Aristolochia serpentaria. Virginia Snakeroot.
Nat. Ord. — Aristolochiaceae. Sex. Syst. — Gynandria Hexandria.
Description. — Aristolochia Serpentaria, also called Snakeroot, and Snakeweed, is a perennial herbaceous plant, with a short, horizontal, knotty, brown caudex, which sends out numerous, slender fibers. The stems are erect, flexuous, round, jointed, slender, about eight or ten inches in hight, of a reddish or purple color near the base, and rise singly or severally from the same root. The leaves are alternate, petiolate, oblong, entire, acuminate at apex, cordate, and three-nerved at base, surface more or less pubescent, and of a pale yellowish-green color. The flowers proceed from the joints near the root, and stand singly on long, slender, round, jointed peduncles, which are somewhat scaly, and curve downward so as nearly to bury the flower in the earth, or among the decayed leaves ; they have a stiff, leathery texture, and a dull brownish-purple color. The -peduncle which supports them has one or more bracts, and gradually enlarges into a furrowed obovate ovary. The calyx is of a dull-purplish, or reddish color, with a long, contorted tube, bent in the form of the letter S, swelling at its two extremities, having its throat surrounded by an elevated edge or brim, and its border expanded into a broad, irregular margin, forming an under and upper lip, which are closed in a triangular manner in the bud. Corolla none. Anthers six or twelve in number and sessile, oblong, obtuse, and attached to the sides or under part of a large, round, sessile stigma, which is divided into six parts, and supported by a short fleshy style upon an oblong, angular, hairy, inferior germ. The fruit is an obovate, hexangular, six-celled capsule, with numerous small, flat seeds.
History. — Several species of Aristolochia are confounded in the drug market with the above, but as they are all nearly identical in medical properties, it is of but little importance ; still a brief notice of them may be proper :
A. Hirsuta. — Stem flexuous, jointed, erect, pubescent; leaves alternate, large, cordate, rounded, obtuse, upper ones abruptly acuminate, very pubescent, with prominent veins ; peduncles sub-radical, scaly, one-flowered, hirsute. Calyx also pubescent. This species grows in the Southern States, to which market it is more common, being seldom brought to the north ; the roots resemble in taste and color, the A. Serpentaria.
A. Hastata, of Nuttall, or A. Sagittata, of Muhlenberg. — Stem flexuous, simple, erect; leaves mostly subcordate, hastate, acute, or attenuated, sublanceolate, auriculate ; peduncles nearly all radical ; lip of the corolla ovate. Some doubt has been expressed about viewing this as a distinct species ; it grows in the Southern States, and is frequently found mixed with the officinal plant.
A. Reticulata. — Stems numerous, short, slender, round, flexuous, jointed, simple, but sometimes branched near the root; when young very pubescent, but slightly villous when old. Leaves on short, villous petioles, oblong, cordate, large, obtuse, reticulated with very prominent veins, and villous on both sides, especially upon the veins. Peduncles subradical, hairy, scaly, several-flowered. Flowers on short pedicels, small, purplish, very pubescent. Capsule hexagonal, deeply sulcate, somewhat hirsute. This species is one of recent introduction, and is much in use ; it is derived from Louisiana, Arkansas, and other southwestern locations; it differs from the officinal root, in having larger fibers and which are less interlaced, but is fully equal to it as a medicine.
A. Tomentosa. — Stem twining, ascending to the tops of the tallest trees; leaves roundish, cordate, villous beneath ; peduncles solitary, axillary, ebracteate ; calyx densely villous ; limb trifid, greenish-yellow, orifice oblique and gaping ; margin elevated, dark-purple, rugose ; inner part of tube white, with purple spots ; stigmas three. This species is found in Carolina and the south-western States ; its root is thick, creeping, and coarser than the officinal, and is less aromatic than that of the other species just named.
The Aristolochia Serpentaria is found in the middle, southern, and western States, growing on hill sides, and in rich, shady woods ; it flowers in May and June. As found in the shops, the root is in tufts of slender, long, matty brittle fibers, attached to a short, knotted, rugged head. The color of the recent root is yellowish, but becomes brown by age ; its powder is grayish. The odor is pungent, camphoraceous, and agreeable, and the taste warm, bitter, and also camphoraceous. Water, alcohol, or proof spirit, extracts the medical principles ; its alcoholic tincture being greenish, its aqueous infusion yellowish-brown. Analysis has found in it, a green, fragrant oil, a yellowish-green resin, extractive, gum, albumen, lignin and some salts. The oil exists more largely in the A. Reticulata, which is the most powerful of this family of plants.
Virginia Snakeroot is sometimes adulterated with the roots of Spigelia Marilandica, and the young roots of Polygala Senega ; the first may be known by their want of the bitter taste, as well as by the difference in the stem and leaves, when present; the latter, by their difference in odor and taste, by being single, and by the projecting line running from one end of the root to the other.
Properties and Uses. — Stimulant tonic, diaphoretic, or diuretic, according to the manner of its administration. In warm infusion it produces diaphoresis, and is beneficial in adynamic eruptive fevers, where the eruption is tardy, or has receded. In typhoid febrile conditions, in cases where active stimulation cannot be borne, it will be found very available. It has been employed successfully in periodic fevers in conjunction with sulphate of quinia. As a gargle the infusion is sometimes valuable in malignant sore-throat. In dyspepsia it has been employed as a tonic, and has proved useful in amenorrhea. If taken too long it occasions gripings, nausea, vomiting, and dysenteric tenesmus. Long boiling impairs its virtues. A cold infusion is useful in convalescence from fevers. Dose of the powder, ten to thirty grains; of the decoction, one to two fluidounces ; tincture, one to two fluidrachms.
Off. Prep. — Infusum Serpentariae ; Extractum Serpentariae Fluidum ; Tinctura Serpentariae Composita.