Serpentaria. U. S. (Br.) Serpentaria. Serpent. [Virginia Snakeroot, Texas Snakeroot]
Related entry: Aristolochia
"The dried rhizome and roots of Aristolochia Serpentaria Linné, known in commerce as Virginia Snakeroot, or of Aristolochia reticulata Nuttall, known in commerce as Texas Snakeroot (Fam. Aristolochiaceae), without the presence or admixture of more than 10 per cent. of the stems or other foreign matter." U. S. "Serpentary Rhizome is the dried rhizome and roots of Aristolochia Serpentaria, Linn., and of Aristolochia reticulata, Nutt." Br.
Serpentaria Rhizoma, Br., Serpentary Rhizome; Virginia Serpentaria, Virginia Snakeroot, Snakeweed, Pelican-flower, Snagrel, Sangrel, Radix Colubrina, Radix Viperina; Serpentary, Sangree; Serpentaire de Virginie, Fr. Cod.; Couleuvree de Virginie, Fr.; Virginische Schlangenwurzel, G.
Many species of Aristolochia have been employed in medicine. Their supposed possession of emmenagogue properties has given origin to the name of the genus.
Aristolochia Serpentaria is an herbaceous plant, with a short rhizome and numerous slender roots. Several stems often rise from the same rhizome. They are about eight or ten inches in height, slender, round, flexuose, jointed at irregular distances, and frequently reddish or purple at the base. The leaves are oblong-cordate, acuminate, entire, of a pale yellowish-green color, and supported on short petioles. The flowers proceed from the joints near the root, and stand singly on long, slender, round, jointed peduncles, which are sometimes furnished with one or two small scales, and bend downward so as nearly to bury the flower in the earth or decayed leaves. The tube of the calyx is curved like the letter S, enlarged at the base (ovary) and at its throat, the short limb being obtusely three-lobed. The anthers—six or twelve in number—are sessile, attached to the under part of the stigma, which is fleshy and from three to six-lobed. The fruit is an hexangular, six-celled capsule, containing several small flat seeds. The plant grows in rich shady woods from Connecticut west to Michigan and Missouri and south to Florida and Louisiana, abounding in the valley of the Ohio and in the mountainous regions of our interior. It flowers in May and June. The root is collected in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. It is usually in bales containing about one hundred pounds, and is often mixed with the leaves and stems of the plant, and with adhering dirt. For an account of A. hirsuta, see 18th ed., U. S. D., p. 1222. On account of the rather large use of Serpentaria the drug is becoming scarcer and some attempts at cultivation have been made. (See Proc. A. Ph. A., 1905, liii, p. 275, and West. Drug., xxvii, p. 775.)
A. hastata (Nuttall.) Duchartre.—This is now considered to be nothing more than a variety of A. Serpentaria, from which it differs in having hastate, acute, somewhat cordate leaves, and the lip of the corolla ovate. It flourishes on the banks of the Mississippi, in the Carolinas, and elsewhere. Its root scarcely differs from that of the official plant, and is frequently mixed with it, as is proved by the presence of the characteristic hastate leaves in the parcels brought into market.
A. reticulata was probably first observed by Nuttall, as a specimen labelled "A. reticulata, Red River," in the handwriting of that botanist, is contained in the Herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. From a root similar to that of A. Serpentaria numerous short, slender, round, flexuose, jointed stems arise, usually simple, but sometimes branched near the root. The older stems are slightly villous. the young densely pubescent. The leaves, which stand on very short villous petioles, are round or oblong-cordate, obtuse, reticulate, very prominently veined, and villous on both sides, especially upon the veins. From the lower joints of the stem four or five hairy, jointed peduncles proceed, which bear small leafy villous bracts at the joints, and several flowers on short pedicels. The flowers are small, purplish, and densely pubescent, especially at the base and on the ovary. The hexangular capsule is deeply sulcate. This species grows from Virginia to Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Properties.—Serpentaria is officially described as follows: " Rhizome in both commercial varieties oblique, subcylindrical, more or less curved, from 10 to 30 mm. in length and from 1 to 2 mm. in diameter; externally dark brown, upper portion with short stem-bases and from lower and lateral portions arise numerous, long, thin, nearly straight, yellowish-brown roots; fracture short; internally yellowish-white, wood with broad, excentric wedges; odor terebinthinate; taste bitter, aromatic. Under the microscope, transverse sections of the rhizome of both commercial varieties of Serpentaria show an outer layer of epidermal cells; a cortex of from 10 to 15 rows of parenchyma; inner bark sometimes showing strongly lignified bast-fibers, either single or distributed in a more or less interrupted circle; a xylem of broad wood-wedges separated by broad medullary rays about 8 cells wide, the walls being strongly lignified and with numerous simple pores; pith excentric, composed of polygonal cells, the walls being lignified and porous. Starch in the cells of cortical parenchyma, medullary rays and pith. The root in transverse section shows a compact, 4- to 6-rayed stele, and a large starch-bearing cortical area. The stem in transverse section shows an interrupted circle of from 6 to 10 fibro-vascular bundles, a cortex with a prominent continuous ring of strongly lignified cells, and a few non-glandular hairs. The powder is grayish-brown; when examined under the microscope it exhibits numerous starch grains, single and 2- to 4-com-pound, the individual grains being- more or less spherical or plano-convex and frequently with a central cleft, from 0.003 to 0.014 mm. in diameter; lignified elements numerous, consisting of tracheae, wood-fibers, medullary ray cells and pith cells; a few non-glandular hairs of the stem are occasionally present." U. S.
