Symplocarpus Foetidus. Skunk Cabbage.

Botanical name: 
Description: Natural Order, Araceae. The Ictodes of Dr. Bigelow, and the Dracontium of Willdenow. Perennial roots. Leaves one to two feet long, ovate, on short petioles, bright green, veiny, appearing after the spathes and flowers. Spathe broad, hooded, very thick and fleshy, incurved, spotted and striped with purplish and yellowish green, appearing early in the spring and often called leaves by the people. Flowers on a short and very thick spadix, within the spathe, thickly crowded together, and with their ovaries imbedded in the fleshy spadix; four hooded sepals, four short stamens, and a single four-angled style. Fruit as large as a pea, whitish, in the flesh of the spadix. The spathe dies as the flowers expand; and then it is that the leaves begin to be developed. Flowering in March and April, and ripening its curious seeds in September.

This singular plant is common in wet pastures and meadows, and is known by the strong skunk-like (and garlic-like) odor it emits in the spring. The root is an inch or more in diameter, several inches long, thickly covered with very short fibers, blackish without, nearly white within, and of a strong smell when fresh. Age weakens the odor, and also the power; and heat renders it nearly worthless as a medicine. Water and diluted alcohol extract its virtues. The seeds are similar to the root; but retain their powers for a long time, and hence are the more energetic article.

Properties and Uses: The roots, and also the seeds, are relaxant, very diffusive, promotive of perspiration, and much valued as an antispasmodic in coughs, and in the restlessness of fevers. By most persons it is accused of being mildly narcotic; but many experienced and careful physicians assure me that it is in no sense narcotic, but a simple and reliable nervine, of the most innocent and effective soothing character. It is most valued in hooping-cough, spasmodic asthma, and nervous irritability. Dose of the powder, from ten to twenty grains every three or two hours. An ounce of the fresh root, tinctured in four ounces of wine, makes an effective preparation in doses of one to two fluid drachms. Many practitioners employ it in various combinations for "fever powders;" among which class of mixtures is equal parts of skunk cabbage and white root, and one-fourth part of lobelia seeds, in doses of ten to fifteen grains every two hours or oftener. Some combine it with lobelia, blood root, and ipecac, for emetic purposes; but it is a crude and insignificant preparation.

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