The bark of Dirca palustris, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Leatherwood, Moosewood, American mezereon, Wickopy.
Botanical Source.—This indigenous shrub attains the height of 5 or 6 feet, having crooked, jointed, and spreading branches. The leaves are alternate, simple, entire, on very short petioles, oblong-ovate, or obovate, downy when young, smooth and membranous when fully grown, and pale underneath. The flowers are axillary, yellow, appear long before the leaves; when young they are inclosed within a small, hairy, bud-like involucre, occupying a sheath or cavity in the end of each flowering branch, usually in bunches of 3 together, with their peduncles cohering. Corolla none. Calyx funnel-shaped, ½ inch long, with a contraction near the base and another in the middle. The stamens are 8 in number, much longer than the calyx, alternately a long and a short one, with rounded anthers. The ovary is ovate, placed obliquely, the style appearing to issue from one side; the style filiform, curved, longer than the stamens, and terminated by an acute stigma. The fruit is a small, oval, red or orange-colored berry, containing one seed (B.—W.).
History, Description, and Chemical Composition.—This shrub is more common to the northern and eastern states, being occasionally met with in the west. It inhabits marshy places, low swampy woods, flowering in April and May. The bark is the part used; it is very tenacious and fibrous, and hard to pulverize. It has a disagreeable odor, and a pungent taste, with considerable acrimony, producing ptyalism, which property it imparts to alcohol, and slightly to boiling water. It has been used for making ropes, thongs and baskets, and might be advantageously employed in the arts, for making paper, etc. The wood is white, soft, and very brittle. It has not been satisfactorily analyzed, though mucilage, in acrid resin, and bitter extractive have been found in it.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The bark is acrid, rubefacient, and vesicant when fresh. From 5 to 7 grains of it cause great gastric heat and uneasiness, with emesis and catharsis. In contact with the skin it produces rubefaction, followed by blisters, and the sores it occasions are frequently difficult to heal, forming very indolent and obstinate ulcers. If chewed it causes salivation, with burning pain in the tongue, gums, etc., and has thus proved useful as an irritant in paralysis of the tongue, toothache, facial neuralgia, etc. Bigelow says, that a decoction of the bark may be used as a sudorific and expectorant, in the place of senega. The berries produce vomiting, and are said to be a narcotic poison.