergen river, Southern Utah. It flowers in June. Near Fort Tejon, California, this plant has the reputation of "locoing" the sheep. The principal "loco" plants, which have the reputation of locoing horses and sheep, are Oxytropis Lambertii, of Colorado; Astragalus Hornii, Astragalus mollissimus, and Astragalus lentiginosus, of California, and Sophora sericea, as well as Hosackia Purshiana, of Arizona. When an animal is "loco'd " from eating such plants, it becomes crazed or foolish (loco), appearing intoxicated, losing vision so as to cause it to leap over very small objects; finally refusing all food until death comes to its relief. At first it appears to become exhausted from nervous and muscular exertion, and then passes into a stupid or even vicious stage. A peculiar alkaloid, to which these plants owe this property, has been isolated from several of the last-mentioned leguminous plants which belong to an order that heretofore had been considered quite innocuous. The Department of Agriculture is now investigating this rather serious behavior of those plants, which has given our western herders so much trouble in the past. The name loco is of local, Spanish origin.
Asclepias tuberosa, or pleurisy-root, orange swallow-root, white root, wind-root, flux-root, and butterfly-weed, is the last but by no means the least of all the Asclepiadeous plants to be described by the writer. It is indigenous in the United States, is cultivated in Europe for the beauty of its flowers, and is a plant of great resort for multitudes of butterflies, wherefor it obtained one of the names above. It is in open situations, in poor sandy, or loamy gravelly, soil. This showy plant attains a height of only one or two feet, yet its gaudy, bright-colored flowers maybe discerned a long ways off. It affects high ground and is never found in low situations. The whole herb is roughish-hairy, and the leaves vary from linear to oblong-lanceolate. Hardly any milk exudes from plants of this species when wounded, and it is therefore one of the most pleasant-tasted of all our Asclepiads. The flowers, which appear in umbels in a terminal corymb, are of a brilliant light-orange hue, and if they are not quite so fragrant as some of the other species, they contain at least as much honey, and serve to feed great numbers of bright-winged butterflies and other insects. The dazzling color of its flowers appears to attract butterflies from as great a distance as the greater fragrance of other less conspicuous species seems to draw a host of other winged insects in quest of nectar. It blossoms in July and August. The follicles or seed-pods are small. The root, which is large and tuberous, is the part used in medicine. Externally it is the color of manilla paper and internally white; when dried it is quite brittle, and has a sweetish-bitter taste. The green root, however, is a trifle nauseating, hardly sub-acrid. The root contains, according to Elam Rhoads, (1861,) tannin, gum, pectin, albumen, two resins—one soluble and the other insoluble in ether—fixed oil, an odorous, volatile fatty matter, and a peculiar principle possessing the taste of the root, which is precipitated by tannin from the concentrated infusion. This precipitate if decomposed by oxide of lead and exhausted by alcohol, yields it as a yellowish-white powder, which is soluble in alcohol, ether and much water.
Medicinal properties may be summed up to be diaphoretic, febrifuge, expectorant, diuretic, carminative, laxative and mildly tonic. A resinoid and neutral principle, called Asclepin, which is a yellowish-white powder, is supposed by some to, represent its full therapeutic action, of which more hereafter.
This is the plant first described by Linnaeus, as A. decumbens, because some plants are found with prostrate stems and which the elder De Condolle so much praised by the same name for its reputed virtues in the cure of pleurisy and other pneumonic affections. Schoepf was the first writer who brought it to the notice of the profession. Barton, Bigelow, Rafinesque, Ives, Eberle, Beach, Kost, King, Jones, and hundreds of the early Botanic physicians, have sung the praises of this plant, and yet the half of it has not been told. And to show how much even men of the same school of medicine may differ in their opinion of any one drug, it is only necessary to refer to a very useful little book intended for young farmers and entitled American Weeds and Useful Plants, by William Darlington, M. D., and revised by Dr. George Thurber, formerly Professor of Materia Medica and Botany, in the New York College of Pharmacy. The following passage regarding A. tuberosa occurs therein: "The root once had a reputation for being medicinal, but it is now generally neglected." Perhaps neither of the gentlemen mentioned, to say the least, had ever met a practitioner who understood the drug in question. And this brings us nearer home. Quite recently, a very popular lecturer in an Eclectic Medical College was taken ill with pneumonia, while suffering from cardiac complications. He had been a strong advocate of the use of A. tuberosa and Veratrum Viride in pneumonitic affections, and claimed during a long practice of medicine never to have lost a case of this disease. Strange as it may seem, the first-named remedy was not even given him in his last illness, although two Eclectics and a mongrel attended him, and consultations had been held both homogeneously and heterogeneously by the two different sets of practitioners before dissolution took place. "Nemo bene judicat quod ignorat." In conclusion the writer hopes and ever prays that such will not be his lot in this uncertain life.
