Chapter 27. Forest Roots.
The facts set forth in the following pages are from American Root Drugs, a valuable pamphlet issued in 1907 by U. S. Department of Agriculture - Bureau of Plant Industry - and written by Alice Henkel.
Bethroot. Trillium erectum L.
OTHER COMMON NAMES—Trillium, red trillium, purple trillium, ill-scented trillium, birthroot, birthwort, bathwort, bathflower, red wake-robin, purple wake-robin, ill-scented wake-robin, red-benjamin, bumblebeeroot, daffydown-dilly. dishcloth, Indian balm, Indian shamrock, nosebleed, squawflower, squawroot, wood-lily, truelove, orange-blossom. Many of these names are applied also to other species of Trillium.
HABITAT AND RANGE—Bethroot is a native plant growing in rich soil in damp, shady woods from Canada south to Tennessee and Missouri.
DESCRIPTION OF PLANT—This plant is a perennial belonging to the lily valley family (Liliaceae). It is a low growing plant, from about 8 to 16 inches in height, with a rather stout stem, having three leaves arranged in a whorl near the top. These leaves are broadly ovate, almost circular in outline, sharp pointed at the apex and narrowed at the base, 3 to 7 inches long and about as wide, and practically stemless.
Not only the leaves of this plant, but the flowers and parts of the flowers are arranged in threes, and this feature will serve to identify the plant. The solitary terminal flower of Bethroot has three sepals and three petals, both more or less lance shaped and spreading, the former greenish, and the petals, which are 1 1/4 inches long and one-half inch wide, are sometimes dark purple, pink, greenish, or white. The flower has an unpleasant odor. It appears from April to June and is followed later in the season by an oval, reddish berry.
Various other species of Trillium are used in medicine, possessing properties similar to those of the species under consideration. These are also very similar in appearance to Trillium Erectum.
DESCRIPTION OF ROOT—Bethroot, as found in the stores, is short and thick, of a light-brown color externally, whitish or yellowish inside, somewhat globular or oblong in shape, and covered all around with numerous pale brown, shriveled rootlets. The top of the root generally shows a succession of fine circles or rings, and usually bears the remains of stem bases.
The root has a slight odor, and is at first sweetish and astringent, followed by a bitter and acrid taste. When chewed it causes a flow of saliva.
COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES—Bethroot is generally collected toward the close of summer. The price ranges from 7 to 10 cents a pound.
It was much esteemed as a remedy among the Indians and early settlers. Its present use is that of an astringent, tonic, and alterative, and also that of an expectorant.