Botanical Source and Description.—Agrimony is a perennial herb, growing to the height of 2 or 3 feet, having stems but little branched, and covered with a soft, silky pubescence. The leaves are alternate, long, nearly smooth beneath, interruptedly pinnate, having from 8 to 5 or 7 oblong-ovate, coarsely serrated leaflets, between which are interspersed several smaller ones. The root is long, fibrous, and tapering, and of a reddish-brown color. It is much branched at the summit, producing numerous heads. The flowers are small, yellow, and borne in a dense, racemose spike, from a half to 1 foot long. The calyx-tube is curiously fluted with 10 ribs, conical, and surmounted with reddish, hooked bristles. Agrimonia has a bitterish, harsh, subastringent taste, which is somewhat aromatic, but unpleasant. This taste is strongest in the root. Its odor is aromatic, and especially is it more fragrant when in bloom.
History and Chemical Composition.—Agrimonia is common in the United States and Canada, as well as in Europe and Asia. It thrives along roadsides, in old fields, and in woodlands, flowering from midsummer through September. The burrs attach themselves to the clothing as one comes in contact with them, hence the common names, cockle-burr and stickwort. It is employed in domestic practice on the continent as a gargle. The aborigines and Canadians used the root in the treatment of intermittent febrile states. According to Linnaeus, a grateful beverage was prepared by steeping the plant in whey. Porcher states that an infusion of the leaves and stalks, previously treated with a weak bismuth solution, permanently dyes wool a beautiful, golden color, and that tanners employed the flowers in preparing soft and delicate hides. French peasants use it as a substitute for tea. Agrimony yields its properties to water and alcohol. Tannin and a volatile oil are the only known chemical constituents, the latter being obtained by distillation.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Agrimony is a mild tonic, alterative, and astringent. A decoction of it is highly recommended in bowel complaints, leucorrhoea, chronic mucous diseases, chronic affections of the digestive organs, profuse bleedings, of an asthenic character, certain cutaneous diseases, icterus, etc. A strong decoction, sweetened with honey, is reputed curative in scrofula, if its use be persisted in for a length of time; and it has also been highly extolled in the treatment of gravel, asthma, coughs, and obstructed menstruation. Dr. D. C. Payne speaks highly of a continued use of a decoction of this plant in the treatment of erysipelas and scrofulous affections, to be used freely, in connection with diet and regularity of the bowels. It is also reputed to be valuable as a diuretic, and has been considered a specific in dropsy and in gonorrhoea. As a gargle, the decoction is useful in ulcerations of the mouth and throat. The astringency of the root renders it very useful in those affections requiring the exhibition of astringents.
Specifically, agrimonia checks mucous profluvia, and gives tone to mucous tissues. Chronic bronchitis, phthisis, with increased secretions, and muddy, ill-smelling urine, humoral asthma, and chronic genito-urinary catarrhal states, are most benefited by it. Pain in the lumbar region is relieved by it. Cystitis, nephritis, and an irritable condition of the bladder, are met by it, as is painful renal congestion. Dose: A drachm or two of the pulverized leaves may be taken for a dose, or 2 or 3 fluid ounces of the decoction; specific agrimonia, 1 to 60 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Deep-seated and colicky pain in the lumbar region, with uneasy sensations reaching from the kidneys to the hips and umbilicus (renal colic); muddy, ill-smelling urine, and dirty looking skin; especially as a palliative in phthisis; cystic catarrh; cough, with profuse, thick secretions, and pain under the lower ribs, extending to the renal organs; renal congestion; cough, with dribbling or expulsion of urine; irritation of kidneys or urinary organs, with cough.
Related Species.—Agrimonia parviflora, Aiton. Small-flowered, or Sweet-scented agrimony. United States; Pennsylvania, southward and westward. Stronger scented than common agrimony; has smaller flowers, and from 11 to 19 pairs of densely crowded leaflets, with smaller ones interspersed. Has numerous resinous dots on the leaves, rendering it somewhat clammy.