No. 97. Chelone glabra.
Names. Common Snakehead.
Fr. Chelonide glabre.
Vulgar. Turtle head, Turtle bloom, Shell flower, &c.
Classif. Nat Order of Personate. Didynamia angiospermia L.
Genus CHELONE. Calyx five parted, caliculate by 3 bracts. Corolla ringent, ventricose, convex above, mouth gaping with 2 small lips and 5 lobes. Stamina didynamous, anthers woolly, a sterile filament besides. Capsule two celled bivalve. Seeds many, with a membranaceous margin.
Sp. Chelone glabra. L. Smooth; leaves opposite subsessile, lanceolate oblong acuminate serrate, base acute, flowers in dense terminal spikes.
Description. This plant has so many striking varieties, that no description can apply to all; they, however, agree in having a perennial root, stem erect, 2 to 5 feet high, with 4 obtuse angles: flowers terminal in a dense sessile short spike, each flower sessile and axillary to 3 bracts, commonly ovate acute entire, calyx with 5 unequal embricate segments, oblong obtuse, corolla similar to the head of a snake or turtle. The following are the varieties, which might, perhaps, be deemed as many species.
1. Ch. alba. Stem simple, 2 to 3 feet high; leaves subsessile, the lower alternate: spike oblong, flowers white.
2. Ch. maculata. Stem branched, 2 or 3 feet high, leaves petiolate lanceolate, crowded above; flowers white, with green mouth spotted of red, calyx margined of red.
3. Ch. lanceolate. Stem simple. 3 to 4 feet high, leaves sessile lanceolate, pubescent beneath, flowers white or rose.
4. Ch. purpurea. Stem simple, leaves petiolate oblong, flowers purplish.
5. Ch. obliquea. Stem simple, leaves subpetiolaie oblique at the base.
6. Ch. elatior. Stem simple, 4 or 5 feet high, leaves petiolate broad lanceolate, spike oblong, flowers purplish white.
7. Ch. capitata. Stem branched, 2 feet high, square: leaves petiolate lanceolate, floral leaves ovate lanceolate: spike snort capitate, flowers purplish white.
History. All these plants are handsome, with singular ornamental and large blossoms, but scentless. They grow from New England to Louisiana, near brooks and waters, and blossoms from July to November. The variety Capitata is peculiar to the Western States. The Linnaean genus Chelone is now very natural, since the G. Penstemon was divided from it. It is peculiar to North America. The name means turtle and is not good, Chelonanthus or Ophianthes, would have been better. Some other species equally medical are found in the Southern States; Ch. lyoni will be known by its cordate leaves, and Ch. latifolia by ovate leaves, besides ciliated bracts and calyx.
Properties. I have the pleasure to introduce these active plants into Materia Medica. They have been omitted by all our writers, even Schoepf. I am indebted to Dr. Lawrence, of New Lebanon, for the first knowledge of their properties, and he to the Indians and Shakers. They are powerful tonic, cathartic, hepatic, and anti-herpetic. The whole plant is used, but strictly the leaves; they are extensively bitter, one of the strongest of our bitters, without any aromatic smell and very little astringency. I have analyzed and made many experiments with them. Their tincture becomes black, and the use of it dyes the urine of the same color. It contains gallic acid, a peculiar resinous substance soluble in water and alcohol, similar to picrine and aloes, of a black color and very bitter taste, lignine, &c. The properties are equally soluble in water, wine and alcohol: wine is the best menstruum, but becomes intolerably bitter. It is useful in many diseases, fevers, jaundice, hepatitis, eruptions of the skin, &c. In small doses it is laxative, but in full doses it purges the bile and cleans the system of the morbid or superfluous bile, removing the yellowness of the skin in jaundice and liver diseases. The dose is a drachm of the powdered leaves 3 times daily. The wine of it in small repeated doses, has nearly the same effect, although neither so speedily nor violently. The Indians use a strong decoction of the whole plant in eruptive diseases, biles, hemorrhoids, sores, &c. Few plants promise to become more useful in skilful hands; it ought to be tried in yellow fever and bilious fevers, the tropical liver complaint, &c. It may be added to many wine bitters, and antibilious medicines.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.