Botanical Source, Description, and History.—This plant is an indigenous perennial, of a very curious character. The leaves, or acidia, are 6 to 9 inches long, radical, short-globose, inflated or cup-form, contracted at the mouth, having a broad, arched, lateral wing from 1/2 to 1 inch in width, and extended on the outside of the mouth into a broad-cordate, erect lamina, or hood, covered above with reversed hairs. The scape is from 1 to 2 feet in height, terete, smooth, and supporting a single, large, purple, and nodding flower (W.).
This plant owes its strange appearance to a curious pitcher-shaped metamorphosis of the leaf, which resembles very much an old-fashioned side-saddle; 6 of these generally belong to each plant. The leaf, which springs from the root, is formed by a large, hollow tube, swelling out in the middle, curved and diminishing downward till it ends in a stem, contracted at the mouth, and furnished with a large, spreading, heart-shaped appendage at the top, which is hairy within, the hairs pointing downward, so as to cause everything which falls upon the leaf to be carried toward the petiole; a broad, wavy wing extends the whole length on the inside; these lie upon the ground with the mouth turned upward, so as to catch the water when it falls. They hold nearly a wineglassful, and are generally filled with water and aquatic insects, which undergo decomposition or a sort of digestion, and serve as a nutriment to the plant. The root is in the form of stems or fibers, 5 to 7 or 8 inches in length, of various diameters, not exceeding that of a quill, dented at unequal intervals, having a smooth fracture, and without rootlets or medullary sheath; it is readily reduced to a slightly aromatic powder and a fibrous residue, and communicates its bitter taste to water, alcohol, or ether. Oil is colored light-amber by it. The stem rises direct from the root; it is round, quite smooth, and bears an elegant, deeply reddish-purple terminal flower, having 2 flower-cups; the external consisting of 3 small leaves; the internal of 5, egg-shaped, obtuse leaves, shiny, and of a brownish-purple. The blossoms are 5, guitar-shaped, obtuse, repeatedly curved inward and outward, and finally inflected over the stigma, which is broad and spreading, divided at its margin into 5 bifid lobes, alternating with the petals, and supported on a short cylindrical style; this is surmounted by the stamens, which are numerous, having short threads, and large, 2-celled, oblong, yellow anthers attached to them on the under surface. In the yellow-flowered species of the southern states, the bottle is very long, resembling a trumpet, by which name it is often called.
The whole species are water plants, and are found only in wet meadows, wet, boggy places, marshes, mud lakes, etc., and grow from Labrador to Florida, flowering in June. There are several varieties, as the S. heterophylla, found in the swamps at Northampton, Mass., and the S. rubra, S. flava (trumpet-leaf), S. variolaris, S. drummondii, and S. psyttacina, which are common to the south, and all of which, probably, possess similar medicinal virtues. The attention of the medical world was first called to Sarracenia purpurea, by Drs. Herbert Miles and F. W. Morris, both of Halifax, N. S., in 1861 and 1862, both recommending its use in the treatment of smallpox. In this connection, see an interesting monograph on this plant by Prof. Bentley (Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. IV, 1862, pp. 294-302).
Chemical Composition.—The root is the part used; it has a bitter and astringent taste, and yields its properties to water. Björklund and Dragendorff (Jahresb. der Pharm., 1864, p. 89) found the root to contain a volatile base (sarracine), a volatile acid (acrylic acid), starch (25.5 per cent), sugar, white resin (8.8 per cent), tannic acid, etc. The peculiar leaves of this plant showed about the same constituents as the root, only in different proportions. Hêtet (1879) claims to have observed in the root an alkaloid resembling veratrine, and E. Schmidt found a peculiar acid coloring matter (sarracenic acid), soluble in alcohol, little soluble in ether and benzin, and forming a yellow lake with alum (N. Jahrbuch f. Pharm., 1872, p. 98).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The therapeutical actions of sarracenia are not fully ascertained. It is supposed to be a stimulating tonic, diuretic, and laxative; in connection with Osmunda regalis and blue cohosh, it will form a valuable syrup for chlorosis, uterine derangements, dyspepsia, and other gastric difficulties. An infusion of the leaf has been found equally available with that of the root. The best mode of employing it is not well determined; though the powder may be given in doses of from 20 to 30 grains, 3 or 4 times a day; and the infusion or syrup, from 1 to 3 fluid ounces. Dr. Porcher, of South Carolina, instituted some experiments upon himself, using the recent root. He found it to possess bitterness and astringency, and to produce diuresis, gastric excitation, moderate catharsis, and, at the same time, to cause an increase and irregularity in the heart's action, and a feeling of congestion about the head. This was the result of 180 grains taken in 2 hours' time.
The root is useful in all cases where there is a sluggish, or torpid condition of the stomach, the intestines, the liver, the kidneys, or the uterus, producing costiveness, dyspepsia, sick headache, amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, and the various functional derangements which are so commonly to be met with. The plant has been extolled as a prophylactic in smallpox, and also to modify it and shorten its duration when present. Although many physicians have made statements to this effect yet all are not agreed. We do not think the plant possesses any such curative property as has been attributed to it in this disease, and believe those who have written in its favor, have allowed themselves to be mistaken. The plant, however, undoubtedly possesses valuable properties, which render it well worthy attention in this as well as in other diseases (J. King). Dr. Scudder suggests a strong tincture of the fresh root (℥viij to alcohol, 76 per cent, Oj) in doses of 1 to 20 drops.