No. 39. Frasera verticillata.
English Name—AMERICAN COLOMBO.
French Name—Frasere Colombo.
German Name—Colombo Wurzel.
Officinal Name—Colombo. Frasera radix.
Vulgar Names—Colombo-root, Columbia, Indian Lettuce, Yellow Gentian, Golden Seal, Curcuma, Meadow Pride, Pyramid, &c.
Synonyms—Swertia difformis Lin. Sw. frasera Smith in Rees' Cyb. Frasera carolinensis Walter. Fr. officinalis B. Bart. Fr. Walteri Mich. &c.
Authorities—Walter, Bartram, Michaux, Pursh, Persoon, Nuttall, Torrey, Schoepf, Elliott, Drake, Bigelow Sequel, Thatcher, Coxe, A. Ives, Hildreth, Zollickofier, many Dispens. B. Barton, W. Barton, fig. 35 bad.
Genus FRASERA—Calix persistent, four parted. Corolla spreading, rotate, four parted, segments elliptic, each having in the middle a large bearded gland. Stamina four short, alterne with the segments. One pistil, germen oval compressed, one style, two stigmas. Capsul oval flat, one celled, two valved, several winged imbricate seeds inserted on the valves.
Species Fr. verticillata—Very smooth, leaves sessile, entire, radical leaves procumbent, elliptic, obtuse; stem leaves verticillate by five to seven, oblong or lanceolate, acute: flowers in a pyramidal panicle, bracts opposite.
Description—Root triennial, large, yellow, rugose, suberose, hard, horizontal, spindle shaped, two feet long sometimes, with few fibres. The whole plant perfectly smooth, stem from five to ten feet high cylindrical, erect, solid, with few branches, except at the top, where they form a part of the pyramidal inflorescence. Leaves all verticillate, sessile and entire, with a single nerve: the radical leaves form a star spread upon the ground, they are elliptical and obtuse, from five to twelve in number, from ten to eighteen inches long and from three to five broad, constituting the whole plant in the first years, or before the stem grows. The stem leaves are in whorls of four to eight, seldom more or less, smaller and narrower than the radical leaves, the lowest are narrow oblong, the upper lanceolate, acute, and sometimes undulate.
Flowers yellowish white, numerous, large, forming an elegant pyramidal panicle, the branches of which are axillary to leaves or bracts, unequally verticillate or trichotome: this pyramid is from one to five feet long: the bracts are ternate or opposite, shorter than the leaves, broader at the base, acute: pedicels lax, longer than the flowers, cylindric. Calix deeply four parted, spreading, segments lanceolate, acute, persistent, nearly as long as the Corolla, which is one inch in diameter, open, flat, deeply four parted, with four elliptic cruciate segments, margin somewhat inflexed, end cucullate obtuse, a large gland in the middle of each, convex on both side, ciliate. The four stamina opposite to the sinuses and inserted on them, filaments short, subulated, anthers oval oblong, base notched. Germen central oval, compressed, desinent into a style as long, and having two thick glandular stigmas. Capsul yellowish, borne on the persistent calix, oval, acuminate, very compressed, margin thin, sides subconvex, with a suture, opening in two flat valves, one celled. Seeds flat, elliptic, imbricated, winged around, inserted on the sutures of the valves. Sometimes a few flowers have five or six stamina, and as many segments to the Corolla.
Locality—It grows West, South and North of the Alleghany mountains; but neither on them, nor East of them. It is spread from the western parts of New York to Missouri and thence to Alabama and Carolina. It is found in rich woody lands, open glades and meadows. Rare in some places, in others extremely abundant.
History—One of the handsomest native plants of America: I have seen it in the western glades of Kentucky ten feet high, with a pyramid of crowded blossoms 4 or 5 feet long. They are scentless and in full bloom from May to July. It is a true triennial, the root sending only on the third year a stem and flowers.
