The root of Paeonia officinalis, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Peony, Piney.
Botanical Source.—Peony has many thick, long-spreading, perennial roots, running deep into the ground, with an erect, herbaceous, large, green, and branching stem, 2 or 3 feet high. The leaves are large; the lower ones bipinnately divided; the leaflets ovate-lanceolate, smooth, and variously incised. The flowers are large, red, terminal, and solitary; the sepals 5, and unequal. Petals red, cordiform; stamens numerous, mostly changed to petals by cultivation. Carpel. 3; stigmas double and persistent; follicles fleshy, and many-seeded; seeds black, numerous, dry, and round (W.—R.).
History and Description.—This plant is indigenous to southern Europe, and is cultivated in gardens in the United States and elsewhere, on account of the elegance of its large flowers, which appear from May to August. The root is the medicinal part; it consists of a root-stalk, from ½ to 1 inch in diameter, from which proceed fusiform tubers, gradually terminating in delicate fibers. These, together with the seeds, have, when recent, a strong, rather unpleasant odor, and a sweetish, mawkish taste, succeeded by a sub-acrid bitterishness and slight astringency; drying nearly removes these properties. The recent flowers have a similar, but feebler, odor, and a more herbaceous taste. They all yield their virtues to diluted spirits.
Chemical Composition.—The fresh root has the odor of bitter almonds, and contains starch, fat, sugar, a small quantity of tannin, oxalates, malates, and phosphates (Morin). Wiggers (Handbuch der Pharmacognosie, 1864) obtained, by distillation of the fresh root with water, a distillate possessing the odor of bitter almonds. Ether removed therefrom a small quantity of an oil having the same odor, and producing, in aqueous or alcoholic solution, a blood-red color with ferric chloride. Dragendorff found in the seeds of Paeonia officinalis tannin and peonia-fluorescin (see Related Species).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Peony is antispasmodic and tonic. It is asserted to have been successfully employed in chorea, epilepsy, spasms, and various nervous affections. In combination with white snakeroot, or black cohosh, it has proved valuable in pertussis. An infusion may be made by adding 1 ounce of the root, in coarse powder, to 1 pint of a boiling liquid, composed of 1 part of good gin, and 2 parts of water, which maybe sweetened. Dose, 2 or 3 fluid ounces, 3 or 4 times a day. Dose, of the expressed juice of the recent root, 1 or 2 drachms; of the powdered root, 1 drachm, 3 or 4 times a day; of the powdered seeds, from 30 to 40 grains. The seeds, taken night and morning, have been successfully used in removing nightmare attendant upon dropsical persons. They are also reputed emetic, cathartic, and antispasmodic. It undoubtedly relieves venous irritation, and should be restudied. A tincture of the fresh root (℥viii to alcohol, 76 per cent, Oj) may be given in doses of 1 to 30 drops.
Related Species.—Paeonia Moutan, Simson; Botan-root. Japan. The root of this plant yielded Jagi (1878), by extraction with ether, a crystallizable body, peonol, melting at 45° C. (113° F.), said to be closely related to caprinic acid. It is readily dissolved by alcohol and ether, and believed to be a ketone.
Paeonia peregrina, Miller.—The root of this species, according to analysis of Mandelin and Johannson (Archiv der Pharm., 1879, p. 535), contains starch (14.25 per cent), moisture (15.5 per cent), sugar, gum resins, tannin, fat, ash, and a small quantity of an alkaloid. The seeds, according to Dragendorff and Stahre (ibid., 1879, pp. 412 and 531), contain fatty oil (23.6 per cent), peonia-resinic acid, with indifferent peonia-resin (1.13 per cent), tannic acid (less than 1 per cent), the coloring matters, peonia-fluorescin and peonia-brown (a phlobaphene) (of each about 4 per cent), legumin, sugar, mucilage, and an alkaloid.