It is deemed necessary and pardonable to refer to the above circumstance with a view of cautioning the few pioneer Eclectics still remaining with us, to be careful in the selection of the counsellors whom they may call upon to prescribe for them in case of a serious, if not their last, illness.
But why do we have such faith in this remedy, it will be asked. Because we have not only prescribed but taken it and administered it to our family and hosts of others with unbounded success during a period of over twenty-five years. It would be uncomplimentary, however, not to refer first of all to the reports of others who preceded us in the practice of the healing art. Both Schoepf and Barton, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, said that a decoction of this root was used in Virginia with good results in the treatment of pleurisy. The elder De Candolle in his Experiments on the Medicinal Properties of Plants, published in 1815, drew attention to the fact that this drug had the peculiar and laudable property of producing diaphoresis without augmenting the heat of the body. It is more to the point as quoted by the late Professor L. E. Jones, of Cincinnati, who said that "it increases the insensible and not the sensible transpiration; or in other words, it stimulates the glandular apparatus of the skin to increased elimination, without producing an excessive discharge of water." It is therefore an invaluable remedy in all pulmonary diseases. The late Dr. A. W. Russell, of Albany, N. Y., used to remark that in all congestions of the thoracic viscera it was curative, because it invited the blood-current to the peripheral vessels, thereby equalising the circulation. That fact was so well understood by our oldest Botanic physicians, that they never attempted to treat lung, or any other, fever without resorting to this remedy. Sometimes they would add a little Asarum Canadense, Capsicum, Lobelia, Zingiber, Sanguinaria or Corallorhiza (crawley-root), with a view of adding a stimulating or sudorific action to the principal drug employed. Now we think that even an honest Homeopathist could be induced to employ a diaphoretic which would not sweat his patient to death.
It has been asserted that this remedy is emetic. We have seldom found it to be so unless a small quantity of Lobelia had been added, as we frequently do in an attack of pleurisy or pneumonia, and then it would not come unexpected or unwelcome either. However, if Asclepin, or a solution of the same, known as "Concentrated Tincture," be administered to a very sensitive stomach, emesis is very likely to follow, on account of the nauseous taste of the resinoid principle, and the effort of the physician may thereby be entirely defeated. And this refers to any and all educts in a highly-concentrated form, which require an "aboriginal" stomach to receive and digest it without producing nausea, all the fancy elixirs and alkaline adjuncts notwithstanding. So, also, if a lukewarm infusion or decoction of the root be given in large doses often repeated, would it nauseate a patient as effectually as though tepid water alone had been used? Therefore it is best always to administer it quite hot, and if it be given to a very sensitive patient the addition of a little Zingiber would overcome a tendency to nausea.
Prof. Rafinesque quotes Mease as saying that it is a safe and powerful diuretic. Regarding its diuretic effect, it is more noticeable whenever a decoction has been employed, and for the reason that ALL diluents given in large doses must stimulate and increase the functions of the kidneys. And this is another reason why A. tuberosa, when given in the form of a tea, will more quickly break up a feverish condition than when used in any other way, because when the functions of the skin and kidneys are simultaneously acted upon by so positive a drug as this seems to be, no fever can long maintain its supremacy. Then and then only would we consent to the use of quinia in small or tonic doses.
Purgative properties have been attributed to this remedy, but the writer has failed to observe it. Perhaps we never gave it to a patient otherwise afflicted with weak bowels. A change of water alone sometimes produces alvine evacuations. Yet we have to respect the reports of other careful practitioners who have noticed the aperient properties of this medicine. It has been used in bowel complaints and even dysentery with good results. Why? Because any remedy which will divert the excitement, depending on inflammatory action which may be going on in the intestines, to the skin or periphery of the animal economy, simply removes the disease by transplantation of the cause.
In all exanthemata, alone or judiciously combined, it is a grand remedy and will outstrip Aconite of its wonted repute in that direction too. The U. S. Dispensatory, 11th edition of 1858, even sung its praises as a valuable medicine in exanthematous fevers. And the new U. S. Pharmacopoeia just out, has retained the A. tuberosa, which formerly only belonged to the secondary list of medicines, whereas the species A. incarnata and A. Syriaca, have been entirely dropped from the list. There being some Eclectics even who seem not to dare use a remedy unless it has been first sanctioned by some Old-School fogy, the above must be gratifying information.
In flatulent colic the wind-root has earned for itself a reputation second only to Mentha and Dioscorea, whence one of its popular names: colic-root. When the decoction is used cold or a tincture be taken in small doses, the effect is then rather that of a tonic. Many more pages might be written in proof of the good services this drug has rendered to the writer which many Eclectics know full well. Others who consider themselves so full of knowledge that nothing less than an absurdity would attract their attention, could not be won over to our way of thinking though we were to write even a whole volume in favor of this one remedy.
