The Lythrum Salicaria, Linné (Lythrum Salicaria, var. pubescens, Pursh).
COMMON NAMES: Loosestrife, Purple willow-herb, Milk willow-herb (Herba salicariae).
Botanical Source.—This plant is a handsome perennial with a woody root branching at the crown, from which arise several erect, acutely quadrangular, either smooth or downy, leafy, generally simple, reddish stems 2 to 5 feet high. The leaves are nearly sessile, lanceolate, acute, entire, 3 to 6 inches long, about one-fourth as wide, the upper ones diminished to sessile bracteas, all mostly opposite, sometimes in whorls of 3 or 4, in which cases the number of angles on the stem is likewise increased. The flowers are large, numerous, showy, nearly sessile, in numerous axillary whorls, six in each, of a variable crimson or purple, composing long, leafy. spikes. The calyx is inferior, cylindrical, striated, the limb with 6 broad teeth, and the same number of alternate, smaller, subulate diverging ones; 6 of the teeth long and reddish. Corolla of 6, equal petals. Stamens 12; anthers conspicuous, red, with green or yellow pollen. Capsule small, elliptical, 2-celled, and many-seeded (L.—W.).
History.—This plant grows in several parts of the globe, and is found in wet meadows, ditches, etc., in this country, especially in the northern and eastern states, bearing purple flowers in July and August. It has no odor, but an herb-like, astringent taste, and by chewing, becomes very mucilaginous. The ferruginous salts darken its infusion, and boiling water takes from it a large amount of mucilage, becoming quite viscid. It yields its properties to water. It has not been analyzed, as far as we know, but probably contains tannin and much mucilage.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Loosestrife possesses considerable mucilage, rendering it a demulcent, while at the same time its tannic acid gives to it astringent properties. A decoction of it used freely has been serviceable in various affections of the bowels where this class of remedies was indicated, as in colorectitis, summer complaints of children, diarrhoea, etc. Externally, it is very beneficial as a local application in chronic ophthalmia, ulcers, and some forms of cutaneous disease; also in leucorrhoea, gleet, chronic gonorrhoea, etc., being used either as a wash, or in form of poultice. Dose of the decoction, 1, 2 , or 3 fluid ounces; of the powder, 30 to 60 grains, repeated every 3 or 4 hours. An infusion is said to be better than a decoction.
Related Species.—Decodon (Elliott), or Lythrum verticillatum, (Decodon aquaticum, Gmelin; Anonymus aquatica, Wright), Swamp willow-herb or Grass-poley, bearing purple flowers, possesses similar properties to the above; it is said to cause abortion in mares and cows browsing on it in winter, and may, perhaps, exert a medicinal influence on the human uterus. It grows in swamps throughout the United States and Canada, has a stem, woody at the base, often prostrate, and rooting at the summit, 3 to 8 feet long, or when erect 2 to 3 feet in height, and 4 to 6-angled. The leaves are opposite, or in whorls of 3, lanceolate, on short petioles, acute at base, 3 to 5 inches long, gradually acuminate, and acute at apex. The flowers are large, purple, in axillary subsessile umbels of 3 or more, apparently whorled, constituting a long, leafy, terminal, and showy panicle. Calyx short, broadly campanulate, with 5 erect teeth, and 5 elongated, spreading, horn-like processes. Petals 5 or 6. Stamens 10, alternate ones very long; style filiform; capsule globose, included, 3-celled, many-seeded (W-G.).
Lythrum alatum, Pursh. North America.
Lythrum album, Kunth. Texas.
Lythrum lanceolatum, Elliott. Under the name of yerba del cancer, the Mexicans employ these three species in poultices, to be applied to cancer.
Cuphea viscosissima, Jacquin. Nat. Ord.—Lythraceae. Grows from Massachusetts south and west, flowering in August.
Cuphea lanceolata, Kunth. The Atlanchana of the Mexicans. These two plants are reputed useful in diarrhoea.
Cuphea microphylla, Kunth, and Cuphea antisyphilitica, Kunth. Branches and leaves employed in South America as an antisyphilitic.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.