The bark of the rhizome of Gillenia trifoliata, Moench (Spiraea trifoliata, Linné), and Gillenia stipulacea, Nuttall (Spiraea stipulata, Willdenow).
COMMON NAMES: Indian physic, American ipecac, Indian hippo, and sometimes Bowman's root.
Botanical Source.—Indian physic is an indigenous, perennial herb, with an irregular, brownish, somewhat tuberous caudex, from which radiate many long, knotted, delicate fibers. The stems are several, from the same root, about 2 or 3 feet in height, erect, slender, flexuose, smooth, branched above, and of a reddish or brownish color. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate, subsessile, furnished with small linear-lanceolate and slightly-toothed stipules at the base; the leaflets are lanceolate acuminate, sharply and unequally toothed, the upper ones often single, the lower broader at the end, but acuminately terminated. The flowers are white, with a reddish tinge, borne in terminal, loose panicles, few in number, scattered, on long peduncles, occasionally furnished with minute, lanceolate bracts. The calyx is subcampanulate or tubular, terminating in 5 sharp, reflexed teeth. Petals 5, the 2 upper ones separated from the three lower, white with a reddish tinge on the edge, lanceolate, unguiculate, contracted and approximated at base and 3 times as long as the calyx. The stamens are about 20, in a double series within the calyx, with short filaments, and small, yellow anthers. Styles 5, with obtuse stigmas. Capsules 5, connate at base, oblong, acuminate, diverging, gibbous without, sharp-edged within, 2-valved, 1-celled, and 1 or 2-seeded. The seeds are oblong, brown, and bitter (L.—B.).
History.—The plant Gillenia trifoliata, sometimes called Bowman's root, is found growing from Canada to Florida, in rich woods, light, gravelly soils, and in moist and shady situations; it is more common in the Atlantic States than the Western. It blossoms from May to August. The root is the medicinal part, and must be collected in autumn. As met within commerce it is a dry, tuberculated root, 3 or 4 lines in diameter, corrugated lengthwise, and of a reddish-brown color externally; it is composed of a light-colored, ligneous, internal substance, and an easily removed, dense, friable, brownish bark, which is readily reduced to a powder, having a similar color. It is nearly odorless, and has a nauseous, amarous taste, and yields its properties to alcohol or water at 100° C. (212° F.). The bark is the active portion, the internal woody substance being nearly inert. The root of G. stipulacea is larger, tuberculated, and the rootlets resent on annulated appearance due to constrictions passing part way around the rootlet, forming semicircular depressions.
Gillenia stipulacea, Nuttall, also called Bowman's root, which is found on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains, growing through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and southward, flowering at the same time as the above, possesses similar properties, but is more efficient in the same doses. It may be distinguished by its drab-colored and branching stems, its greater size, its large, clasping, ovate-cordate, leafy, gashed, and serrated stipules, its lower leaves being of a reddish-brown color at the tips; the stipules are leafy, ovate, doubly incised and clasping; and the flowers are fewer, smaller, on slender peduncles, hanging in loose panicles. It is seldom met with in limestone or alluvial soils. (For an interesting article on the nomenclature of Gillenia, see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1898, p. 501.)
Chemical Composition.—According to Mr. Shreeve, gillenia contains starch, gum-resin, wax, a fatty matter, a red coloring substance, a volatile coloring matter, and a peculiar principle soluble in alcohol and diluted acids, but insoluble in water or ether (Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. I, p. 28). Mr. W. B. Stanhope procured gillenin from Gillenia trifoliata by making an alcoholic extract of the powdered bark, evaporating to dryness, treating with water, macerating the resinous and bitter residue with diluted sulphuric acid for 10 days, filtering, evaporating with excess of magnesia, extracting with alcohol and allowing the solvent to evaporate spontaneously. The gillenin thus obtained was permanent in the air, very bitter, soluble in water, alcohol, ether, and diluted acids, neutral, giving a fine green color with chromic acid, and blood-red with strong nitric acid. Tannic acid produced no effect, but caustic potash, subacetate of lead, and tartar emetic threw down white precipitates. In doses of ½ grain it produced emesis, with considerable vertigo (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1856, p. 200). Mr. Frank W. White (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1892, p. 121), found the active principle of Gillenia trifoliata to be a glucosid, obtainable by agitating the aqueous solution of the alcoholic extract with chloroform.
In Gillenia stipulacea Mr. Gordon L. Curry found two glucosids which be obtained from the ether extract of an aqueous infusion. One, which he named gillein, was obtainable in feathery crystals, easily gives off sugar, is soluble in water, alcohol, and diluted acids, and causes nausea in the dose of ¼ grain. The other glucosid, called gilléenin, is amorphous, much more stable, soluble in water, but sparingly soluble in alcohol and ether. Neither of these substances gives the reactions of Stanhope's gillenin. Sugar, gum, and tannin were also found (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1892, p. 513). Both this root and that of the Gillenia trifoliata were formerly official in the U. S. P.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The root-bark of these plants is emetic, cathartic, sudorific, expectorant, and tonic. In their action, they resemble ipecacuanha. Like the latter, their dust will provoke irritation of the throat and breathing organs. They have been recommended in amenorrhoea, rheumatism, dropsy, habitual costiveness, dyspepsia, worms, and in intermittents. As an emetic and cathartic, from 20 to 85 grains is a dose, which, when vomiting is required, may be repeated at intervals of 20 minutes. It may be used in all diseases where emetics, ace indicated, as a safe and efficient agent. In dyspepsia, accompanied with a torpid condition of the stomach, from 2 to 4 grains forms an excellent tonic. As a sudorific, 6 grains may be given in some cold water, and repeated at intervals of 2 or 3 hours, or it may be given in combination with a small portion of opium. Large and oft-repeated doses of the infusion cause severe vomiting and purging.