Menispermum Canadense. Yellow Parilla, Sarsaparilla.

Botanical name: 

Moonseed, Vine Maple.

Description: Natural Order, Menispermaceae. Stem round, climbing, eight to ten feet long. Leaves alternate, peltate near the edge, three to seven angled or lobed, three to five inches long, and about the same breadth, smooth and very dark-green above, paler beneath, palmate-veined, veins often appearing on the upper surface as light lines radiating to the angles. Flowers small, in axillary clusters, dioecious; sepals and petals nearly white, petals smallest; stamens twelve to twenty; pistils in the fertile flowers two to four. Fruit a globular, black drupe, with a bloom, ripe in September, about a third of an inch in diameter, with a single flattened and crescent-shaped seed. Roots several feet long, horizontal a few inches below the surface, tough, round, yellow.

This neat climber is common in open woods where the ground is moist, throughout the Canadas, and as far southward as Tennessee. From being called sarsaparilla, it is often confounded with aralia nudicaulis and the smilax. The aralia is not climbing, and has a grayish- white and soft root; the smilax climbs, but it has tendrils, its leaves are oval and not peltate, and the roots are brownish.

Properties and Uses: The root of this plant is a slowly acting and rather permanent agent, moderately relaxant, but with stimulating properties predominating. It influences the mucous membranes, stomach, gall-ducts, and liver, and makes a distinct alterative-tonic impression upon all the secreting organs, and slightly increases the force of the general circulation. Its stimulating qualities fit it for cases of moderate depression; and it is not a suitable article for irritable and sensitive conditions. In small doses, its action is chiefly manifested upon the respiratory passages, where it increases expectoration and gives a feeling of stimulation to the lungs–an action which sometimes can be taken advantage of in the treatment of chronic and depressed pulmonary affections. The stomach is fairly improved by it, and the hepatic apparatus and smaller bowels distinctly influenced, whence it will lead to a free discharge of bile and to fair evacuations of the bowels. Such qualities fit it for use in biliousness, atonic indigestion with costiveness, agues, dropsy, and skin diseases. Its general glandular action makes it valuable in scrofula, secondary syphilis, mercurial rheumatism, scrofulous and indolent ulcers, and similar low conditions. While acting thus distinctly on the secernents, it sustains the circulation distinctly; and is in all respects a positive and reliable agent. Most commonly it is combined with more relaxing articles, as rumex, fraxinus, celastrus, and arctium lappa. It is not used in substance.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Decoction. Menispermum, one ounce; seeds of arctium lappa, half an ounce. Digest for an hour in a quart of hot water, strain, and evaporate to a pint. Dose, a fluid, ounce three or four times a day.

II. Extract. This preparation may be made from water; but the root contains properties that water will not fully dissolve, therefore a hydro- alcoholic extract is altogether a better article. It may be used in doses of from three to five grains. It is seldom used alone; but makes a good basis with which to incorporate leptandrin to form pills, when it is desired to maintain a tonic with a laxative action on the hepatic apparatus for some time. The extract used alone in considerable quantities, three times a day, is said to prove quite effective in so purging the liver and bowels as to eradicate ague.

III. Fluid Extract. A pound of the crushed roots is to be macerated for two days in a sufficient quantity of 60 percent alcohol; transferred to a percolator and treated with similar alcohol till seven fluid ounces pass, and the steps then completed as in other fluid extracts. This is a strong and valuable preparation, and may be used in doses of thirty drops three times a day, in any suitable alterant sirup. Like other preparations of this root on alcohol, it influences the pharynx and trachea sharply.

IV. Mensipermin. This article is usually supposed to be a resinoid; but it is simply a refined alcoholic extract, prepared after the manner of cypripedin. It is of fair power, yet does not represent the plant so fully as does the fluid extract. Dose, three to five grains.

Menispermum is an ingredient in the Compound Sirup of Rumex, and in various preparations with the alterants and tonics above named.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at