The rhizomes of several species of Liatris.
Botanical Source and History.—LIATRIS SPICATA, Willdenow, Button snakeroot. This plant, also known by the names of Gay-feather, Devil's bit, etc., has a perennial, tuberous root, an erect, annual stem, 2 to 5 feet in height, mostly stout, and very leafy. The leaves are linear, glabrous, alternate, punctate, ciliate at base, lower ones 3 to 5-nerved, and narrowed at base. The flowers are sessile, of a bright-purple color; the heads many, densely crowded in a long, terminal spike, and from 8 to 12-flowered. The scales of the cylindrical, bell-shaped involucre are oblong or oval, and appressed, with slight scarious margins. Achenia pubescent, obconic. Pappus permanent, colored, barbellate, not evidently plumose to the naked eye. Receptacle naked. This plant is found in moist places in the middle and southern states, and in abundance in the prairies (G.—W.).
LIATRIS SQUARROSA, Willdenow, or Blazing-star, has a perennial, tuberous root, with a stem 2 to 3 feet high, thickly beset with long-linear, nerved leaves; the lower ones attenuated at the base. The heads are few, sessile or nearly so, with brilliant purple flowers; the racemes flexuous and leafy; the involucre ovate-cylindric, and the scales of the involucre large, numerous, squarrose-spreading; outer ones larger and leafy, inner ones mucronate-acuminate, and scarcely colored. Pappus plumose. This plant is found in the middle and southern states, in dry soil, and is known in the South by the name of Rattlesnake's master (G.—W.).
LIATRIS SCARIOSA, Willdenow, or Gay-feather, has a perennial, tuberous root, with a stout, scabrous-pubescent stem, 4 to 5 feet in height, whitish above. The leaves are numerous, lanceolate, tapering at both ends, glabrous, with rough margins, entire, lower ones on long petioles, 3 to 9 inches long, upper ones 1 to 3 inches in length by 1 to 3 lines in width. The heads number from 5 to 20, an inch in diameter, and are disposed in a long raceme, with 20 to 40 purple flowers. The involucre is globose-hemispherical; the scales of the involucre obovate or spatulate, very obtuse, with dry and scarious margins, often colored. Pappus scabrous. This plant is found in dry woods and sandy fields from New England to Wisconsin, and extending southward (G.—W.).
LIATRIS ODORATISSIMA, Willdenow.—This plant, known as Deer's tongue or Vanilla plant, has radical and stem leaves; the former are obovate-spatulate, tapering below, generally 7-veined, and sometimes slightly obtusely toothed. The stem leaves are oblong and clasping. The leaves are more or less glaucous and fleshy. The flower-heads are arranged in a panicle or corymb, and are from 4 to 10-flowered, the blossoms being of a vivid purple hue. The involucre has but few scales, and these are spatulate-oblong, and imbricated. Pappus not plumose, but finely barbollate. The rhizome of this species is not tuberous. Deer's tongue is found from Virginia south, and flowers in September and October. The leaves, when dry, have a pleasant odor.
History and Chemical Composition.—All the above plants are splendid natives, and flowering through August, September, and October. There are several other species of this genus which appear to possess medicinal properties analogous to each other, and which deserve further investigation—e.g., L. cylindracea, L. graminifolia, etc. The roots are the medicinal parts; they are all tuberous, except L. odoratissima, with fibers, and have a hot, somewhat bitter taste, with considerable acrimony, and an agreeable, turpentine odor. They appear to contain a resinous substance, volatile oil, and a bitter principle. Their virtues are extracted by alcohol, and partially by hot water in infusion. The leaves of L. odoratissima are often covered with glistening crystals of coumarin (C9H6O2) (Procter, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1859, p. 556). On account of this constituent, it is used in North Carolina for keeping moths out of clothes. Deer's tongue is also of interest as a reputed adulterant of tobacco, it being said to be especially employed in the making of cigarettes, the deleterious effects of which have been attributed, by some, to the coumarin present in them. Liatris spicata was analyzed by W. F. Henry (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1892, p. 603). It contained 0.09 per cent of volatile oil, about 4.5 per cent of resin, 2.3 per cent of a caoutchouc-like body, 16 per cent of inulin, also mucilage, glucose, etc., but no glucosid nor alkaloid.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—These plants are diuretic, with tonic, stimulant, and emmenagogue properties. A decoction of them is very efficient in gonorrhoea, gleet, and nephritic diseases, in doses of from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 3 or 4 times a day. It is also reputed beneficial in scrofula, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea, after-pains, etc. It is likewise of advantage used as a gargle, in sore throat, and chronic irritation of the throat, with relaxed tissues, and in injection has proved useful in leucorrhoea. It acts kindly on the stomach, and is of some value in dyspepsia associated with renal torpor. While it relieves colic and other spasmodic bowel affections of children, it has some reputation as a remedy for pain and weakness in the lumbar region. Said to be beneficial in Bright's disease (?) in connection with Lycopus virginicus and Aletris farinosa; equal parts of each in decoction. These plants are celebrated for their alexipharmic powers in bites of venomous snakes. Pursh states that, when bitten, the inhabitants of the southern states bruise the bulbous roots, and apply them to the wound, at the same time drinking freely of a decoction of them in milk. This requires corroboration. The eliminative action of liatris may be taken advantage of in removing morbific products left in the system after serious forms of illness. The decoction is prepared from an ounce of the root to 1 pint of water. Dose, 1 fluid drachm to 4 fluid ounces.