In phthisis it has been used to a limited extent. In the first stage of tuberculosis, as well as in that of consolidation, when the air-cells are filling up with tubercle so as to cause great distress from dyspnea, this drug is of real benefit for a while, by lessening the flow of blood to the point of irritation. At least the writer has had occasion to verify its palliative effects in consumption.
But it is in pleuritis, both the acute and chronic form, that we have made a crucial test with this remedy. Having broken or rather "torn up" some very ancient adhesions of the pleura with Asclepias, we think that nothing short of a petrified individual could withstand the onslaughts of this herculean agent. In acute pleuritis, the stomach being able to tolerate it, we give with it a little of Lobelia, barely enough to nauseate, so as to increase its diaphoretic action, and add sufficient of Zingiber to lessen the nausea, which may likely be produced by the Lobelia. It is most effectual when an infusion is made of the powdered root.
|Rx.—||A. tuberosa,||6 drachms;|
|boiling water||32 ounces.|
This when sweetened and strained is given in doses of half to one wine-glassful hot, every half-hour till copious diaphoresis is produced. Never is relief to be had until diaphoresis has been fully established, all of Homeopathy notwithstanding. Repeat this treatment once a day until a cure is the result. In chronic pleuritis omit Lobelia. One of the latter just treated by the writer will be briefly mentioned in the post-note following. In pneumonia we prepare this medicine in a like manner, being always guided by the symptoms, whether it be of a congestive, sthenic or asthenic type,—giving a hot infusion every half, full or two hours in similar doses, until diaphoresis is established and the patient breathes more freely. In the typhoid condition increase the quantity of Zingiber, and in the sthenic form use more of Lobelia to lessen arterial tension. And when a man has once aborted a genuine attack of pneumonia with a pulse of 150 per minute, on himself, as the writer has had the occasion to experience, and has saved the same member of his family twice in three years, suffering once from acute and the next time from a typhoid form of the same disease, he would feel himself justified in saying that he could go triumphantly through a whole ward of pneumonitic hospital-cases with this simple remedy and not lose a patient whom he had treated from the incubatory period.
The remedy is also of great service in inflammatory rheumatism and pericarditis, when of rheumatic origin. In such cases we use it in combination with Cimicifuga, and give in preference a saturated tincture or fluid-extract, equal parts, of the two combined, administering each dose in hot water sweetened until carried to excessive diaphoresis. The dose would vary from half to one drachm of the two combined as often as once in an hour or even less. We will not prolong the indications of this drug in any other line of diseases than already mentioned.
The question will no doubt be raised why the infusion prepared from the crude drug acts so much quicker, not to say much more agreeable, than any other preparation made of the same. It should be borne in mind that much starch is found in the root, and which being considered inert is discarded in the manufacturing of "concentrated preparations." Yet it must also be known that amylaceous substances are not only nutritive but very easily borne on an irritable stomach, such as we find in a high fever. Starch is also of a bland nature and admirable in disguising the taste of some otherwise nauseous medicines. Let it be remembered that the use of A. tuberosa was originally learned from the American Indian, and the latter's method of taking this drug was in the form of a decoction, assisted by the application of bags of hot ashes to the parts affected. There is many an article of diet consumed by our western Indians for the amount of starch it contains, which the white settler makes use of on account of its valuable properties considered from a medical point of view.
The dose of the powdered root is from one-half to one drachm; of the infusion from one to three or more fluidounces, of the tincture or fluid-extract from ten to sixty minims, according to strength and quality; of Asclepin from one to ten grains, according to Dr. Grover Coe, and of the Concentrated Tincture of Asclepin, from eight to twenty drops. As to the frequency of administration, that is left entirely to the discretion of a careful and honest practitioner.
Always believing in giving credit to whom due, the writer acknowledges reference to the following authorities: B. BARTON'S Collection toward a Materia Medica; W. BARTON'S Medical Flora, and Flora of North America; BIGELOW'S American Medical Botany; RAFINESQUE'S Medical Flora of the United States; LOUDON'S Encyclopaedia of Plants; LINDLEY'S Flora Medica; GRIFFITH'S Medical Botany; WISE'S Hindu System of Medicine; HONIGBERGER'S Medium System of Medicine, and Materia Medica; KOST'S Materia Medica; BEACH'S American Practice; HOWARD'S Botanic Medicine; United States Dispensatory; American Dispensatory; JONES and SCUDDER'S Materia Medica, which is a capital work; GRAYS Manual of Botany; Botany of the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey; Botany of Exploring Expedition and Survey for Pacific Railroad; Agricultural Reports, Washington; American Naturalist; Treasury of Botany; BALFOUR'S Botany; New Remedies; Therapeutic Gazette; HUNTER'S Captivity; Traits of the Aborigines, and several others not already referred to.
