The Senega of Commerce.


Read at Kansas City, Mo., before the American Pharmaceutical Association and communicated by the authors.

The species of Polygala that should yield senega, and which is officinal, is Polygala senega, Lin. The localities referred to by the authors of our dispensatories and other writers as furnishing the senega of commerce are the Southern and Western States. Such States of the South and West as furnish senega for the market, and which fact is personally known to us, are Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Doubtless small amounts of senega are also derived from the northern portions of other Southern States and from portions of certain Northern and Eastern States that border the States we have named. In fact the typical species (Polygala senega, Lin.) is most common in the Eastern States, and the root of this agrees in appearance and characteristics with senega of the South and West. It has been uniformly the case that all lots of senega examined by ourselves, and which came direct from diggers or first hands from the States mentioned, agree with the accepted descriptions. In connection with the history of this drug, we have made it an object during the past few years to consult brokers and dealers in indigenous drugs throughout the portions of our country that we have named. Their reports confirm, without exception, the above, such senega being known by drug brokers as "Southern senega." In connection with this part of our subject, we beg leave to call attention to the specimen of Polygala senega, var. latifolia, Lin., of our herbarium which was collected in Kentucky by ourselves and about twenty-five miles south of Cincinnati. This we know to yield a root identical with the officinal and about the same in size and is Southern senega. Senega from all the senega-producing States that we have named agrees in appearance, and as the bulk of it is derived from States south of the Ohio river, the term "Southern senega" has been accepted as applicable to the drug that answers the description and authorities accept as officinal senega. The States of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were once Western States. Since, the West has moved far beyond, and thus it is that even in Cincinnati, once a Western city, the senega which is derived from these States is called by dealers "Southern senega." This senega reaches our city (Cincinnati) in parcels of from a few pounds to bales of one or two hundred pounds. It comes from country stores and direct from the gatherer. Sometimes it is nice and clean, again it is scarcely washed at all and frequently is gathered with the top attached and in this manner sent to market. Owing to the high price, it is not so liable to admixtures as cheaper roots, but it is not unusual to find others of our indigenous roots mixed with it. There have been several articles written upon this subject in our journals at home and abroad, so that it is not necessary for us to dwell upon this phase of the question other than to say that we believe the larger share of these admixtures to result from carelessness with the digger, rather than from any intention to adulterate. In concluding our remarks upon Southern senega, we call attention to the specimens which accompany—derived as follows: Nos, 1 and 2 from Kentucky and No. 3 from Indiana.

Northern Senega.—Let us bear in mind that the original senega root, and all that was used until about ten years ago, was derived from the sections of country that we have named. (The typical Polygala senega, Lin., is native to the eastern portions of the United States; however it does not seem to be in abundance sufficient to repay gathering.—L.) To produce it, the typical species, Polygala senega, Lin., and Polygala senega, var. latifolia, are gathered indiscriminately. Until a few years ago, there was no reason for a division of the senegas of commerce. Now, however, dealers in senega speak of "Northern Senega," the distinction being brought about by the appearance in market of a root unlike the original, such being derived from the Northwest, about the 44th degree of latitude, and from the States of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The first consignments of this senega that we have been able to trace were noted about ten years ago. It is very large, sometimes white, again rather dark brown. The knot at the top of the root, from which spring the stems, is often two or three inches in diameter, even of the dried plant. The root, just below the knotty head, is (when dry) from the size of the little finger to that of the thumb of a man. It is from six to ten inches in length and generally destitute of the keel-like ridge which is so marked a characteristic of Southern senega. The root of this Northwestern variety is not so contorted and branched as that of the Southern senega, being large and fleshy. It has the relationship appearance, however, of the Polygalas, the odor and taste of senega and occasionally (the exception) more or less of the keel-like ridge. The first notice that we can find in print regarding this senega is that of Mr. Wm. Saunders, in the Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association, 1876. Since that day the drug has become familiar in the market, commanding about five cents less per pound than the Southern senega. It has been examined microscopically by Mr. Thomas Greenish ("Am. Journ. Pharm.," 1878) and by Mr. George Goebel, Jr. ("Am. Journ. Pharm.," 1881). (We take it for granted that the senega these gentlemen examined was the "Northern," as it is the only senega that we are acquainted with that Answers the description they give and which is obtainable on the market. Mr. Goebel, it is true, speaks of it as "Southern senega," but we think this simply a confusion of terms and that the drug was likely the regular Northern senega.— L.) Prof. J. M. Maisch has been interested in this large senega for some years, and once traced a lot of it to Missouri. We have known of one lot that came from St. Louis, Mo., but we question very much if it grew in that State. Doubtless it came, via St. Louis, from its home in the Northwest.

In connection with the history of this drug, we may say that while its origin has been a matter of doubt, and all endeavors to locate it botanically have heretofore failed, we are convinced that dealers have had no reason to preserve silence or secrecy other than for the protection of their interests as tradesmen. It seems to us, however, that the uncertainty regarding the drug has so acted as to unsettle the price, for it has ever been a questionable root and many persons refused to accept it.

Last winter, Mr. W. W. Moser, of Cincinnati, offered to procure for us the entire plant when in season. Mr. Moser is an extensive dealer in indigenous medicinal plants and has been in the business for twenty-five years or more and handles considerable quantities of Northern and of Southern senega. According to promise, Mr. Moser procured from parties that gather the Northern senega (either in Wisconsin or in Minnesota) a specimen of the plant, and we present it (specimen No. 7). It will be noticed that the root of this one plant. is larger in size than the average of the Southern senega, but smaller than the average of the Northern senega. The keel-like ridge exists only for a short distance from the top, and the general appearance of the root is that of the Northern senega of commerce. We call attention now to the plant with root attached, which is fresh from one of the localities which supplies the large senega of commerce. This. specimen was furnished us by Messrs. Huber & Co., of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a firm that is known over our entire country for its dealings in indigenous drugs. They are first hands for Northern senega, in which they have an extensive trade, therefore the genuineness of these specimens cannot be questioned. The letter which we hold from Mr. Huber is of interest in connection with the habit of this senega. and the past and future history of the drug. It was written in reply to one we wrote asking for information on these points, and we present it to the Association with Mr. Huberts permission.

