58. Veratrum viride, Willd.—American Hellebore.

Botanical name: 

Sex. Syst. Polygamia, Monoecia.

[The Veratrum Viride, U. S. (Secondary List), is known in the United States as American Hellebore, Swamp Hellebore, Indian Poke, and Itch Weed. It has a perennial, thick, fleshy root, tunicated at top, the lower part solid and sending off numerous white or light-yellow radicles. The stem is annual, from two to three feet high, pubescent. Leaves at base six inches to a foot long, broad, oval, nerved, acuminate, of a deep green colour, and pubescent; those on the stem narrower, and, at the summit, bracteaeform. Flowers in panicles, terminal, and of a greenish-yellow tint. The calex is wanting; petals six, stamens six, pistil a rudiment (Willdenow). Germs three, when not rudimentary, on the lower portion of the panicle.

The plant is found in many parts of the United States, from Canada to Carolina, inhabiting damp places in the neighbourhood of streams and meadows. It appears early in March.

The whole plant has an acrid and burning taste; the root only is officinal. This, when dried, consists of a somewhat tunicated top, with a thick hard base, and numerous radicles attached to it. The odour, disagreeable in the recept state, is lost by drying. The taste is at first sweetish, then bitter, followed by an acrid burning sensation in the mouth, which lasts for some hours after it has been chewed. When powdered, it acts as a sternutatory. For the composition of this root, we are indebted to Mr. Henry Worthington (American Journal of Pharmacy, vol. x. p. 97), who found it to contain gum, starch, sugar, bitter extractive, fixed oily matter, colouring matter, gallic acid, an alkaloid substance identical with veratria, lignin, and salts of lime, and potassa. With regard to the alkaloid substance, he describes it as "nearly insoluble in water, more soluble in ether, and entirely soluble in absolute alcohol. When exposed to flame, it first melts, then swells up, and burns without residue. It produces a burning acrid sensation in the mouth, which lasts for several hours. It acts powerfully as a sternutatory, producing violent sneezing, which lasts for half an hour after it has been applied to the nose." "In its chemical relations, the analogy is carried out by not being changed to a red colour by the action of nitric acid, and from its forming salts with the acids, none of which are crystallizable but the sulphate, tartrate, and oxalate."

That the framers of the United States Pharmacopoeia have done well in the introduction of this article, is shown by the testimony in its favour as a potent medicine. Dr. Osgood (Am. Journ. of Pharm., vol. vii. p. 202), and Dr. Ware (Bigelow's Med. Bot. vol. ii. pp. 127, 132), have each instituted a course of experiments to test its remedial powers. The first found it an emetic; and the second met with a case where this effect on the stomach was produced by the application of the ointment to an ulcer on the leg. Mr. Worthington submitted himself to the test of its powers. He took the fourth of a grain of the Alcoholic Extract, which caused an acrid burning sensation in the mouth, and communicated to the throat and fauces a sense of dryness and heat, which finally reached the stomach. In the course of about an hour, this dryness and burning sensation in the throat and stomach became intense, and a disposition to hiccough was excited, which soon commenced, gradually increasing in frequency until it reached fifteen or twenty times per minute. This was attended with some sickness and retching until vomiting took place. This was violent, and seemed to come on about every ten or fifteen minutes for the space of an hour. During this time, dizziness and tremor were created, which passed off with the effect of the dose. With the hiccough there was a copious secretion of saliva and discharge of mucus from the stomach and nose. During the action of this dose, the pulse was weakened so as to be scarcely perceptible, and reduced from sixty-eight to fifty-two pulsations per minute. (Op. cit.)

The experiment just detailed was repeated three times, and in neither was there a disposition to catharsis. The effects are those of an acro-narcotic, and not one of the least potent of this class of remedies. The uses and mode of administration are similar to those of the White Hellebore. In gout and rheumatism, the medical gentlemen before mentioned speak in its favour. A knowledge of it is stated to be possessed by the North American Indians.—J. C.]

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