Chapter 24. May-Apple.
Podophyllum Peltatum L.
OTHER COMMON NAMES—Mandrake, wild mandrake, American mandrake, wild lemon, ground-lemon, hog-apple, devil's-apple, Indian apple, raccoon-berry, duck's-foot, umbrella-plant, vegetable calomel.
HABITAT AND RANGE—The May-apple is an indigenous plant, found in low woods, usually growing in patches, from western Quebec to Minnesota, south to Florida and Texas.
DESCRIPTION OF PLANT—A patch of May-apple can be distinguished from afar, the smooth, dark-green foliage and close and even stand making it a conspicuous feature of the woodland vegetation.
May-apple is a perennial plant, and belongs to the barberry family (Berberidaceae.) It is erect and grows about 1 foot in height. The leaves are only two in number, circular in outline, but with five to seven deep lobes, the lobes 2 cleft, and toothed at the apex; they are dark green above, the lower surface lighter green and somewhat hairy or smooth, sometimes 1 foot in diameter, and borne on long leafstalks which are fixed to the center of the leaf, giving it an umbrella-like appearance. The waxy-white, solitary flower, sometimes 2 inches in diameter, appears in May, nodding on its short stout stalk, generally right between the two large umbrella-like leaves, which shade and hide it from view. The fruit which follows is lemon shaped, at first green, then yellow, about 2 inches in length and edible, altho when eaten immoderately it is known to have produced bad effects.
In a patch of May-apple plants there are always a number of sterile or flowerless stalks, which bear leaves similar to those of the flowering plants.
DESCRIPTION OF ROOTSTOCK—The horizontally creeping rootstock of May-apple when taken from the ground, is from 1 to 6 feet or more in length, flexible, smooth, and round, dark brown on the outside and whitish and fleshy within; at intervals of a few inches are thickened joints, on the upper surface of which are round stem scars and on the lower side a tuft of rather stout roots. Sometimes the rootstock bears lateral branches. The dried rootstock, as it occurs in the stores, is in irregular, somewhat cylindrical pieces, smooth or somewhat wrinkled, yellowish brown or dark brown externally, whitish to pale brown internally, breaking with a short, sharp fracture, the surface of which is mealy. The odor is slight and the taste at first sweetish, becoming very bitter and acrid.
COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES—The proper time for collecting the rootstock is in the latter half of September or in October. The price paid for May-apple root ranges from 3 to 6 cents a pound.
May-apple root, which is recognized as official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, is an active cathartic and was known as such to the Indians.