Linnaeus did not know well this plant, and called it Swertia difformis: it is so large that botanical specimens of it are generally defective like the patched figure of Barton. Walter gave it the name of Frasera, thinking that it was new, and dedicating it to an English gardener. Mesadenia would have been a better name, expressing its generic peculiarity, of having 4 central glands, while Swertia has 8 glands, 2 at the base of each segment. Four specific denominations have been given, among which I have selected the best. It bears also many vulgar names, but Colombo root is the most common, since it has been found medical, and very similar to Calumba, once called Colombo also, the Cocculus palmatus. It is become a kind of substitute for it, and an article of trade on that account, being largely collected in the western states.
It affords few varieties, and stands as yet alone in its genus, the varieties are, 1. Oppositifolia. 2. Undulata. 3. Pauciflora. 4. Angustifolia, &c. the names expressing their deviations. It belongs to the Natural order of GENTIANIDES next to Swertia, and to Tetrandia monogynia of Linnaeus.
Qualities—The root is the officinal part, it has a sweetish bitter taste like Gentian, and resembles Calumba in appearance, having a thick yellow bark, and a yellowish spongy, wood. But their chemical characters are very different, the Frasera contains Extractive, Amarine, and Resin; while the Cocculus palmatus contains Cinchonin, a bitter Resin, Oil, Starch, Sulfate of Lime, and Calumbine. I suspect, however, that the analysis of the Frasera has not been accurate, and that it contains Inuline or a peculiar substance, Fraserine, intermediate between Inuline and Calumbine. It yields its qualities to water and alcohol. The leaves are also bitter.
Properties—Emetic and Cathartic when fresh, Tonic, antiseptic and febrifuge when dry. When first brought into notice it was supposed to be equal to the Calumba, and substituted thereto; but has been found to be inferior, A. Ives even contends that it is inferior to many other native tonics. It has however the advantage over them to afford a very large root, often weighing several pounds, and to sell cheap: it is about equal to Gentian and Rhubarb, in diseases of the stomach, and debility. It has cured a wide spread gangrene of the lower limbs by internal use and external application, when bark had failed. It avails in Intermittents like other pure bitters, and is extensively used in the Western States in Fevers, Cholics, Griping, Nausea, relaxed stomach and bowels, Indigestion, &c. As a purgative it is substituted to Rhubarb in many cases, particularly for Children and Pregnant Women, being found serviceable in the constipation of pregnancy, &c. It has the advantage of not heating the body. Cold water is said to add to its efficiency and prevent nausea or emesis. A teaspoonful of the powder in hot water and sugar will give immediate relief in case of heavy food, loading a weak stomach. It is a good corrector of the bile alone or united with other bitters. Clayton and Schoepf, calling it Swertia difformis, say that it is employed in jaundice, scurvy, gout, suppressed menstruation and is a specific in hydrophobia! these indications require confirmation. The root ought to be collected from the fall of the second year to the spring of the third year growth; when in blossom the root becomes softer and less bitter. The doses are two drachms of the powder, one or two ounces of the infusion; an extract of it ought to be made which would probably be like that of Gentian; a Vinegar is made of it in the west, useful as a refrigerant tonic, &.c.
Substitutes—Coptis trifolia—Xanthorhiza apifolia—Triosteum perfoliatum—Menyanthes trifoliata—Sabbatia angularis—Gentiana Sp.— Rhubarb, Common Gentian, Calumba or Cocculus palmatus and many other tonics, chiefly roots, rather than barks.
Remarks—The Frasera deserves to be cultivated for its beauty and utility. It grows easily from seeds. It begins to disappear like the Ginseng, from large tracts of country, by being wastefully gathered. Perhaps the true Calumba might also be cultivated in Florida and Louisiana.
Additions and corrections
39. FRASERA VERTICILLATA—Found also West of the Mississippi in the great plain of Arkansas, Missouri, &c. It is a favourite remedy of the Southern Indians with Prunus and Snake roots for fevers, debility, &c. also in female complaints, and for children to strengthen them while using anthelmintics.