(A larger monograph by Lloyd can be found at: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsOther/Gelsemium-Lloyd.PDF)
Common Names.—Yellow jessamine, jessamine, Carolina jessamine, wild woodbine, white poison-vine, white jessamine.
Gelsemium sempervirens is a native of the Southern United States, being abundant in the swamps, woods, and thickets, from Virginia to Florida. It is a handsome climber, twenty to fifty feet in length, blooming in early spring, its flowers being overpoweringly fragrant. The name, given by Jussieu, was made from the Italian word gelsomino, meaning jasmine. But it is not a jessamine, and inasmuch as there is a true jessamine with yellow flowers, E. M. Holmes, of London, considers it unfortunate that the term yellow jessamine has been applied to it. This common name, however, is now firmly established. Its Italian name, gelsomino, possibly led Eclectic authors to use the name gelseminum instead of gelsemium, a term found in early Eclectic literature and but recently displaced. In this connection it may be said that Professor Scudder invariably used the word gelseminum. (In an English botanical work in the Lloyd Library, which I can not now locate, a long discussion appeared concerning the two words. If memory serves me correctly, the decision was in favor of Gelseminum.—J. U. L.)
Medical History.—Barton and his co-laborers did not mention gelsemium, but Rafinesque (535), 1830, gave it a place, stating that "root and flowers (The statement has been made and possibly established that honey from the flowers of this plant is narcotic.) are narcotic, their effluvia may cause stupor, tincture of the root is used for rheumatism in frictions," a statement taken almost literally from Elliott's (227) Botany of South Carolina and Georgia, 1821. The medical record (King) (356) had its origin through the mistake of a servant of a Southern planter who was afflicted with fever. This servant by error gave his master a decoction of gelsemium root instead of the garden plant intended. Immediate loss of muscular power and great depression followed, all control of the limbs was lost, the eyelids drooped and could not be voluntarily opened. Death seemed imminent. But the effects finally wore away and the man recovered, free from fever, which did not recur. An observing physician took this experience as a text and prepared from gelsemium a remedy which he called the "Electrical febrifuge," which attained some popularity. Finally the name of the drug concerned was given to the profession. This statement is found in the first edition of King's American Eclectic Dispensatory, 1852, which work actually presented gelsemium to the world of medicine, although, as will be shown later, the plant had a recorded position much earlier. King's article on gelsemium was copied in substance by the United States Dispensatory, 1854, none of the preceding nine editions of that work having mentioned the drug. But the fact is that Porcher (520) commended gelsemium in his report to the American Medical Association, 1849, and, concerning its restricted local use in gonorrhea and rheumatism, referred to Frost's Elements of Materia Medica (250) (South Carolina) as well as to several local journal articles.
For a long time following 1852 (at which date King's American Dispensatory appeared) gelsemium remained an almost exclusive remedy of the Eclectic school, but in 1860 it attained a position in the United States Pharmacopeia, although not until 1880 did that work give place to any preparation of gelsemium. At present the drug is in much favor with many physicians of all schools, but is generally classed as one of the Eclectic remedies, being one of the most important in Eclectic therapy.
The History of the Vegetable Drugs of the U.S.P., 1911, was written by John Uri Lloyd.