Botanical Source.—This plant, sometimes called American sanicle, is herbaceous and indigenous, with a perennial, knotty, yellowish root. The leaves are all radical, on very long, downy petioles from 2 to 8 inches in length, roundish-cordate, hispidly pilose, about 7-lobed, and from 2 to 3 ½ inches in diameter; the lobes are short, roundish, and crenate-dentate, with dilated mucronate teeth. Many scapes or flower stems arise from the same root, from 2 to 4 feet high, erect, naked, viscid-pubescent in their upper part, terminating in loose, pyramidal, forked panicles, which are nearly one-third the length of the scape. The calyx is permanent, 6-cleft, campanulate, small, obovate, striated with very obtuse segments, and more conspicuous than the petals. The petals are purplish-white, or rose-colored, minute, spatulate, and inserted into the margin of the calyx, between its segments. The filaments are twice as long as the petals, yellowish, inserted opposite the segments of the calyx, persistent, and surmounted by small, red, globose anthers. Capsule ovate. Seeds minute, oblong, black, and very hispid (L.—W.—R.).
History, Description, and Chemical Composition.—This plant is a native of North America, and is found in shady, rocky woodlands from Connecticut to Illinois and southward, flowering from May to August. The root is the part used; it is perennial, yellowish, horizontal, somewhat flattened, rough and unequal, with an intensely astringent taste. It yields its medicinal virtues to water. It should be collected in September. Bowman (1869) found tannin present to the extent of 20 per cent, but Jos. C. Peacock (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1891, p. 172) found only 5.55 per cent tannin and 12.2 per cent phlobaphene. Roots collected in October were richest in tannin (19.66 per cent, calculated upon dry substance), and richest in starch granules (13.62 per cent) in March. Compare also Prof. E. S. Bastin, on the structure of Heuchera americana (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1894, p. 467). There are several species of Heuchera, the Heuchera caulescens, H. pubescens, and others which possess similar properties, and are often collected and sold with the roots of H. americana. H. hispida, Pursh; H. parviflora, Nuttall; and H. cylindrica, Douglas, are said by F. W. Anderson to be much employed by the hunters of the northwest as astringents to check the diarrhoea produced by the alkali-water of the plains. The root of Mitella pentandra, Hooker, belonging to the same natural order, is recommended by F. W. Anderson as being far superior to alum-root for this purpose (Bot. Gaz., 1887, p. 65).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Alum-root, as its name would indicate, is a powerful astringent of such intensity as seldom to be administered internally, yet it would undoubtedly prove useful in small doses, in all cases where astringents are indicated. An aqueous extract will be found very beneficial in diarrhoea and dysentery in the second stages, in hemorrhages, and other similar diseases. Externally the powdered root may be applied to hemorrhages, epistaxis, wounds, foul and indolent ulcers, etc. The decoction is useful in aphthous sore mouth and soreness of the throat and fauces; it may be used as a wash or gargle. Taken internally, in doses of a wineglass half full 3 or 4 times a day, it has been efficient in diabetes, and in bleeding piles, employing it, in this last complaint, by injection also. Equal parts of alum-root and black cohosh-root in decoction, form an excellent local application in leucorrhoea and excoriation of the cervix uteri. Some practitioners employ this root indiscriminately with that of the Geranium maculatum; it is, however, more powerfully astringent.