Gentiana catesbaei. Blue Gentian.
I am indebted to the late Dr. Macbride, of Charleston, S. C. for my specimens of this medicinal plant, and for a quantity of its root in preservation. Many of the perennial species of Gentian have a great degree of bitterness in the root, and among these the Gentiana lutea, or common imported Gentian of the shops, stands preeminent. Of the American species, several bear great resemblance in taste and effect to the European plant. No one, however, which I have examined, approaches so near to the officinal root in bitterness, as the species which is the subject of this article. This species was formerly confounded with the Gentiana saponaria, a fine autumnal plant common in the Northern and Middle states. It differs widely, however, from that species in the size of its leaves, the length of its calyx, the open mouth of its corolla and shape of its segments. An imperfect figure of this plant, published by Catesby sixty years ago, has been quoted by subsequent botanists as belonging to G. Saponaria. It has now been very properly distinguished by Walter and Elliott, who have applied to the new species the name of its earliest delineator.
The genus Gentiana has a monopetalous corolla; a capsule one-celled and two-valved, with two longitudinal receptacles. The species Catesbaei has a rough stem; leaves ovate-lanceolate; segments of the calyx longer than the tube; mouth of the corolla open, its outer segments subacute, inner segments bifid and fimbriate.
This genus is placed by Linnaeus in his class and order Pentandria, Digynia. A part of the species, however, depart from the character of this class, and constitute one of those instances in which the general rules of the arrangement are violated, that apparently natural genera may not be divided. A part of the Gentians have five stamens and a five-cleft corolla; others have four stamens and a four-cleft corolla; others have a still different number. Yet so uniform is the structure of the fruit, and so great the apparent affinity of the plants, that botanists have hitherto kept the genus entire, even though the variety of form as well as of number in the calyx, corolla, and stamens might perhaps justify a subdivision.
This genus belongs to the natural order Rotaceae of Linnaeus, and to Jussieu's Gentianae.
The Gentiana Catesbaei has a branching and somewhat fleshy root. Stem simple, erect, rough. Leaves opposite, ovate or lanceolate, slightly three-nerved, acute, rough on the margin. Flowers crowded, nearly sessile, axillary and terminal. Segments of the calyx linear-lanceolate, varying in length, exceeding the tube and sometimes more than twice its length. Corolla large, blue, ventricase, plaited; its border ten-cleft, the five outer segments roundish and more or less acute, the five inner bifid and fimbriate. Stamens five, with dilated filaments and sagittate anthers. Germ oblong-lanceolate, compressed, supported by a sort of pedicel. Style none, stigmas two, oblong, reflexed. Capsule oblong, acuminate, one-celled, two-valved.
The dried root of this vegetable has at first a mucilaginous and sweetish taste, which is soon succeeded by an intense bitter, approaching nearly to that of the officinal gentian. This quality appears to reside in a bitter extractive principle, soluble in both alcohol and water. A little resin is developed by the pearly appearance which the tincture assumes on the addition of water. The decoction, however, is nearly equal in bitterness to the tincture, and both these solutions exhibit this property much more powerfully than the root in substance. No astringency appears in this root, and nothing remarkable in the distilled water.
I have found the root of this plant in a variety of instances in which I have used it, to resemble very nearly the imported Gentian in its properties, being but little inferior to it in strength or efficacy. Like that substance it invigorates the stomach and gives relief in complaints arising from indigestion. Dr. Macbride, at whose suggestion I first employed it, entertained a high opinion of its tonic power in cases of debility of the stomach and digestive organs.
In Mr. Elliott's Botany of the Southern States, we are told, that in the form of a decoction it is used with decided advantage in cases of pneumonic, where the fever is nervous, and that it acts as a tonic and sudorific. A tincture of it is esteemed as a remedy in dyspepsia, given in doses of one fourth or half an ounce. It is said to increase the appetite, prevent the acidification of the food, and to enable the stomach to bear and digest articles of diet, which before produced oppression and dejection of spirits.
Gentiana Catesbaei, Walter, Flora Carol, p. 109.
Elliott, Botany of the Southern States, i. 340.
Elliott, loc. cit.