137. Aristolochia serpentaria, Linn.—The Virginian snake-root.

Botanical name: 

Aristolochia officinalis, Nees and Ebermaier.
Sex. Syst. Gynandria, Hexandria.
(Radix, L.—The root, E. D.)

History.—The first writer who distinctly mentions Virginian snake-root, or snake-weed, is Thomas Johnson, an apothecary of London, in his edition of Gerarde's Herbal, published in 1633.

Botany. Gen. Char.—Calyx tubular, ventricose at the base, dilated at the apex, and extended into a ligula. Anthers 6, subsessile, inserted on the style. Stigma 6-lobed. Capsule 6-angled, 6-celled (Bot. Gall).

Sp. Char.—Stem flexuous, ascending. Leaves cordate, acuminate, on both sides pubescent. Peduncles nearly radical, unifloral. Lip of the calyx lanceolate (Nees v. Esenbeck).

Hab.—North America.

Collection and Properties.—The root (radix serpentariae) is collected in Western Pennsylvania and Virginia, in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. [United States Dispensatory.] It is imported in bales, usually containing about 100 lbs. As met with in the shops, it consists of a tuft of long, slender, yellowish or brownish fibres, attached to a long, contorted head or caudex. The odour is aromatic, the taste warm and bitter.

Composition.—It was analyzed by Bucholz in 1807; [Gmelin, Hand. d. Chem.] by Chevallier in 1820; [Journ. de Pharm, vi. 365.] and by Peschier in 1823. [Gmelin, op. cit.]

Bucholz's AnalysisChevallier's Analysis.
Volatile oil0.50Volatile oil.
Greenish-yellow soft resin2.85Resin.
Extractive matter1.70Extractive.
Gummy extractive18.10Starch.
Lignin62.40Ligneous fibre.
Malate and phosphate of lime.
Oxide of iron and silica.
Serpentary root100.00Serpentary root.

1. Volatile Oil.—Grassmann [Quoted by Dr. W. C. Martius, Pharmacogn.] obtained only half an ounce from 100 lbs. of the root. Its colour is yellowish, its odour considerable, its taste not very strong. [Lewis, Mat. Med.] Grassmann compares the odour and taste to those of valerian and camphor combined.

2. Bitter Principle; Extractive, Bucholz and Chevallier.—This is very bitter and slightly acrid. It is soluble in both water and spirit. Its solution, which is yellow, is rendered brown by alkalies, but is unchanged by the ferruginous salts.

Physiological Effects.—These have been examined by Jörg and his pupils. [Wibmer, Arzneim. u. Gifte, Bd. I. S. 221, also, Journ. de Chim. Méd. t. vii. p. 493.]

In small doses, serpentary promotes the appetite. In large doses, it causes nausea, flatulence, uneasy sensation at the stomach, and more frequent but not liquid stools. After its absorption, it increases the frequency and fulness of the pulse, augments the heat of the skin, and promotes secretion and exhalation. Furthermore, it would appear, from the experiments before referred to, that it causes disturbance of the cerebral functions, and produces headache, sense of oppression within the skull, and disturbed sleep.

In these properties, serpentary bears some analogy to, but is much weaker than, camphor. It is more powerful than contrayerva.

Uses.—Its employment is indicated in cases of torpor and atony. It was formerly termed alexipharmic, on account of its fancied power of curing the bite of a rattlesnake and of a mad dog. [Dale, Pharmacologia.] At the present time it is rarely employed. It has been much esteemed as a stimulant in fevers, both continued and intermittent. A scruple of serpentary, taken in three ounces of wine, is mentioned by Sydenham [Works, translated by Dr. Pechey, 4th edit. p. 233.] as a cheap remedy for tertians in poor people. Dr. Cullen [Mat. Med.] considered it as suited for the low and advanced stage of typhus only. In an epidemical affection of the throat (called the throat-distemper), it was given internally as a diaphoretic, and used with sumach berries, in the form of a decoction, as a gargle, with benefit. [Med. Obs. and Inquir. vol. i. p. 211.]

Administration.—The dose of it in substance is from ten to thirty grains. The infusion is the best form for the administration of serpentary.

1. Infusum Serpentariae, L. E. [U.S.]; Infusion of Serpentary, or Snake-root.—(Serpentary ℥ss; Boiling Water Oj. Infuse for four hours in a covered vessel, and strain [through linen or calico, E.].)—Dose, f℥j or f℥ij every two or three hours, according to circumstances.

2. Tinctura Serpentariae, L. E. [U.S.]; Tincture of Serpentary, or Snake-root.—(Serpentary, bruised [in moderately fine powder, E.], ℥iijss, L.; Proof Spirit Oij; and Cochineal, bruised, ʒj, E. Macerate for seven days, and filter. "Proceed by percolation or digestion as for the tincture of cinchona," E.—[Take of Virginia Snake-root, bruised, ℥iij; Diluted Alcohol Oij. Macerate for fourteen days, express, and filter through paper, U.S.])—Used as an adjunct to tonic infusions. Dose, from fʒj to fʒij.

The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1854.