"DEAR SIR:—In answer to your favor of the 10th inst., would say that senega in our State is already scarce and will in a few years become nearly extinct. The advance of civilization and the introduction of domestic animals is rapidly exterminating many of our indigenous medicinal plants of our native forests and open prairies, among which senega is one of the most important. Our shipments this year will not exceed ten tons.

"It inhabits or grows on high rolling prairies or open timber. We have not found it in forests nor in swamps. We have made several attempts to cultivate it. We have a few plants growing; but, on the whole, we met with but little success. We are, however, of the opinion that it could be-cultivated if the habits of the plant and the natural laws that govern its growth were thoroughly understood."

Both this and the plant obtained from Mr. Moser are Polygala senega, Lin., of a variety that seems to be intermediate between the typical species (Polygala senega, Lin.) and the Polygala senega, var. latifolia. It has narrower leaves than the variety native to the South (see specimen from Kentucky of Polygala senega, var. latifolia in our herbarium), but the leaves are not so narrow as those of the typical form of the plant, a specimen—from Vermont—of which can also be seen in the herbarium. It agrees exactly with a specimen in our herbarium, to which we call attention, derived from Chicago; and which is also intermediate between the typical species of Polygala senega and var. latifolia. (We invite attention to the lots of senega root which we present and which were obtained direct from the States of Minnesota and Wisconsin.—L.)

Thus it follows that the plant which has created such a disturbance is botanically the officinal senega. The rich black soil and the climate of portions of those Northwestern States seems to be so well adapted, to this plant that it grows luxuriantly and so as to far exceed in size anything we have ever before known from any species of Polygala of our country and to somewhat alter its appearance and the internal structure of the root. This fact has led us to question the authenticity of the drug, to think that perhaps the large senega was derived from some other species of Polygala, or even from another genus. (We have planted specimens of this Northern senega and shall endeavor to cultivate the same in localities that furnish the Southern senega, to find if the size of the root is simply due to the influence of soil and climate. It may be that the plant does not differ enough from the typical species and the var. latifolia to induce botanists to recognize it as a distinct variety, but that the unusually large size of the root is permanent and will be preserved even in other than its native situations.—L.)

Remarks. —The Northern senega is known as "false senega," "white senega," and in one or two instances has been called "Southern senega." Regarding these points, we find that as it is derived from the officinal species, it is not "false senega." The term "white senega" is not appropriate, for it is often dark brown (see specimen 6) and in color it does not differ more than other senegas of the market, as can be seen by referring to the two lots of senega we present from Kentucky. The expression "Southern senega" is not admissible, for it does not come from the South and, upon the contrary, the most of the regular senega of olden time was from the South. Undoubtedly, therefore, the large senega will continue to be known by dealers as Northern senega or as large senega.

Since the foregoing was written, Prof. Maisch contributed an article ("Am. Journ. Pharm., Aug., 1881, p. 387) on a specimen of senega which he obtained from Alabama and which he thought likely might furnish the large senega of commerce. This Southern species, the Polygala Boykinii, Nutt., is the only native species that, to our knowledge, approaches in size the Polygala senega, Lin. We exhibit it in our herbarium, and by a comparison with the other species this fact becomes apparent. However, we do not think that it is gathered for market unless the root, as a rule, resembles the officinal senega. We are convinced that it never passes through the hands of Cincinnati dealers, for all "Southern senega" is of the form we present and have described.

REMARKS BY THE EDITOR.—The evidences presented in the above paper, that what hitherto we have called false senega is really derived from Polygala senega, is very strong, and the facilities enjoyed by the authors of examining drugs in large quantities are such that their statement regarding the large size of this senega root is doubtless correct. Yet, although we have been supplied with samples from perhaps twenty different parties, we have seen it only of about the same size as the ordinary senega, and never unusually large.

On the other hand, we have seen only one specimen of the root of Polygala Boykinii and, although this is smaller than ordinary senega, it agrees in its histological relations so well with the so-called false senega, that it might well be collected for the latter if attaining the same size. Indeed, the uniform development of the woody centre and the absence of the inner bark tissue, forming the keel, is so constant that it may be questioned whether a plant with such a strikingly different root will not show other differences—aside from the width of the leaves—which may entitle it to be ranked as a species rather than as a variety.

Five years ago we traced what was called "white senega" to Greene county, Mo., and we have no reason to doubt the correctness of the information then obtained. If correct, the root could not have been gathered in Wisconsin. Since that time we have frequently been informed, on inquiry, that the root referred to had been collected in Missouri or in Texas.

It is evident from the above that the histological examination of the roots of well authenticated species of the American Polygalas is a matter of great interest and importance, and pharmacists and physicians who are in a position to aid in this investigation, by the collection of representative specimens of plants with roots, could thus materially further the object in view.

Since the above was in type we have received from Mr. A. Conrath a number of fresh plants, collected in the Menomonee valley, Milwaukee county, Wisconsin, having leaves like those of the intermediate variety described by Messrs. Lloyd. All the roots are small like ordinary good senega, and, as far as examined, show the one-sided growth and even the rayed character of the wood, when seen upon transverse section; even the keel is indicated in several branches in their fresh state. In fact it is unmistakably ordinary senega. We shall examine these roots carefully at our leisure.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 53, 1881, was edited by John M. Maisch.