Baptisia tinctoria. Wild Indigo.
Nat. Ord. — Fabaceee. Sex. Syst. — Decandria Monogynia.
Bark of the Root and Leaves.
Description. — Baptisia Tinctoria, also known as Horse-fly weed, Rattle-bush, etc., has a large and woody perennial root, very irregular, blackish externally, and yellowish within, with numerous, lighter-colored radicles. The stem is round, yellowish-green, smooth, marked with black dots, much branched, and growing from two to three feet high ; the branches are slender, and of a yellowish color. The leaves are small, alternate, and formed of three sessile, obovate, smooth, bluish-green leaflets, with minute, evanescent stipules. Racemes loose, terminal, few-flowered. Flowers yellow, in small loose spikes at the ends of the branches, six, twelve or more in each raceme. Calyx campanulate, bilabiate, upper lip entire or emarginate, lower trifid. Stamina included, deciduous. Ovary stipitate, bearing a minute stigma. Legume bluish-black, about as large as a pea, on a long stipe, inflated, oblong, with a row of small subreniform seeds.
History. — This is a small shrub, found in most parts of the United States in dry situations, though occasionally it is to be met with in low, marshy ground. It flowers in July and August, having bright yellow flowers, in small loose clusters at the end of the branches. The fruit is an oblong pod, of a bluish-black color. It contains indigo, tannin, an acid, and baptisin. When the whole plant, or any portion of it is dried, it becomes black, and affords a blue dye, inferior to indigo. In some parts of the country the young shoots are used as a substitute for asparagus, to which they bear some resemblance, and they occasionally cause drastic purgation, especially if used after they assume a green color. Alcohol, or water will take up its active properties. Both the root and leaves are medicinal, and deserve further investigation. The root is inodorous, and of a nauseous, somewhat acrid taste ; its virtues appear to reside chiefly in the bark.
Properties and Uses. — Purgative, emetic, stimulant, astringent and antiseptic. Principally used on account of its antiseptic virtues. A decoction of the bark of the root is an excellent application as a wash or gargle to all species of ulcers, as malignant ulcerous sore mouth and throat, mercurial sore mouth, scrofulous, or syphilitic ophthalmia, erysipelatous ulcers, gangrenous ulcers, sore nipples, etc. ; or it may be made into an ointment for external application. As a poultice or fomentation it is highly useful in all ulcers, tumors, or inflammations tending to gangrene. In fetid leucorrhea, fetid discharges from the ears, etc., the decoction will be found efficient, if injected into the parts with a suitable syringe. The leaves applied in fomentations, have discussed tumors and swelling of the female breast, resembling scirrhus.
Internally, it may be used in the form of decoction or syrup, in scarlatina, typhus, and all cases where there is a tendency to putrescency. It acts powerfully on the glandular and nervous systems, increasing all the glandular secretions, and arousing the liver especially to a normal action ; and is very efficient in the atonic varieties of acute rheumatism and pneumonia.
I make much use of the dried alcoholic extract of the root-bark in the low stage of typhoid, and typhoid conditions generally in conjunction with leptandrin ; and have used it extensively for the last ten years, and with very excellent effect in all diseases of a tuberculous character. I take pleasure in introducing to the profession, the active principle of this plant. Baptism, prepared similarly to Aletrin, or it may be precipitated by an acid, or by acetate of lead from the saturated tincture : I have found it to exert a powerful influence on the glandular system in doses of from one-fourth to one half a grain ; if given in large doses it produces a very disagreeable prostration of the whole system. It is also an excellent application to gangrenous and erysipelatous ulcerations, malignant and fetid ulcerations of the cervix uteri. Combined with leptandrin, podophyllin, quinia, or cimicifugin, in diseases where these agents are indicated, it will be found valuable in typhus and typhoid fevers, and all diseases of a typhoid character, when administered internally.
Baptism is of a yellowish-brown color, a strong odor, similar to that of the powdered root, and of a rather bitter, not very disagreeable taste, persistent in its character. It is insoluble in water, ether, the mineral acids, acetic acid, also in volatile oils, oil of turpentine, and chloroform, floating on the surface of this last. Ammonia added to it in water, causes it to be nearly completely dissolved, and gives a dense, light bluish-yellow solution. Liquor potassa, likewise causes it to imperfectly dissolve in water, giving a dark-yellow precipitate, and a light yellow saponaceous solution. It is partially soluble in alcohol, and on the addition of ammonia becomes entirely dissolved, but gives a precipitate on standing. Sulphuric acid turns it a dark yellowish-red color; nitric acid yellowish-green ; and muriatic acid affects no change in its color.
Dose, of the decoction, made by boiling one ounce of the powdered bark in two pints of water, down to one pint — one tablespoonful every 1,2, or 4 hours as required — if it purge, produce nausea, or a disagreeable relaxation of the nervous system, lessen the dose, or omit its use entirely, for a time ; of the hydro-alcoholic extract, 1 to 4 grains every 2, 3, or 4 hours.
The Baptisia Alba, or Prairie Indigo of the western prairies, with the flowers white, may be substituted for the above.
Off. Prep. — Extractum Baptisiae Hydro-Alcoholicum ; Pilulae Baptisiae Compositae ; Unguentum Baptisiae.