Apocynum androsaemifolium. Bitter-root.
Nat. Ord. — Apocynaceae. Sex. Syst. — Pentandria Digynia.
Description. — Apocynum Androsaemifolium is an indigenous, perennial, herbaceous plant, with a large and bitter root, and an erect, smooth stem which rises from three to six feet high ; it is simple below, repeatedly branching above, usually red on the side exposed to the sun, lactescent, and covered with a tough, fibrous bark. The leaves are opposite, petiolate, ovate, acute, entire, smooth on both sides, paler and very slightly pilose beneath, and two or three inches long. Flowers in loose, nodding, terminal or axillary cymes, white, tinged with red, monopetalous, campanulate, with five acute spreading segments. The peduncles are furnished with minute, acute bracts. Calyx small, five-cleft, much shorter than the tube of the corolla. Stamens five, with very short filaments, and long, sagittate, connivent anthers, cohering with the stigma about their middle, and often holding fast such insects as may thrust their proboscis between them. The nectary consists of five oblong glandular bodies, alternating with the stamens. Ovaries two, ovate, concealed by the anthers and supporting two thick, roundish, sessile stigmas. The fruit is in the form of a pair of slender, linear-lanceolate, drooping follicles, containing numerous oblong, imbricated seeds attached to a slender central torus, and each crowned with a long, downy pappus. Every part of the plant is lactescent.
History. — This plant, likewise called Dogsbane, Milk-weed, etc., is found in nearly all parts of the United States, from Canada to Carolina, growing in dry, sandy soil, on hill-sides, or in woods, flowering in June and July ; when any part of it is wounded, a milky juice exudes. The root is the officinal portion, it is large, lactescent, and of a disagreeably bitter taste ; the bark, which forms nearly two-thirds of it, is the active part. Analysis has discovered it to contain a bitter extractive, a red coloring matter soluble in water and not in alcohol, caoutchouc and volatile oil. It yields its properties to alcohol, but especially to water. Age impairs its virtues.
Properties and Uses. — Emetic, diaphoretic, tonic, and laxative; it has been found very valuable in the treatment of chronic hepatic affections, and in conjunction with Menispermum in dyspepsia and amenorrhea. In doses of forty to sixty grains it promptly induces emesis, with scarcely any previous nausea, and hence is useful where it is desired to evacuate the stomach, without producing that muscular relaxation incident to a long-continued nausea; however, it is said to occasion a subsequent weakness or languor, from which the patient is some time in recovering. As a laxative, it is useful in cases of constipation, and in hepatic derangements. As a tonic, ten or twenty grains may be given to stimulate the digestive apparatus, and thus effect a corresponding impression on the general system. As a diaphoretic it must be combined with opium, in the proportion of one grain of the latter to forty of the former, and divided into three or four doses ; however, as a diaphoretic, it is inferior. Also reputed useful as an alterative in rheumatism, scrofula, and syphilis. Prof. Gregory speaks of Apocynine as the active agent of the A. Androsaemifolium, but has given no method of preparing it. It is said to be very bitter, and of a dark orange color. Used as an alterative in syphilitic and scrofulous affections, in doses of half a grain to a grain ; as a purgative, one grain to two grains. It has been beneficially employed in liver and stomach affections, intermittents, and the low stage of typhoid fevers.
I have used a preparation called Apocynin, prepared from this plant by Mr. J. B. Robinson of Cincinnati, Ohio, in jaundice, combined with leptandrin and myricin, with excellent effect, as well as in hepatic torpor, and constipation. It is a powder of a dark-brown color, possessing an odor similar to the root, and a bitter, nauseous, unpleasant taste. Mr. Robinson prepares it by neutralizing the saturated tincture of the root by ammonia, then filtering and precipitating the apocynin by sulphuric acid, which must be added gradually ; when obtained it is to be washed in one or two waters, and then dried. One pound of the root yields about half an ounce of the dried apocynin, and much care must be taken in the operation, lest the whole be spoiled.
Off. Prep. — Decoctum Apocyni ; Extractum Apocyni Hydro-Alcoholicum ; Apocynin.