No. 10. Aristolochia Serpentaria.
English Name—SNAKEROOT BIRTHWORT.
French Name—Serpentaire de Virginie.
German Name—Schlangen Osterluzey.
Officinal Name—Serpentaria Virginiana.
Vulgar Names—Virginia Snakeroot, Snakeweed, Snagrel.
Authorities—Linnasus, Scboepf, Wood ville, Pursh, Elliot, Catesby, Colden, Cornutus, Moseley, B. Barton, Bigelow fig. 49, W. Bart. 2. fig. 28, and all the Dispensaries, Pharmacopeias and Materia Medicas. &c.
Genus ARISTOLOCHIA—Perigone tubular colored, base swelling, tube tortuose, limb labiate, often ligular. No corolla. Germ inferior: stigma sessile lobed, surrounded by six stamina epigynous sessile. Capsul six celled, many seeded.
Species A. SERPENTARIA—Stem simple flexuose; leaves lanceolate, cordate, entire, and acuminate: flowers bilabiate subradical, peduncles curved, uniflore, scaly and jointed.
Description—Root perennial, knotty and gibbose, brown and very fibrous, fibres long, small, yellow when fresh—Stems round, slender, weak, flexuose, jointed, less than a foot high, bearing from three to seven leaves, and from one to three flowers—Leaves alternate and petiolate, oblong or lanceolate, base cordolate, end acuminate, margin entire, sometimes undulate, surface smooth or pubescent, of a pale green.
Flowers nearly radical and solitary, on peduncles curved, jointed, colored, with some small scales. Germ inferior, perigone redish or purplish, tube crooked, limb bilabiate, upper lip notched, lower entire, both short and lobular. Six sessile anthers, oblong, obtuse, attached to the sides of a large round sessile stigma. Capsul oboval, with six angles, six cells, and many minute seeds.
History—The genus Aristolochia requires a thorough investigation and reform, being rather a family than a genus: two subgenera at least must be made of it.
1. Glossula. Flowers unilabiate and lisrular. True type of the genus.
2. Pistolochia. Flowers bilabiate and ringent. To this belong A. serpentaria, A. ringens, A. bilabiata, &c.
While many species widely deviating from the generic characters must form peculiar genera, such as
Siphisia. Flowers not labiate, limb equal trilobe. Such are A. sipho, A. tripteris, A. tomentosa, &c.
Endodeca. With twelve stamina, Ex. A. dodecandra, and perhaps Bigelow's A. serpentaria.
Einomeia. With only five stamina, capsul five celled, such as A. pentandra, &c.
The actual species is by no means very definite as yet. The Virginia Snakeroot of Commerce is collected irom half a dozen species or varieties, A. hastata, A. tomentosa, and many called A. serpentaria, because they have consimilar leaves and roots, while the flowers are different. The A. serpentaria of W. Barton appears to be a peculiar variety, with long slender peduncles, having few scales and not colored, while the flowers are small, purple, and hardly bilabiate.
Bigelow's plant, which is from the Southern States, has the leaves trinervate, less acuminate, and more undulate; while the flowers are large, bilabiate and red, scales many and broad, stamina twelve! and stigma lobed convolute. This may be a distinct species belonging perhaps to Endodeca.
Our figure is from a large flowered variety of the western glades; but many other varieties exist there, one has broad leaves.
All these plants blossom but seldom or once in their lives, in May or June; being very similar to each other, (except A. tomentosa,) they are collected indiscriminately. The roots alone enter into Commerce, and sell for more than the Seneca Snakeroot. They are an article of exportation to Europe.
Aristolochia belongs with Asarum to the natural order of ASARIDES. Linnaeus has put it into GYNANDRIA hexandria.
Locality—In shady woods from New-England to Florida and Missouri, most abundant in the Alleghany and Cumberland mountains, scarce in the alluvial and limestone regions.
Qualities—The root has an agreeable, penetrating, aromatic smell, somewhat similar to Valerian and Spruce: and a warm bitterish pungent taste. It contains pure camphor, a resin, a bitterish extractive, and a strong essential oil. By distillation a pearly fluid is produced. By infusion in alcohol, it gives a yellow or green tincture; and in water a brown liquor: the tincture is most powerful. By decoction or distillation much of its active principles evaporate.
Properties—Diaphoretic, tonic, anodyne, antispasmodic, cordial, antiseptic, vermifuge, exanthematic, alexitere, and a powerful stimulant of the whole system. It was first introduced into Materia Medica as a remedy against snake bites, whence its name, and was used as such by the Indians, with many other plants: it acts then as a sudorific and antiseptic. It is useful in the low stage of fevers to support strength and allay irregular actions: too stimulant in inflammatory fevers and disorders; but an excellent auxiliary to Peruvian bark and other tonics in intermittents, enabling the stomach to bear them, and increasing their effects. In remittent fevers it is preferable to bark. It is deservedly a popular country remedy in infusion, for pleurisy, exanthems, cachexia, catarrh, rheumatism, &c. acting as a sudorific. In bilious pleurisy it has been found highly serviceable: in bilious complaints it checks vomiting and tranquillizes the stomach. In typhus and typhoid pneumonia it has beneficial effects, promoting perspiration, checking mortification, and abating the symptoms.
Thus the Snakeroot may be deemed an active and valuable medicine, it is often associated with other tonics, and camphor, opium, valerian, &c. to increase their action. It is probably a good substitute for camphor and valerian in many cases. The doses of the powder are from ten to thirty grains, often repeated, or an ounce of the warm infusion every three hours. Wine is an excellent vehicle for it in fevers. Many compound tinctures contain it. When too stimulant Spikenard (Aralia) and Elder (Sambucus) may be substituted to advantage.
Substitutes—Camphor—Rosemary—Seneca Snakeroot—Eupatorium perfoliatum—Asarum Canadense and Virginicum—All the native Aristolochias—Gaultheria procumbens, and many other tonic and diaphoretic stimulants.
Remarks—The bark, seeds, and roots of the A. Sipho, (or Siphisia glabra,) called vulgarly Dutchman-pipe flower or Pipe Vine, may be substituted, having the same properties. It is a tall vine, with large cordate smooth leaves, and brown flowers like a pipe with a trilobe mouth, growing on the Ohio, &c.
A. tomentosa (or Siphisia tomentosa) is a low vine, with cordate woolly leaves, growing in the Western States.
A. hastata is a small plant, with long narrow leaves, having obtuse auricles at the base: it grows in the Southern States. The roots of these two last are often mixed with the common kind in the shops.
Henry's figure represents probably the A. tomentosa, but the leaves are too sharp.
Additions and corrections
10. ARISTOLOCHIA SERPENTARIA—Has been used also in all bilious disorders and fevers with advantage: it is anti-emetic in cold infusion. In dyspepsia it is only useful when the disease is not inflammatory. In the West Indies the A. odorata is employed as a substitute, and in the East Indies the A. indica, which are more bitter and also cathartic. The Collinsonia in stated to have been sold fraudulously for Snake root: much of this article kept in stores is worthless, being old or badly dried.