93. Orchis, Linn.
Sex. Syst. Gynandria, Monandria.
The term salep (radix salep) is applied to the prepared tubercles of several orchideous plants. [The term saloop is sometimes applied to sassafras tea.]
1. Oriental Salep.—This is usually imported from the Levant, and is said to be the produce of Turkey, Natolia, and Persia. It consists of small ovoid tubercles, frequently strung on a cord. In 1825-6, salep of the value of 35,000 francs was imported into France from Persia. [Chevalier, Journ. de Pharm. xv. 536, 1829.] Salep is the produce, probably, of different species of Orchis. Fraas [Synopsis Plant. Fl. Classicae, p. 279, 1845.] states that the σαλήπ or σαλέπι of Greece is collected from O. Morio, and also from O. mascula, coriophora, and undulatifolia. Dr. Royle thinks that the salep of Cashmere is obtained from a species of Eulophia. Caventon [Ann. Chim. Phys. xxxi. 345.] states that the constituents of salep are gum (which does not become coloured by iodine), much bassorin, a little starch, common salt, and phosphate of lime. Others, however, have found an abundance of starch in salep; [Journ. de Pharm, xii. 201, 1826; Pfaff, Syst. d. Mat. Med. i. 131; vi. 90.] and it is probable, therefore, that the quantity varies at different seasons, and is most abundant before the tubercle is exhausted by the nutrition of the stem. [Raspail, Chimie Organique.]
2. Indigenous Salep.—That prepared from Orchis mascula is most valued; but the roots of some of the palmated sorts, as Orchis latifolia, are found to answer almost equally well. Geoffroy, [Hist. de l'Acad. Royale des Sciences, 1740.] Retzius, [Swedish Transactions, 1764.] and Moult [Phil. Trans, vol. lix.] have each pointed out the method of preparing it. The latter directs the roots to be washed and the brown skin removed by a brush or by dipping the root in hot water and rubbing it with a coarse linen cloth. The roots are then put on a tin plate and placed in an oven heated to the usual degree for six or ten minutes, in which time they will have lost their milky whiteness and acquired a transparency like horn. They are then removed and allowed to dry and harden in the air.
The fresh roots of the orchis contain a peculiar odorous principle (which is almost entirely dissipated by drying), starch, mucilaginous matter, a small quantity of bitter extractive, ligneous matter, salts, and water.
Salep possesses the dietetical properties of the starchy and mucilaginous substances (see ante, vol. i. p. 117). Its medicinal properties are those of an emollient and demulcent. It was formerly in repute as an aphrodisiac and restorative, and as a preventive of miscarriage, [Some Observations made upon the Root called Serapias or Salep, imported from Turkey, showing its admirable Virtues in preventing Women's Miscarriages, written by a Doctor of Physick in the Countrey to his Friend in London, 1694.] but it has no claim to these powers. The notion of its aphrodisiac properties seems to have been founded on the doctrine of signatures.
Indigenous salep was recommended by Dr. Thomas Percival [On the Preparation, Culture, and Use of the Orchis Root (in the Essays, Medical and Experimental, 1773).] as a wholesome article of food; and in a medicinal point of view as a restorative, emollient, and demulcent.
Mucilage of salep (mucilago radicis salep; decoctum salep) is prepared, according to the Hamburg Codex, with 5 grains of powdered salep and ℥j of distilled water. Dissolve by boiling and constantly stirring, and strain.