Caltha Palustris. Marsh Marigold.

Botanical name: 

Fig. 25. Fruit of Caltha palustris. PART USED.—The fresh plant Caltha palustris Linn.

Natural Order Ranunculaceae, Tribe Helleboreae.

COMMON NAMES.—The proper common name for this plant is Marsh Marigold. In this country it is often called Cowslip (or corrupted into Cow's Lip), but improperly, as the name Cowslip belongs to the genus Primula, of Europe. The name American Cowslip is a decided improvement. The old English names for the plant are Mare-blobs, [This name mare, marsh, and blobs, bladder, has been in some English, localities corrupted into Horse-blobs. which has no meaning.] or Mare-blebs, Water-blobs, Meadow Bouts, [Bouts means buttons, spelled also incorrectly Bowts.] Water Bouts. These names all refer to the yellow flowers and buds, which resemble buttons or knobs. The names Palsywort and Water Dragon, sometimes applied to this plant, are inappropriate. It is also called by some persons Colt's Foot [Since this paper has been written, we have received for identification a specimen of Caltha palustris, from a physician, who states that the plant was brought from Canada by his wife, and called Colt's Foot. It is needless to state that it has no resemblance or affinities to the true Colt's Foot, Tussilago Farfara.] and Ground Ivy, which are names belonging to other plants.

DESCRIPTION.—Marsh Marigold is a very common plant in swamps, wet meadows and borders of streams in many parts of the United States. It is also found throughout Europe and part of Asia. The root consists of a bundle of fleshy fibrous rootlets. The stem is from six to twelve inches high, much branched, succulent furrowed and hollow. It bears in the spring numerous large, showy yellow flowers, which consist each of about six petaloid sepals, numerous stamens, and from five to ten pistils.

Fig. 26. Caltha palustris, flowering top. The fruit pods, or follicles, are in a whorl of from five to ten in number, and contain several dark purple seeds.

The leaves are from two to four inches broad, the lower on slender leaf-stalks. They are alternate, crenate or entire, cordate or reniform. They vary much in shape in different sections of the country; hence there have been numerous varieties of the plant named.

An extreme northern form was formerly considered distinct, and called Caltha arctica R. Brown; and a simple, one-flowered form, known under a number of names, is now considered by Prof. Watson to be the same as the Caltha palustris var. sibirica Regel.

CONSTITUENTS.—Caltha palustris is somewhat acrid, faintly resembling the Ranunculus. It has no marked constituents other than this acrid substance, which exists in small proportion, and doubtless is identical with the acrid oil of ranunculus. We distilled several pounds of the fresh plant with water, but failed to obtain either the oil or anemonin.

PHARMACEUTICAL PREPARATIONS.—The Pharmacopoea Homoeopathica Polyglotta recognizes a tincture of Caltha palustris. This is the only pharmaceutical preparation recorded, and is made as follows:

The fresh plant, in time of flowering, is chopped, and well pounded to a fine pulp, and carefully pressed out in a piece of new linen. The expressed juice is then, by brisk agitation, mingled with an equal part by weight of strong alcohol. This mixture is let stand eight days in a well-stopped bottle in a dark, cool place, and then filtered.

MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTIES.—Caltha palustris has been used in cough syrups (Lee's New York Medicinal Plants), but the remarks we make concerning liver leaf (page 51) will apply here. In times long passed it has been occasionally recommended, but has never received the support of a single reputable authority, to our knowledge. Salmon (1710) remarks: "For any of its medical virtues, nothing has yet been observed by experience;" and if Salmon failed to ascribe a medicinal use for a plant, others need scarcely attempt to honor it. Cattle and sheep refuse to eat the plant; and, according to Rafinesque, it inflames their stomachs if swallowed. Schoepf (1787) states that it is acrid, and that herds will not eat it. Caltha palustris is an excellent pot herb, and as it appears in the early spring time, it is extensively used for greens. The flower buds are sometimes pickled. This plant does not deserve a recognition in medicine.

Medical References.

1710.—The English Herbal; or, History of Plants, Salmon, p. 683.
1787.—Materia Medica Americana, Schoepf, p. 94.
1817.—Quincy's Lexicon-Medicum, p. 159. (and subsequent editions).
1830.—Medical Flora and Botany of the United States, Rafinesque, Vol. II., p. 202.
1848.—Catalogue of the Medicinal Plants growing in the State of New York, Lee, p. 4.
1875.—Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica, Allen, Vol. II., p. 421.
1880.—Pharmacopoea Homoeopathica Polyglotta. p. 104.

Drugs and Medicines of North America, 1884-1887, was written by John Uri Lloyd and Curtis G. Lloyd.