Hemidesmus indicus. Indian Sarsaparilla.
Nat. Ord. — Asclepidaceae. Sex. Syst. — Pentandria Digynia.
Description. — This is a climbing plant with a long and slender root, with few ramifications, covered with rust-colored bark, and with twining, diffuse or climbing, woody, slender stems, from the thickness of a crow's quill to that of a goose's, and nearly smooth. The leaves are opposite, on short petioles, entire, smooth, shining, and of firm texture ; they vary much in shape and size, those on the young shoots that issue from old roots, being linear, acute, and striated down the middle with white ; while the others are generally broad-lanceolate, and sometimes ovate or oval. The stipules are four-fold, small, on each side of each petiole, caducous. The flowers are small, externally green, internally a deep-purple, and are disposed in axillary, sessile racemes, which are imbricated with flowers, and then with scales like bracts. The calyx is five-parted, with acute divisions : the corolla is flat, rotate, with oblong, pointed divisions, rugose inside. The follicles are long, slender, and spreading.
History. — This plant is the Periploca Indica of Willdenow, and the Asclepias Pseudosarsa of Roxburgh ; it is a native of Lower India and Ceylon, and other parts of the East Indies. It has been used as a medical agent in India for a long time, and was unknown to the profession until its introduction in 1819 by Dr. Ashburner. The root is the part used ; this is long, tortuous, round, rugose, with a brownish cork-like bark, which is marked by longitudinal furrows and transverse fissures, with an internal, yellowish, ligneous center. The odor is peculiar and somewhat aromatic, somewhat resembling that of Orris Root, and the taste bitterish. Mr. Garden found it to contain a peculiar volatile, crystallizable, acid principle, on which the properties of the root depend. He called it Smilasperic Acid, from a belief that the root was derived from Smilax Aspera. The name suggested by Pereira is the most correct, viz : Hemidesmic Acid.
Properties and Uses. — Indian Sarsaparilla is said to be tonic, diuretic, and alterative. It has been employed as a substitute for sarsaparilla, and has proved successful in syphilitic affections when that medicine has failed. It increases the appetite, acts as a diuretic, and improves the general health. Likewise said to be useful in nephritic complaints, scrofula, cutaneous diseases, and in the sore-mouth of children. Notwithstanding these statements it is by no means so efficacious and certain as many of our indigenous remedies. It is used in the form of infusion, as boiling dissipates its volatile active principle ; two ounces of the root may be infused in a pint of boiling water for an hour ; the whole of which may be taken in the course of twenty-four hours.