No. 17. Brasenia hydropeltis.
Officinal Name—Gelatina aquatica, Brasenia.
Vulgar Names—Frogleaf, Little Water Lily, Water Jelly, Deerfood.
Synonyms—Hydropeltis purpurea, Michaux, &c.
Authorities—Schreber, Wildenow, Persoon, Michaux, Pursh, Elliot, Nuttal, &c.
Genus BRASENIA—Perigone simple, colored, coroliform, with six equal sepals or petals, stamina many, shorter, hypogynous, anthers adnate: many pistils, germs sessile with a style. Fruit, many small one-seeded achenes.
Species B. HYDROPELTIS—Roots creeping, leaves floating, alternate, peltate, elliptic, entire, gelatinous beneath: flowers axillary, solitary, peduncled.
Description—The roots are perennial, creeping under water and mud, cylindric, jointed with bundles of fibres at the joints—Stems many, growing till the leaves reach the surface of the water, almost similar to the roots—Leaves alternate, on very long slender petioles, floating on the water, of a regular elliptic form, like an oblong shield, entire and obtuse, smooth and lucid above, with regular radiating veins, white and veinless beneath, but covered with a coat of pale jelly, sometimes purplish: the leaves are two or three inches long.
Flowers on long axillary and solitary peduncles, similar to the petioles: these flowers are of a dark purple color, the six petals are oblong and acute: Stamina from twenty to thirty, shorter than the petals, surrounding the pistils which are from twelve to twenty, germs oblong, styles short, stigma obtuse. Achenes or small nuts naked, maturing under water, oval oblong.
History—This plant was unknown to Linnaeus; it was first described by Schreber, and called Brasenia, from a German botanist, Brasen: Michaux changed improperly that name into Hydropeltis, meaning water-shield in Greek; both names may be retained, but Brasenia has a prior claim to be the generic. Only one species is known.
It belongs to the natural order of RANUNCULIDES, and to POLYANDRIA polygynia of Linnaeus. It blossoms in July and August. The flowers are pretty, but have no smell: the leaves are very singular, and afford one of the few instances of pure homogenous vegetable jelly, being spontaneously produced, and covering the whole under surface of the leaves, the stems and petioles are also more or less covered with it. Deer and cattle are very fond of eating these leaves: they resort to the places where they grow plentifully, and even swim in the water in search of them.
Locality—From Carolina to Kentucky, and Florida, rare in Virginia, Missouri and Kentucky, found only in some local places, but there extremely abundant, and spreading so as to cover the whole surface of ponds, lakes, marshes and sluggish streams.
Qualities—The plant has no smell, but the taste is subastringent and bitterish; the jelly is a pure mucilage similar to that of Lichen and Sesamum, and spontaneously evolved; becoming gummose in drying.
Properties—Mucilaginous, astringent, demulcent, tonic, nutritive, &c. Intermediate between Lichen Islandicus and the Water Lilies. The fresh leaves may be used like Lichen, in pulmonary complaints and dysentery: when dry the gelatinous matter almost disappears, yet they impart mucilage to water. If no virose quality exists in this plant, as the taste of deer for it appears to indicate, it may become a useful substitute or auxiliary to Lichen in phthisis, inflammations, debility, &c. boiled into decoction or jelly.
Substitutes—Lungwort or Pulmonaria—Lichens—Arrow-root—Salep—Nymphea & Nelumbium—Polypodium—Adianthum— Tussilago—Elecampane—Liquorice—Marshmallow—Sesamum—Flaxseed.
Remarks—Unnoticed as yet by all medical writers, but well known to the Indians.
Additions and corrections
17. BRASENIA HYDROPELTIS—It extends to some parts of New Englend and New York. Substitute of Hepatica.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.