Polygonum Hydropiper. Smart-Weed, Water-Pepper.

Description: Natural Order, Polygonaceae. This very common Tribe of plants is familiar to all, and is characterized by their jointed stems, and partially sheathing alternate leaves. There are several species, closely resembling each other, and most readily distinguished by their spikes of flowers being either rose-red, light-rose, white, or greenish-white. Although they possess similar properties, the hydropiper is far the most powerful, next to which are the punctatum, (acre,) and hydro-piperoides, (mite.) The whole Family (which includes the buck-wheat, the yellow dock, and the rhubarbs) has no corollas, but a colored calyx which resembles a corolla. P. HYDROPIPER: Annual roots. Stem smooth, one to two feet high. Leaves lanceolate, with fringed sheaths, two to four inches long, crowded with pellucid dots. Flowers in short, slender spikes, drooping, and somewhat loosely-flowered; calyx sepals five-parted, green-ish-white; stamens mostly six; styles two to three-parted. Fruit an obtusely triangular achenium, somewhat flattened, shining brown, minutely striate. Common in moist grounds, blooming from August to October.

The species PUNCTATUM closely resembles the hydropiper, but has whitish flesh-colored flowers on erect and close spikes, and the calyx (as well as the leaves) is marked with pellucid glands. This species is most common southward, and constitutes a large portion of the polygonum that comes to market. The HYDRO-PIPEROIDES has very narrow leaves, which taper at both ends and are a little roughish; and short spikes of rose-colored flowers, whose calyces are not dotted. It is much milder than either of the above. The PERSICARIA has dense spikes of greenish-white flowers, very shining seeds, and roughish leaves which are marked by a triangular, or somewhat oval, dark spot near the center. By some, this is considered the true medicinal smart-weed; but it is quite mild compared to the hydropiper, though usually gathered because of its greater commonness. All these species yield their properties to water ana alcohol; and are impaired by age and by heat.

Properties and Uses: This herb is very acrid, and possibly vesicant, when green. The dried article is a sharp, diffusive, and not disagreeable stimulant, with a moderate portion of relaxing powers. A warm infusion readily enlarges outward capillary action, securing a free and warm perspiration, an increase of expectoration, and a decided increase of the catamenia when this flow has been checked by exposure. An increased flow of urine sometimes follows, but cold preparations act most upon the kidneys. The warm infusion is of service in recent colds, the later stages of pulmonary congestion, in low typhoid, and other cases where there is distinct capillary congestion and a tendency to putrescence. On account of the pungency of its action, the true hydropiper is usually combined with asclepias; but the punctatum may be used alone, and both are valuable arresters of gangrenous tendencies in diphtheria, carbuncle, frost-bites, etc. This infusion may also be used in painful and tardy menstruation, for which it is decidedly valuable; in flagging labor pains, with fatigue, it is a prompt and serviceable article; and in uterine or pulmonary hemorrhage, it may be combined with a suitable astringent, and used to much advantage to secure an outward determination of blood. It has been much commended in the pain and cramps of cholera; and is by no means an insignificant remedy–used internally and applied externally as a fomentation–in all crampings, neuralgic pains, and congestion of the abdominal and pelvic viscera. Indeed as a fomentation in all acute forms of internal suffering, it is one of the truly valuable remedies; and exerts an antispasmodic power, of the more stimulating grade, that is of much benefit for most cases of hysterical neuralgia, when used internally either alone or associated with cypripedium or valerian. Cold preparations are useful in the same classes of cases; and the agent may be used as a general and moderately diffusible stimulant with other articles for a large variety of purposes, as with camomile, cimicifuga, or caulophyllum in tardy menstruation and uterine pains, with convallaria or aralia in pulmonary debility, with tonics and hepatics in dropsy and general debility, and with alterants in low forms of scrofula and mercurial cachexy. Owing to the impairing influences of age, the agent as procured from druggists is often nearly inert; but when recently gathered and carefully cured, it will be found a remedy of very decided powers–the hydropiper being most stimulating, and the punctatum and other species most antispasmodic.

The usual mode of employment is by infusion, prepared by digesting half an ounce of the dry herb in a quart of water not above a temperature of 150 deg.; of which from one to three fluid ounces may be given at intervals of three hours, two hours, or one hour, according to requirements. A tingling sensation throughout the frame is usually felt soon after beginning its use. A concentrated tincture is prepared by macerating a pound in a suitable quantity of diluted alcohol, transferring to a percolator, adding diluted alcohol till ten fluid ounces have passed, and then subjecting the dregs to strong pressure. A pint of fluid is thus usually obtained, or enough diluted alcohol may be added to make a pint. I prefer this tincture to the fluid extract, (which may be prepared as the fluid extract of boneset,) as the heat used in evaporating causes a decided loss of the properties of the drug. As an internal remedy in faintness, collapse, cholera, and similar extreme depressions, it may be used in doses ranging from twenty drops to a teaspoonful, at intervals of half an hour or more; or it may be added in suitable proportions to other agents, in any of the cases previously named.

Used as an outward application, it is generally dipped in warm water and vinegar, laid over the part, and covered with a piece of warm flannel. The fresh herb is better than the dried for outward uses. The infusion makes a good wash for indolent ulcers, semi-putrescent sores, and aphthous ulcers.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com