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Hydrastis.

Botanical name:

(A larger monograph by Lloyd can be found at: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsOther/Hydrastis-Lloyd.PDF)

Hydrastis canadensis is native to North America. Once abundant in the thick woodlands of the Central West, in the territory bordering the Ohio River from Illinois to Virginia, it is now in its native home practically exterminated. Hydrastis is known by the common names, golden seal, yellow puccoon, yellow root, and other similar expressive appellations signifying its color or applying to its nature. The root of this plant, of a rich golden yellow, like its companion, sanguinaria, which, however, has a red color, was used by the Indians as a cuticle stain, and also as a dye for their garments. Being exceedingly bitter, it was also useful in repelling insects, when mixed with grease and smeared upon the skin, and hence served a double purpose in the use of primitive man. Its first printed conspicuity came from a paper read by Mr. Hugh Martin (408) before the American Philosophical Society, 1782, published in their Transactions, 1793, under the title, "An account of some of the principal Dyes employed by the North American Indians." By reason of its red berry, hydrastis was also called ground raspberry. Although it had been mentioned in various medical publications, the drug was held in slight repute, and was of no commercial importance until the advent of the American Eclectics, who first prepared its alkaloidal salts for professional use (388a). Its medical history dates from its use by the Indians, who introduced it as a native remedy to the earliest botanical explorers, and to settlers. Its therapeutic qualities were overlooked, however, by Kalm (350), 1772; Cutler (178), 1783; and Schoepf (582), 1785; Barton (43) first bringing it before the medical profession, 1798. He credits the Cherokee Indians for its ascribed uses, and in the third part of his work (1804) he devotes considerable attention to the drug. Rafinesque (535) (1828) states that the Indians employed it as a stimulant, and that the Cherokees used it for cancer, in which direction better remedies were to them known. The principal use of hydrastis by the Indians, however, and which afterwards crept into domestic practice, was as an infusion or wash for skin diseases and for sore or inflamed eyes. It was also employed as a stimulant for indolent ulcers, and as an internal tonic. Hydrastis may be considered typical of the drugs that are employed very extensively by the medical profession, through their empirical introduction, it being recorded that even for gonorrhea the Indians discovered its utility.

Early authorities on American medical plants, such as Barton (43) (1798 and 1804), Hand (298) (House Surgeon, 1820), Rafinesque (535), Elisha Smith (601) (1830), Kost (361) (1851), Sanborn (571) (1835), give to hydrastis considerable conspicuity, whilst Dunglison's Medical Dictionary (203) pessimistically (1852) states that in Kentucky only it is used, and then only as an outward application, for wounds. (See Drugs and Medicines of North America, pp. 154-5 [389].)


The History of the Vegetable Drugs of the U.S.P., 1911, was written by John Uri Lloyd.



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