A few cases well known to the Secretary of the National Association will be, hastily referred to. Several years ago Dr. M. N——n, of this city had pneumonia, for which he was treated by two physicians, one of his own school and the last a Homeopathist. He seemed to have got over the worst of it, but failed to get well. He had been out already, but complained of a sense of constriction in the lung affected, an inability to inflate the organ without suffering pain, and a worn-out, tiresome feeling in general, so that he dared not go out to attend all of his own sick-calls. It was late in the winter. We suggested the use of A. tuberosa, of which he took an infusion for a few days and was then entirely relieved of pain and uneasiness in the parts affected. The strength also returned under the use of small doses of Strychnia and Phosphoric Acid (dilute).
The next case is that of another Eclectic, Dr. J. E. B——s, of this city, who contracted pleuritis in the early summer of 1882. He had dosed himself for a couple of days with various remedies and finally sent for the writer. On seeing him we discovered a sthenic fever, much depression and the symptoms usual in a person of full habits. Not having any Asclepias in our pocket-case, resort was had to some of Keith's Asclepin, which the Doctor had in the house, and it was given every hour for the rest of the day and night, in fair-sized doses. On the following morning he was put on an infusion of our powdered root containing also a little of Lobelia, and in less than twenty-four hours after using the hot infusion he had the first and only relief experienced since he was taken ill. A few days more brought him on his feet so that he was able to go to the "National" at New Haven, Conn.
The next case occurred in our private practice and was one of chronic pleuritis. Mr. Ed. B. of this city, an actor accustomed to travel with a rural company where he was exposed to the changes of the weather as well as feather-beds, had contracted the complaint and doctored more or less without receiving any benefit therefrom. We first saw him on the 11th of January, 1883. He had adhesions of the pleura of the lower lobe of the right lung and was only comfortable when remaining motionless. To move, stir, cough or walk would instantly produce those characteristic pains. He was put on an infusion of the powdered root of A. tuberosa and Zingiber, and told to remain indoors for a few days. On the 16th following we called again and found that he was out again attending to business and free from his former trouble. Just seventeen months ago he had been treated by the writer for a similar chronic affection with like success.
While footing up a number of such cases treated, we must not forget one which is now convalescing before this paper goes to press. It is that of the mother of another of our Eclectics, Dr. J. B ——n, of this city, a lady 63 years old. She was taken down with a chill followed by slight pleuritic symptoms about the 10th of January. Her son prescribed the customary treatment, including Asclepin. The latter was dissolved, and given in simple elixir along with a little Gelsemium and Hyoscyamus. It soon nauseated the patient, and in order to avoid taking the medicine, she feigned recovery, and even left the bed a number of times whenever the doctor called. He also prescribed the Concentrated Tinct. of Xanthoxylum Bark, with simple elixir, which likewise nauseated the patient. She gradually grew worse, so that her pulse would rise as high as 110 to per minute and over, while the temperature varied from 101 1/2 ° to 104° according to the exacerbations of the fever. Poultices had been and were still used. We were consulted on the 17th and found her in a high fever just setting in again with a very sthenic pulse of 106 per minute, temperature 102° and respiration 46 per minute, which was altogether diaphragmatic. The pleura over the region of the liver was involved and occasioned much pain. So far all the remedies used failed to produce diaphoresis, and the skin was dry and constricted. We put her at once on an infusion of A. tuberosa with Zingiber, which she took in doses of 2 ounces every hour for four doses, and thereafter every half-hour during the rest of the night, using 1 ounce for a dose. Four hours after taking the Asclepias infusion she was bathed in a perspiration and slept three hours that same night, which she had not done in a week before. She even liked the taste of the medicine, which was preferred without sugar or even milk, and would frequently call for its administration. How different it acted from the nauseating Asclepin. In twenty-four hours after taking the hot infusion of the root she was relieved of all pleuritic pains; the respirations were only 36 per minute, and the temperature had not again risen above 101 degrees. The patient, as soon as the skin became moist, was also put on the use of a green tincture of Monarda punctata, in doses of fifteen drops every hour and a half or two, which she took clear on her tongue, and still it occasioned no nausea. Another return or exacerbation of the fever occurred on the following day, and it was again routed with the hot infusion of Asclepias. After this no more exacerbations set in, the patient slept frequently and seemed to improve rapidly. It should also be stated that this lady had five or six years ago an attack of pneumonia, when we were consulted and suggested the use of A. tuberosa, which quickly relieved all the urgent symptoms of the case.
Transactions of the National Eclectic Medical Association, Vol. X, 1882-83, edited by Alexander Wilder.