"Rhizome of Aristolochia Serpentaria tortuous and slender, about two centimetres long and three millimetres thick; on the upper surface the remains of slender, aerial stems, and on the under surface numerous wiry interlacing roots, often about seven centimetres long. Both rhizome and roots dull yellowish-brown. Characteristic odor; taste strong, camphoraceous, bitter. Ash not more than 10 per cent. Rhizome and roots of Aristolochia reticulata resemble the foregoing, but are longer and thicker, and the roots are straighter." Br.
Holm has published an illustrated article on the pharmacognosy of serpentaria, including the morphology of the stems and leaves. (M. R., xvi, p. 276.)
Texas Serpentaria contains a larger percentage of volatile oil than does the other variety of the drug. The color of serpentaria, which in the recent root is yellowish, becomes brown on keeping.
The roots of Spigelia marilandica are sometimes found associated with serpentaria. They may be distinguished by the absence of the bitter taste, and, when the stem and foliage are attached, by the peculiar character of these parts. (See Spigelia.) We have seen the young roots of Polygala Senega mixed with serpentaria. Independently of their difference in odor and taste, they may be distinguished by being simple, and by a projecting line running from one end to the other of the root. Another adulteration was detected by P. S. Milleman of Chicago, who found in a parcel a large quantity of "golden seal" (Hydrastis canadensis). The rhizomes, with rootlets attached, were from a quarter of an inch to an inch in length, and about one-eighth of an inch in diameter, but at the present time (1917) on account of the high pried of senega and hydrastis neither admixture is likely to occur.
The root yields all its virtues to water and alcohol, producing with the former a yellowish-brown infusion, with the latter a bright greenish tincture, rendered turbid by the addition of water. Chevallier found in the root a volatile oil, a yellow bitter principle, soluble in water and alcohol, resin, gum, starch, albumen, lignin, and various salts. Bucholz obtained from 1000 parts, 5 of a green fragrant volatile oil, 28.5 of a yellowish-green resin, 17 of extractive matter, 181 of gummy extract, 624 of lignin, and 144.5 of water. The active ingredients are probably the volatile oil and the yellow bitter principle of Chevallier, which that chemist considers analogous to the bitter principle of quassia; alkaline solution of cupric tartrate shows, moreover, the presence of a glucose sugar. The volatile oil passes over with water in distillation, rendering the liquid milky, and impregnating it with the odor of the root. The volatile oil has been carefully investigated by J. C. Peacock (A. J. P., 1891, 257). He found it to contain a terpene, C10H16, boiling at 157° C. (314.6° F.), of sp. gr. 0.865 (probably pinene); a compound ester boiling at 211° C. (411.8° F.), sp. gr. 0.9849, which on saponification yielded borneol, C10H18O, and a crystalline acid; a fraction boiling at from 239° to 240° C. (462.2°-464° F.), sp. gr. 0.9888, and of the composition C18H20O; and some green or bluish-green fluorescent oil in small quantity, which decomposes even when distilled under reduced pressure. The borneol ester constitutes about 60 per cent. of the oil. A principle called aristolochine, obtained from A. Clematitis and the roots of A. rotunda and A. longa, was investigated by Jul. Pohl. (A. E. P. P., xxix.) He obtained it as a yellow crystalline mass, soluble in chloroform, ether, acetone, acetic anhydride, and alcohol, insoluble in petroleum benzin, benzene, and carbon disulphide, almost insoluble in cold water, slightly soluble in hot water. An ultimate analysis gave for its composition C32H22O13N. O. Hesse obtained from the root of Aristolochia argentina an alkaloid to which he gives the name aristolochine, but has furnished no formula; a principle, aristolin, C15H28O3; physosterin palmitate, in white scales, fusing at 82° C. (179.6° F.); and a mixture of acids to which he gives the names aristic acid, C18H13NO7, aristidic acid, C17H10(CH3)NO7, and aristolic acid, C15H13NO7.
The resinous aristinic acid has been obtained from a number of species of the genus Aristolochia, notably by Walz from A. Clematitis, by Chevallier from A. Serpentaria, by Dymock and Warden from A. indica, by Hesse from A. argentina, by Hooper from A. bracteata. Hooper has also obtained a closely allied, if not identical, resinous acid from the aristolochiaceous plant Bragantia Wallichii, besides an alkaloid, which, under the name of Alpam, has long been used in Western India as an antidote to snake venom. The allied species, Bragantia tomentosa of Blume, is said to be employed in Java as an emmenagogue.
Uses.—Serpentaria is a feeble stimulant tonic. Too largely taken, it occasions nausea, griping pains in the bowels, sometimes vomiting and dysenteric tenesmus. It has been recommended in intermittent fevers, and may be serviceable as an adjunct to quinine. It is sometimes given in dyspepsia. The dose of fluid-extract is from twenty minims to half a fluidrachm (1.3 to 1.8 mils). According to Pohl, aristolochine in sufficient dose produces in the higher animals violent irritation of the gastro-intestinal tract and of the kidneys, with death in coma from respiratory paralysis.
Dose, fifteen to thirty grains (1 to 2 Gm.).
Off. Prep.—Tinctura Cinchonae Composita, U. S., Br.; Fluidextractum Serpentariae, N. F.; Tinctura Serpentariae, N. F., Br.