Thalictrum dioicum. Meadow Rue.

Figure 3. Leaf of Thalictrum dioicum. Related entry: Thalictrum anemonoides

PART USED.—The plant Thalictrum dioicum. Linn.

Natural Order Ranunculaceae, Tribe Anemoneae.

BOTANICAL HISTORY.—This is a small herb, about a foot high, with alternate, tri-ternately compound, finely divided leaves, and small round crenate leaflets. The flowers appear early in spring, are inconspicuous, without petals, and the male and female are on different plants. The male plant, with numerous slender hanging stamens, is most likely to attract attention. The name, Meadow Rue, applied to this plant in common with all others of the genus, is derived from the finely divided, rue-shaped leaves, and has no reference to its medical properties.

ALLIED SPECIES.—Thalictrum purpurascens Linn., and Thalictrum Cornuti Linn., are two other very similar but much larger indigenous plants, the stems growing from three to six feet high. They are both rather common, the former found in rocky places, the latter in damp situations.

MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTIES. "These plants were not used by the American Indians; at least there is no record of that fact. The early writers on our indigenous remedies failed to notice them. The standard works, such as the Dispensatories, Medical Dictionaries, Catalogues of American Medical Plants, etc., omit them. Their near relatives, however, Thalictrum flavum Linn., and other species, have been occasionally recognized in European medicine. According to Rafinesque (1830), the roots of certain of our native species of Thalictrum were used in Canada for the cure of snakebites, and the leaves were sometimes employed as an ingredient of spruce beer; but the species referred to are not named. None of the American species of Thalictrum have been used by the Eclectic or the Botanic schools of medicine, nor have they ever been analyzed.

FOREIGN SPECIES OF THALICTRUM.—Some of these species have been used in Europe in domestic medicine, and formerly, to an extent, by the medical profession. The New Family Herbal (1790) gives Thalictrum flavum quite a notice, but the New Dispensatory, Lewis' Materia Medica, and other standard early English works ignore it. The supplement to the Pharmacopoeia (London, 1821) is authority for the statement that the roots of this species of Thalictrum were at that time used to adulterate rhubarb. The appearance of the two roots would forbid such admixture now, unless in form of powder. The root of Thalictrum majus, a native English species, according to the same authority, is "the best substitute for rhubarb, but requires a double dose." On this account the plant obtained the popular common name of Poor Man's Rhubarb. The first edition of Hooper's Medical Dictionary states (carried through the others) that the root of Thalictrum flavum is said to be "aperient and stomachic, and to come very near, in its virtues, to rhubarb, but is seldom used in this country (England)." Withering writes that a poultice of the leaves has been known to give ease in the sciatica; Hill, that the roots and young leaves are boiled in ale, and taken as a soup; Griffith (Medical Botany, 1847, p. 96) states that the root of Thalictrum flavum is used in Russia in treatment of hydrophobia, and that Thalictrum siense is demulcent and laxative, and is used in China in pectoral complaints. The species of Thalictrum which we have named as being used in England, viz.: Thalictrum flavum and Thalictrum majus, are known under the common names, Poor Man's Rhubarb, English Rhubarb, Spanish Meadow Rue, and Meadow Rue.

Taken together, the testimony is to the effect that some species of Thalictrum possess medicinal properties, and might be used in cases of necessity, but that other remedies are more certain and efficacious in the treatment of diseases to which they have been applied.


1830.—Rafinesque's Medical Botany, p. 267.
1847.—Griffith's Medical Botany, p. 94.

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