Indigenous Drugs.



To write an article upon a subject that has not been completely investigated is, perhaps, the most unsatisfactory task imaginable, and this appears to be allotted to me in the present paper. When I accepted query 23, for 1868, I had no idea of the difficulties to be encountered in its proper solution. Apart from those of a purely personal character, I have met with the greatest difficulties in obtaining answers to inquiries from parties who could, if inclined, have given the desired information. Yet some little information has been obtained, which, however meagre, I propose to give in the following:

My sources of information are various. In some few instances I have received responses from those directly or indirectly engaged in the collection of indigenous drugs; but generally I have been obliged to depend upon that obtainable from wholesale dealers, to whom consignments had been made by parties doing business with them.

It is a remarkable fact, that our Louisville wholesale druggists depend upon the New York markets for their supplies of indigenous drugs, many of which abound and frequently are collected in our immediate neighborhood. Our retail dealers are supplied with limited quantities by several gatherers living among the range of hills in the neighborhood of New Albany, Ind., known as "the Knobs." Formerly there was a lively trade in indigenous drugs in New Albany; but such is not now the case, and the drugs gathered in its neighborhood find their markets no farther than our city. Our immediate neighborhood, on the Kentucky side, also contributes to our supplies through a few small gatherers, chiefly Germans; but taken altogether, our home supplies far from meet the demand of our retail trade, and generally bring better prices than those obtained from a distance. The drugs principally collected in our neighborhood—of which the largest part among the Knobs near New Albany—are: Podophyllum, Leptandra, Caulophyllum, Lobelia, Cimicifuga, Gelsemium, Ulmus, Stillingia, Xanthoxylum, Phytolacca, Asarum Canadensis, Cornus Florida, Panax, Aralia nudicaulis, Aralia racemosa, Sambucus, Cataria, Mentha piperita, Hedeoma, &c., and limited quantities of Serpentaria, Spigelia, and Senega. These abound also, and are collected in the counties of Shelby, Monroe, Brown and Morgan; and one of our principal establishments has lately negotiated for a full line of indigenous drugs from Pembroke, Kentucky.

My information seems to indicate that the mountainous regions of Kentucky, especially Eastern Kentucky, contributes largely to the supplies of our Western dealers in indigenous drugs. From East Tennessee and Western Georgia large quantities may be and undoubtedly are obtained. Several years ago I had offers from a party in Chattanooga of quite a line of indigenous drugs. Where they find their market I am unable to say, but incline to the belief that the principal collections reach New York by way of Savannah, Ga. In many of the Southern States this branch of trade appears to attract considerable attention since the war, mainly in mountainous and swampy sections. In the neighborhood of Walhalla, South Carolina, quite a brisk industry has sprung up, and large shipments are made from there to New York, through the agency of Charleston firms. The drugs collected there may be enumerated in the following:

Panax, Senega, Cypripedium, Liatris spicata, Spigelia, Sanguinaria, Aralia nudicaulis, Aralia racemosa, Asclepias Syriaca, Asclepias tuberosa, Rumex, Podophyllum, Hepatica, Rhus, Rubus villosus, Cimicifuga, Marrubium, Stillingia, Spiraea ulmaria, Aletris, Convallaria polygonatum, Tussilago farfara, Phytolacca, Ulmus, Goodyera pubescens, Frasera Carolinensis, Arum, Solidago Odora, &c.

Occasionally, consignments of Senega, Serpentaria, and Spigelia reach our markets from Arkansas direct. Several years ago I purchased several bales of Senega and Spigelia, consigned to one of our wholesale houses from Ozark, Arkansas. It proved to be a poor investment, as the interior of the bales consisted largely of stems, and had to be garbled. The drug-gatherers of the Southern States being generally small farmers and negroes, make no regular profession of it, and only collect as their time permits. Hence the difference in the yield of these drugs between one year and another. They are disposed of by them to the nearest country storekeeper, who on his part consigns them to the wholesale dealer with whom he may happen to do business. I am told by reliable informants that the drugs collected in the Red River districts seldom reach our markets except by way of New Orleans and New York, and that when they do reach us direct, they are generally inferior in quality. One of our principal wholesale drug-houses buys its supplies of indigenous drugs exclusively from a New York firm, and nearly all of the others depend upon the same firm when they cannot obtain bargains nearer home. When first making inquiries regarding the collection of indigenous drugs, I met with the invariable response."—Inquire in New York."

Regarding the method of collecting and preparing the drugs for market, I can give you but little direct information. I have before me a circular addressed to drug-gatherers by one of our principal Western dealers in indigenous drugs, from which I extract the following:

"Most medicinal roots are perennial (that is, the roots continue more than two years, whether the leaves continue or not), and should be gathered any time between maturity or decay of the leaves or flowers, in the summer or fall, and the vegetating of the succeeding spring. Biennial roots, or those that live but two years (like burdock and yellow dock), should be collected of the growth of one year—any time between September and the time they commence running up to seed in the following spring.

"Barks should be gathered as soon after they will peel in the spring as possible, and all the moss carefully removed. It is usually best to fell the tree and remove the moss while the bark is on the tree.

"Leaves and herbs should be collected just before they mature, and before they begin to fade; the stems and stalks rejected, as when dry they are a hard woody substance, nearly inert.

"Flowers when they first open; and

"Seeds just before they are quite ripe, as they, like leaves and flowers, ripen after being gathered.

"Roots should be thoroughly cleansed from dirt and foreign substances, and if large, like Indian turnip, &c., sliced.

"All the above articles should be dried; the sooner the better. For the first few days it is best to expose them to the sun and air, avoiding any dew or dampness; then spread around on floor and shelves, watching them to see that they do not heat by being piled too thick, till nearly dry. Most roots require from three to six weeks to dry sufficiently to be safe. (HeK comment: dry in the sun? Argh...)

"For shipping, it is best to pack them hard in coffee-sacks or large gunnies and burlaps; the next best is good flour barrels."

These circulars appear to be distributed with great circumspection among herb-gatherers and country stores throughout the Southern and Western States, and in all probability serve as a guide to the gatherers. The few gatherers with whom I have been able to converse personally, proved very slow to give information, but from their conversation I judge that they preserve their collections on the general principles above specified.

It is a matter of sincere regret with we that I have been unable to do more than the foregoing towards the solution of Query 23, for 1868; but I feel sufficient interest in the question not to let it rest where it now stands, and shall do all in my power to give a better answer at the next meeting of the Association.—Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1870.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).