The whole plant of Epiphegus virginiana, Barton (Epiphegus americanus, Nuttall; Orobanche virginiana, Linné).
Nat. Ord. Orobanchaceae.
COMMON NAMES: Beech-drops, Cancer-root.
ILLUSTRATION: Meehan's Native Flowers and Ferns, Vol. II, p. 93.
Botanical Source.—This plant is the Epiphegus americanus of Nuttall, the Orobanche virginiana of Linné, and is also known by the name of Cancer-root. It is a parasitic growth, with a smooth, fleshy, leafless stem, about 1 or 1 ½ feet in height, with slender and irregular branches given off along its whole length. The root is scaly, tuberous, and covered with stiff, short, and brittle radicles. Instead of leaves it has only a few scattered, inconspicuous, ovate scales, one at the base of each branch, of a yellowish or purplish color. The flowers are alternate, scattered on each branch, subsessile, the lower perfect and fertile, the upper usually imperfect and abortive. Calyx short and 5-toothed. Corolla of the perfect flowers 2-lipped; upper lip emarginate, lower 3-toothed; of the imperfect, slender, 4-toothed, deciduous, 6 to 8 lines long, curved, whitish, and purple; upper tooth or lip broadest, notched at the apex, arched not longer than the others. The stamens are as long as the corolla; the filament smooth; the anthers 2-lobed, acute at the base; valveless and dehiscent in the middle. Stigma capitate, somewhat emarginate. Capsule gibbous, truncate, oblique, 1-celled, compressed, half 2-valved at the apex, with 2 approximate placentae on each. The seeds are very numerous, straw-colored, shining (L.—W.—G.).
History and Description.—This plant is found throughout North America, parasitic upon the roots of beech trees, and flowering in August and September. The whole plant has a dull-red color, without any verdure. It has a disagreeable, astringent, and amarous taste, much lessened by desiccation. It yields its virtues to water. There are several other species of this genus, which are parasitic, and which possess analogous properties, as the Aphyllon uniflorum, Gray (Orobanche uniflora, Linné), or One-flowered or Naked broomrape, and the Conopholis americana, Wallroth (Orobanche americana, Linné), or American broomrape, Squaw-root, or Cancer-root.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—An astringent. Used with benefit in hemorrhages of the bowels and uterus, and in diarrhoea. Said to cure cancer, but it possesses no property of the kind. In erysipelas, a decoction drank freely, and the parts bathed with it, has effected many cures. As a local application, the decoction or poultice will arrest the tendency of wounds or ulcers to gangrene; a poultice of equal parts of poke, white oak, and beech-drops is very useful in herpetic affections. Also useful as a topical application to obstinate ulcers, aphthous ulcerations, leucorrhoea, gleet, etc. The homoeopaths extol it in headaches brought on by fatigue and journeys. This plant seems to exert an influence upon the capillary system, somewhat similar to that produced by the tincture of chloride of iron. Dose of the powder, from 10 to 15 grains. The decoction may be drank freely.