Gossypium herbaceum. Cotton.
Nat. Ord. — Malvaceae. Sex. Syst. — Monadelphia Polyandria.
The Filamentous Matter Surrounding the Seeds, and Inner Bark of the Root.
Description. — G. Herbaceum is an annual, herbaceous plant, with a round, upright, pubescent stem, from three to five feet high, brown at the lower part, with straight fissures, spotted with black at the top, and with spreading branches. The leaves are five-lobed, palmate, hoary, with a single gland below, on the midvein at the back, half an inch from the base ; lobes mucronate, somewhat lanceolate and acute. The flowers are pretty and yellow ; the corolla consists of five spreading petals, united below into a tube, of a pale-yellow color, with a red or purple spot on each at the base, deciduous ; the calyx is cup-shaped, obtusely five-toothed, and surrounded by a three-leaved involucel, the leaflets of which are much cut and dentate. The capsule is bluntly three-cornered, three-valved, three-celled, opening when ripe and displaying a loose white tuft of long slender filaments, or cotton. Seeds three in each cell, immersed in cotton, clothed with a dense, close, short tomentum, white, convex on one side, and somewhat flattened on the other. Gossypium Barbadense or Sea Island Cotton Plant, is a larger plant than the preceding ; the leaves are five-lobed with three glands beneath, upper ones three-lobed ; cotton white, and seeds black. It is likewise biennial or triennial.
History. — The Cotton Plant is a native of Asia, but is extensively cultivated in the warmer climates of the old and new continents. Cultivation has much changed the plant, so as to render it very difficult to determine which are distinct species and which the varieties. Authors have described from six to thirteen species, which Swartz and Macfadyen believe to be mere varieties of one species ; while Hamilton, Wight and Arnott, are of opinion that there are but two distinct species, the G. Album with white seeds, and the G. Nigrum with black seeds; the others being varieties caused by cultivation. There is considerable difference in the various cotton plants, as regards the glands, the color of the flowers, the shape of the leaves, the hight of the bush, as well as the length and fineness of the cotton. The plant cannot be cultivated for practical purposes in this country, north of Virginia. The leaves contain much mucilage and have been used as a demulcent, and the seeds yield by expression a drying fixed oil, which has been occasionally employed. But the officinal part is the inner bark of the root, and the hairs or filamentous substance attached to the seeds, which when separated from them forms cotton. Under the microscope these filaments appear to be flattened tubes, with occasional joints, indicated by transverse lines. Cotton is without smell or taste, insoluble in water, alcohol, ether, oils, vegetable acids, soluble in strong alkaline solutions, and decomposed by the concentrated mineral acids. Gun-cotton is made from it by the action of nitric acid, from which collodion is prepared. For medical use it should be carded into thin sheets. Cotton has not been analyzed.
Properties and Uses. — The bark of the root of the cotton plant is emmenagogue, parturient and abortive. It is said to promote uterine contraction with as much efficiency and more safety than ergot ; and is used by the slaves of the south for producing abortion, which it does without any apparent injury to the general health. Four ounces of the inner bark of the root is boiled in a quart of water down to a pint, the dose of which is one or two fluidounces every twenty or thirty minutes. The hydro-alcoholic extract forms an excellent emmenagogue, and may be used in chlorosis, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, etc.
The seeds are reputed to possess superior antiperiodic properties. A pint of cotton seed placed in a quart of water, and boiled down to one pint, and one gill of the warm tea given an hour or two before the expected chill, is said to cure intermittent fever with the first dose. The flowers and leaves are reputed diuretic, and useful in urinary affections ; the leaves steeped in vinegar, are said to relieve hemicrania when locally applied, and a decoction is considered beneficial in the bites of venomous reptiles, in Brazil. Externally, cotton is employed in the treatment of recent burns and scalds, in erysipelas, as a dressing for blisters, wounds, severe bruises or contusions, and in rheumatic pains. In burns and blisters care must be taken that it does not become a mechanical irritant, in consequence of its becoming consolidated over the surface to which it is applied, and which may be avoided by first applying some simple ointment over the surface which is to come in contact with the ulcer, or burn. It probably produces its beneficial results, by absorbing the fluids effused, and protecting the parts over which it is placed from the action of the air.
Off., Prep. — Decoctum Gossypii Radicis ; Decoctum Gossypii Seminis; Extractum Gossypii.