Phytolacca. Phytolacca americana.

Botanical name: 

Synonym—Phytolacca decandra, Poke.

Phytolaccic acid, phytolaccine, calcium malate, resin, starch, wax, gum, tannin, mucilage. The ashes contain over fifty per cent of caustic potassa.
Extractum Phytolaccae Radicis Fluidum. Fluid Extract of Phytolacca Root. Dose, from five to thirty minims.
Unguentum Phytolaccae, Ointment of Phytolacca.
Specific Phytolacca. Dose, from one to ten minims.

Physiological Action—Though the young shoots of Phytolacca are used as greens the mature plant is poisonous when taken in large doses. Death has followed an overdose (one-half ounce) of the berries or root, preceded by excessive vomiting and purging drowsiness, prickling and tingling over the whole body; vertigo, dimness of vision, cold skin, feeble pulse, great prostration, convulsions and coma.

While it is specific in its influence upon all glandular structures, of whatever character, it also is a blood-making remedy of great power, and it acts directly also upon the skin. It influences the mammary glands and the testicles directly. The remedy acts also upon the spinal cord. It inhibits the influence of the medulla, to final paralysis. It slows the action of the heart, reduces the force of the pulse, and lessens respiratory movements. In poisonous doses it will induce convulsions of a tetanic character. It is a drastic cathartic and an emetic producing nausea of an extreme character. Its influence upon the. bowels is greatly prolonged, and very irritating. It causes great pain in the bowels, which is slow of relief. It reduces muscular power and coordination. It produces dimness of vision, vertigo and drowsiness, prolonged in some cases to coma.

Specific Symptomatology—The most direct action of this agent is in inflammation of glandular structures, especially of the lymphatic glands. Pains of a rheumatic character from deficient catabolism are relieved by it. It is directly indicated in irritation, inflammation and ulceration of mucous membranes in rheumatic subjects, sanious ulcers, scabies, tinea capitis, sycosis, psoriasis, favus, noli me tangere, and all skin diseases. It is especially valuable in the squamous variety of skin diseases.

Therapy—This agent must now have especial attention in its influence in the treatment of acute inflammations of the throat. It makes but little difference what forms of throat disease we have, from the simplest forms of pharyngitis, through all the variations of tonsillitis, to the extreme forms of diphtheria, this remedy may be given in conjunction with other indicated agents. But few of our physicians neglect its administration in these cases, and they are unitedly profuse in their praises of its influence. If there be an infection of the local glands of the neck, from the throat disease, the agent should be applied externally, as well as administered internally.

In the treatment of goitre there is a consensus of opinion concerning the value of this remedy, but it is almost universally administered in these cases, with other more direct remedies. Dr. J. V. Stevens is enthusiastic in his opinion that adenitis needs no other remedy than phytolacca americana. Whatever the cause of the disease or of however long standing, he saturates the system with this remedy, and persists in it, applies it externally and claims to cure his cases. He has used it for many years with success. Others combine other active alteratives as general conditions demand.

Too much cannot be said of its very positive and invariable influence in the treatment of acute inflammations of the breast during or preceding lactation. It should be given every two hours at least in doses of perhaps ten drops in extreme cases, or five drops in the incipiency of the disease, or mild cases. Conjoined with aconite and applied also externally, we, will find in many cases no lisp for any other remedy. I have, however, found my results to be more quickly obtained when an active eliminant is given in conjunction with the remedy in mastitis. Two or three fifteen-grain doses of the acetate of potassium will be found efficient.

The writer has, through a long experience, gotten into the habit of adding this remedy to alterative compounds. This is especially true of those prescribed for children's glandular and skin disorders. It is an efficacious remedy in any of the forms of skin disease, common to childhood. Given in the incipiency of eczema and in some forms of chronic eczema, especially that of a dry character, where there are cracks or fissures in the skin, these promptly yield to the internal administration of this remedy.

It should be administered in the treatment of syphilitic disorders resulting in ulceration, and in the ulcerations of the outlets of the body. In varicose and other long-standing ulcers, in psoriasis, dermal abscesses, fissures, boils and carbuncles it will be often found that a combination of phytolacca, echinacea, berberis, and stillingia will prove signally effective.

Ten drops of equal parts of the juice of ripe poke berries and alcohol may be given every thirty minutes in membranous and spasmodic croup with great success, with other remedies as indicated.

In irritation of the urinary tract, even in conditions resembling Bright's disease, with albumin, and abnormal deposits in the urine, it tends to relieve the irritation, and effect a cure.

Dr. Waska, of Chicago is a strong advocate of the use of phytolacca and echinacea in the treatment of any form of albuminuria. He believes with proper auxiliary treatment, these two remedies will be of great service in overcoming the excretion of albumin and in restoring a normal condition of the kidneys. Skin disease of constitutional origin, and scrofulous skin diseases, are cured by it.

Its action in relieving irritation, inflammation and ulceration of mucous membranes in all parts of the body—throat, larynx, lungs, stomach, bowels and rectum—suggests it as a remedy in inflammation of the lining membrane of the heart; and it is said to have cured cases of this kind.

In conjunctivitis, the local and internal use of the remedy is efficient; and also in the treatment of chancre and bubo.

In the treatment of conjunctivitis, a saturated tincture of the fresh root should be given in sufficient quantity to produce fullness of the temples and head, while the eyes should be bathed frequently with the decoction.

In the treatment of ulcers and ulcerating skin diseases, the local application of a concentrated preparation of the root or berries should be made, so as to exert something of a caustic effect, while full doses are given internally at the same time.

The presence in the blood of an infectious irritant, which causes rheumatic pains, as in sciatic rheumatism, and irritation of mucous membranes, or inflammation of the throat associated with rheumatic pains, and enlargement and ulceration of lymphatic glands from scrofula or syphilis, is an indication for the remedial action of phytolacca.

It has been thought to stimulate the liver, by those who hold the theory that rheumatism, peritonitis, tonsillitis, and the many diseases assigned to the uric acid diathesis depend upon abnormal protoplasmic change in the blood, as it circulates through the liver; but whether this be true or not, there is no doubt that it improves nutrition.

Phytolacca is somewhat narcotic, and also a nerve stimulant in moderate doses, and this will explain its action in curing rheumatism, for those who take the ground that this obscure disease is a neurosis; and also explains its action in neuralgia.

The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919, was written by Finley Ellingwood, M.D.
It was scanned by Michael Moore for the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.