The Rattle-Snake Root Plant.
A small plant, native of America, with weak stalks, little leaves, and white flowers. It grows a foot high. The stalks are numerous, weak, and round, few of them stand quite upright, some generally lie upon the ground. The leaves stand irregularly: they are oblong and somewhat broad, and of a pale green. The flowers are little and white: they stand in a kind of loose spikes, at the tops of ihe stalks, and perfectly resemble those of the common plant we call milkwort, of which it is indeed a kind: the whole plant has very much the aspect of the taller kind of our English milkwort. The root is of a singular form: it is long, irregular, slender, and divided into many parts, and these have on each side, a kind of membranous margin hanging from them, which makes it distinct in its appearance, from all the other roots used in the shops.
We owe the knowledge of this medicine, originally to the Indians: they give it as a remedy against the poison of the rattle-snake, but it has been extolled, as possessing great virtues. Dr. Tennant brought it into England, and we received it as a powerful remedy against pleurisies, quinzies, and all other diseases where the blood was sizey: it was said to dissolve this dangerous texture, better than all other known medicines; but experience does not seem to have warranted altogether these effects, for it is at present neglected, after a great many and very fair trials.
When this remedy was discovered to be the root of a kind of polygala, which discovery was owing to the gentleman who brought it over, and with it some of the plant, for the inspection of the curious. The roots of the English polygala were tried; those of the common blue or white flowered milkwort, (for that variety is purely accidental,) and they were found to have the same effects: they were given by some in pleurisies, with great success. It was said at that time they had less virtues than the seneca root, though of the same kind: but it must be remembered, the virtues of the seneca root were then supposed to be much greater than they really were. The novelty adding to the praise.