Virginia Snakeroot. (1) Aristolochia serpentaria L. and (2) Aristolochia reticulata.
OTHER COMMON NAMES—(1) Virginia serpentaria, Virginia snakeroot, serpentary, snakeweed, pelican-flower, snagrel, sangrel, sangree-root; (2) Texas serpentaria, Texas snakeroot, Red River snakeroot.
HABITAT AND RANGE—Virginia serpentaria is found in rich woods from Connecticut to Michigan and southward, principally along the Alleghenies, and Texas serpentaria occurs in the Southwestern States, growing along river banks from Arkansas to Louisiana.
DESCRIPTION OF VIRGINIA SERPENTARIA—About midsummer the queerly shaped flowers of this native perennial are produced. They are very similar to those of the better known "Dutchman's-pipe," another species of this genus, which is quite extensively grown as an ornamental vine for covering porches and trellises. Virginia serpentaria and Texas serpentaria both belong to the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae). The Virginia serpentaria is nearly erect, the slender, wavy stem sparingly branched near the base, and usually growing to about a foot in height, sometimes, however, even reaching 3 feet. The leaves are thin, ovate, ovate lance shaped or oblong lance shaped, and usually heart shaped at the base; they are about 2 ½ inches long and about 1 or 1 ½ inches in width. The flowers are produced from near the base of the plant, similar to its near relative, the Canada snakeroot. They are solitary and terminal, borne on slender, scaly branches, dull brownish purple in color, and of a somewhat leathery texture; the calyx tube is curiously bent or contorted in the shape of the letter S. The fruit is a roundish 6-celled capsule, about half an inch in diameter and containing numerous seeds.
DESCRIPTION OF TEXAS SERPENTARIA—This species has a very wavy stem, with oval, heart-shaped, clasping leaves, which are rather thick and strongly reticulated or marked with a network of veins; hence the specific name reticulata. The entire plant is hairy, with numerous long, coarse hairs. The small, densely hairy purplish flowers are also produced from the base of the plant.
DESCRIPTION OF ROOTSTOCK—Serpentaria has a short rootstock with many thin, branching, fibrous roots. In the dried state it is thin and bent, the short remains of stems showing on the upper surface and the tinder surface having numerous thin roots about 4 inches in length, all of a dull yellow, ish brown color, internally white. It has a very agreeable aromatic odor, somewhat like camphor, and the taste is described as warm, bitterish and camphoraceous.
The Texas serpentaria has a larger rootstock, with fewer roots less interlaced than the Virginia serpentaria.
COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES—The roots of serpentaria are collected in autumn. Various other roots are sometimes mixed with serpentaria, but as they are mostly highpriced drugs, such as golden seal, pinkroot, senega and ginseng, their presence in a lot of serpentaria is probably accidental, due simply to proximity of growth of these plants. Abscess-root (Polemonium Reptans L.) is another root with which serpentaria is often adulterated. It is very similar to serpentaria, except that it is nearly white. The price of serpentaria ranges from 35 to 40 cents a pound.
Serpentaria is used for its stimulant, tonic, and diaphoretic properties. Both species are official in the United States Pharmacopoeia.
Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants, 1936, was written by A. R. Harding.