Triosteum perfoliatum. Fever root.

Botanical name: 

Pl. 09. Triosteum perfoliatum. THIS is rather a solitary plant, and though met with in most parts of the United States, it rarely, I believe, occurs in large quantities. About Boston it is found in several places at the borders of woods in rich, shady situations. Its common names are Fever root and Wild ipecac. [The quaint appellation of Dr. Tinker's weed, which has been bestowed on this plant, is thus gravely commented on by Poiret. "Ses racines et celles de l'espece précédente passent pour émétiques; le docteur Tinkar est le premier qui les a mises en usage, et qui a fait donner à cette plante par plusieurs habitans de l'Amerique septentrionale le nom d'herbe sauvage du docteur Tinkar."] Pursh observes, that it is rare, and generally occurs in limestone soils. With us it flowers in June and ripens its fruit in September.

The genus Triosteum is found in the class Pentandria and order Monogynia. Its natural affinities place it among the Aggregate of Linnaeus and the Caprifolia of Jussieu. It is characterized by a monopetalous, five-lobed, unequal corolla; a calyx as long as the corolla; and a berry with three cells and three seeds. The species perfoliatum differs from the rest in having its leaves connate, and its flowers sessile and whorled.

The root of this plant is perennial and subdivided into numerous horizontal branches. The stem is erect, hairy, fistulous, round, from one to four feet high. The leaves are opposite, the pairs crossing each other, connate, ovate, acuminate, eutire, rather flat, abruptly contracted at base into a sort of neck, resembling a winged petiole. This portion varies in width, as Michaux has expressed it, "foliis latius, angustiusve con natis." In general it is narrow when the plant is in flower, as represented in the figure; and wider when it is in fruit. The flowers are axillary, sessile, five or six in a whorl, the upper ones generally in a single pair. Each axil is furnished with two or three linear bractes. The calyx consists of five segments which are spreading, oblong-linear coloured, unequal, persistent. Corolla tubular, curving, of a dull brownish purple, covered with minute hairs, its base gibbous, its border open and divided into five rounded, unequal lobes. Stamens inserted in the tube of the corolla, hairy, with oblong anthers. Germ inferior, roundish; style longer than the corolla; stigma peltate. The fruit is an oval berry of a deep orange yellow, [Pursh observes that the flowers and berries are purple. In all the specimens I have examined, which have not been few in number, the fruit was of a bright orange colour. If Pursh has seen a plant with purple berries, it is probably a different species from the true plant of Linnaeus and Dillenius, which had "fructus lutescentes."] hairy, somewhat three sided, crowned with the calyx, containing three cells and three hard, bony, furrowed seeds, from which the name of the genus is taken.

This plant was made the subject of an interesting communication to the Linneean society of New England, by Dr. John Randall. The experiments made by him on its medical uses and pharmaceutical preparations were numerous, and serve to throw much light on its properties. In trying the solvent powers of water and alcohol, he found that water afforded a much greater quantity of extract than alcohol, and that the spirituous extract was perfectly soluble in water, whence he infers that no resin in a pure state exists in the plant. He discovered no volatile oil hy distillation, nor any other principle of activity in water distilled from the plant. He concludes also, that no free acid exists in this vegetable. Of the different parts submitted to examination, the leaves yielded the greatest quantity of soluble matter, but the root afforded that of the greatest activity. By decoction and evaporation with water an ounce of the dried stalks afforded one drachm of extract; an ounce of the dry roots, two drachms and two scruples, and the same quantity of leaves half an ounce. From a similar treatment of equal portions with alcohol, rather more than half the above quantities of extract were obtained.

The sensible qualities of the root were found essentially different from those of the herb. Both of them possess a large share of bitterness, but the root has also a nauseous taste and smell, somewhat approaching to those of ipecacuanha. The medical properties of the Triosteum are those of an emetic and cathartic. In the above dissertation, about thirty cases are detailed, in which different preparations and quantities of the article were given to various persons with a view to their medicinal effects. The general inference to be made from them is, that the bark of the root acts with tolerable certainty as an evacuant upon the alimentary canal, both by emesis and catharsis. When given alone, either in powder or decoction, the instances of its failure were not many, and when combined with calomel, its operation was attended with a certainty, hardly inferior to that of jalap. The aqueous and spirituous extract of the root were likewise efficacious, and nearly in an equal degree. Preparations made from different parts of the herb possessed much less activity, the decoction of the leaves operating only as a diaphoretic, and that of the stalk producing no effect.

The late Professor Barton of Philadelphia, in his Collections toward a Materia Medica of the United States, speaks of this plant as a mild and good cathartic, sometimes operating as a diuretic and in large doses as an emetic.

My own experience with this plant has not been extensive, yet sufficient to satisfy me of its medicinal power. Where I have administered it, it has generally proved cathartic, a larger dose however being requisite for this purpose, than of jalap or aloes. It has sometimes failed to produce any effect, and I am inclined to believe that its efficacy is much impaired by age. Those who may incline to employ it, will do well to renew their stock annually, and to keep the powder in close stopped phials.

A dose of the bark of the root in powder is twenty or twenty five grains, and of the extract, a somewhat smaller quantity.

Botanical References.

Triosteum perfoliatum, Lin. sp. pl.
Aiton, Hort. Kew. i. 234.
Pursh. i. 162.
Triosteum majus, Michaux, Fl. i. 107.
T. floribus verticillatis, sessilibus, Gronov. 31.
Triosteospermum latiore folio, flore rutilo, Dillenius, Elth. t. 293 f. 378.

Medical References.

Bart. Coll. 29.


Triosteum perfoliatum. the Aborigines made use of this plant in medicine is attested in Mr. Clayton's letter to Dr. Grew in the Philosophical transactions, Vol. VIII. of Hutton's abridgment. He says, "There is another herb which they call Indian purge. This plant has several woody stalks growing near three feet tall, and perfoliate; it bears yellow berries round about the joints. They only make use of the root of this plant." From this description it is sufficiently obvious that the plant in question was no other than Triosteum perfoliatum.

American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.