Botanical Source.—This is a singular, leafless plant, with much-branched and toothed, coral-like root-stalks. The rhizome is a collection of small, fleshy tubers, articulated and branched much like coral. The scape is from 9 to 14 inches high, rather fleshy, striate, smooth, and invested with a few long, purplish-brown sheaths. The flowers are from 10 to 20 in number, ringent, in a long spike of a brownish-green color. The lip is white, generally with purple spots, undivided, oval, obtuse, and crenulated; the spur obsolete and adnate to the globular ovary; the anther 2-lipped and terminal; pollen-masses 4, obliquely incumbent. The capsule is large, reflexed, strongly ribbed and oblong, or subglobose (G.—W.).
History.—This plant is indigenous to the United States, growing in rich woods, about the roots of trees, from Maine to Carolina and westward to the east bank of the Mississippi River, flowering from July to October. Not very common south of 35° or 36° latitude. The species C. multiflora, C. Wisteriana, C. innata, and C. Macraei probably possess similar medicinal virtues. The rhizome of the first-mentioned species (C. multiflora, Nuttall), which grows as far west as the Rockies, is undoubtedly often present in the commercial drug, and is probably as valuable. It differs from the above species somewhat, especially in having in its spike from 15 to 25 or 30 flowers, which have a deeply 8-cleft lip, and are spurred, and are succeeded by a pendulous, elliptical capsule, instead of a roundish one. The plant is also much stouter. It was first discovered in 1816, by Dr. D. S. C. H. Smith, although long known previous to that time to herbalists. The entire plant is destitute of verdure. The root is the medicinal part; it is small, dark-brown, resembling cloves or a hen's claw, has a strong, nitrous smell, and a mucilaginous, slightly bitter, astringent taste. It has not been analyzed.
Description.—The dried root, as met in commerce, is composed of small, coral-like pieces, about 2 lines in diameter, and from 3 to 12 lines long, the longest pieces consisting of the small, coral-like branches, round or compressed, crooked, wrinkled lengthwise, more or less distinctly annulated at distances varying from 1 to 2 lines, dark-brown externally, and lighter within. Its fracture is short, presenting under the microscope a shining, pulverulent, or granular appearance, somewhat like the saccharine frost on figs and raisins. The root is inodorous, with a taste sweetish at first, somewhat resembling that of raisin-seed, and succeeded by a faintly bitterish, mucilaginous flavor.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Crawley is probably the most powerful, prompt, and certain true diaphoretic in the materia medica, but its scarcity and high price prevent it from coming into general use. It is also sedative, and promotes perspiration, without producing any excitement in the system. Its chief value is as a diaphoretic, in fevers, especially typhus, and in inflammatory diseases; it has proved efficient in acute erysipelas, cramps, flatulency, pleurisy, and nightsweats; and relieves hectic fever without debilitating the patient. Probably it will be found to combine tonic, sedative, diaphoretic, and febrifuge properties. When, in acute pulmonic troubles, a non-stimulating diaphoretic is needed, we can employ none better than the coral-root. To "break up a cold" it is one of the most certain of medicines. It is fully equal to asclepias, and lacks the dangerous features of jaborandi. It has done excellent service in diphtheria. Acute and chronic pleurisy are both conditions in which it will prove curative. Years ago it was used for the control of colliquative sweating of phthisis, and will be found equal to muscarine and salvia for this purpose. It is one of the best remedies ever employed for the general debility preceding pulmonic affections. We have employed tincture of coral-root in cases where all the symptoms were those of incipient consumption, with the most beneficial results. There is hacking cough, loss of weight, want of appetite, pleuritic pains, and marked general prostration. The remedy will be found slow, but certain in its action. From 3 to 5 weeks will be required before any good results can be observed. The appetite is the first to respond, the cough and pain cease, there is increased urinary product, and the functions of the skin are better performed. The patient increases in strength and flesh, and all the unfavorable symptoms disappear. It has been employed in dry bronchial irritation with "tightness across the chest, wheezing, and severe paroxysms of irritable cough," and in one case where enlarged thyroid caused mechanical bronchial irritation, the physician was successful in removing the condition by the reduction of the size of the goitre with this agent. It should be employed either in infusion or tincture, and the doses should be moderately large and long-continued. The infusion is prepared by taking 1/2 ounce of the root to 1 gallon of water, and the patient is to drink freely of it. Or a saturated alcoholic tincture, or a saturated rye-whiskey tincture, may be given in 1/2-drachm doses 3 or 4 times daily. Its virtues are especially marked in the low stage of fevers. The dose is from 20 to 30 grains of the powdered root, given in water as warm as the patient can drink, and repeated every 1 or 2 hours, according to circumstances. The powder should always be kept in well-closed vials; it formerly constituted the "fever-powders" of some practitioners. Combined with extract of blue cohosh it forms an excellent agent in amenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea; and is unsurpassed in after-pains, suppression of lochia, and the febrile symptoms which sometimes occur at the parturient period. In fevers it may be advantageously combined with specific leptandra, or resin of podophyllum, where it is found necessary to act upon the bowels or liver; and mixed with specific dioscorea, it will be found almost a specific in flatulent and bilious colic.
Specific Indications and Uses.—General prostration, malaise, hacking cough, loss of appetite, loss of weight, pleuritic pains, bronchial irritation, pyrexia.
Related Species.—As there was formerly some doubt as to the true plant which furnishes the crawley root, and, as Prof. King, in his first edition of the American Dispensatory (which he corrected, however, in a subsequent edition), described it as the Pterospora Andromedea, it may not be out of place to give a description of the latter. In many respects these plants resemble each other, as will be seen by the following description:
Pterospora Andromedea, Nuttall. Albany beech-drops, Pine-drops.—It belongs to the Nat. Ord., Ericaceae. It is a rare and singular plant, found on barren hills and shady uplands, and in a hard clay soil in the State of New York, and some of the northern states and Canada, flowering in July. It has a perennial, fleshy, tuberculous root, with many tubers which resemble the claws of a fowl. Stem or scape erect, simple, straight, dark-purple, cylindrical, covered with short viscid wool, from 8 to 30 inches in height, leafless, and sparsely beset with scales. Leaves none. Flowers pale or reddish-white, lateral, nodding, disposed in a terminal raceme from 6 to 12 inches long, composed of 50 or more flowers; pedicels irregularly scattered, from 3 to 8 lines in length, axillary to long, linear bracts. Calyx 5-parted; corolla roundish-ovoid, urn-shaped; limb 5-toothed, reflexed, inclosing the stamens. Stamens 10; filaments flat, anthers peltate, 2-celled, 2-awned, opening lengthwise; style short; stigma 5-lobed, capitate. Capsules or pod globose, depressed, 5-lobed, 5-celled, loculicidal. Seeds very numerous, minute, ovoid, tapering to each end, the apex expanded into a broad, reticulated wing, many times larger than the nucleus (G.—W.). It was discovered near Albany, N. Y., in 1817, by Dr. Edwin James, who regarded it as a Monotropa, and as such, on authority of Dr. Torrey, was designated by Amos Eaton (Man. of Bot., 2d ed.), under the name Monotropa procera.