Chimaphila Umbellata. Pippsissewa. Winter-Green.

Botanical name: 

Table 01. Chimaphila umbellata. Ground Holly — Rheumatism weed. — Herbe de Paignè by the Indians in Canada, and L'Herbe a Pisser by the Canadians.

Chimaphila umbellata.
Pur. Fl. Am. 1. p. 300.
Mich. Fl. Boreali-Am. 1. p. 251.
Bot. Mag. 897.
Pluk. Mant. t. 349. f. 4.
Schoepf. Mat. Med. Am. p. 68.
Barton's Collections, &c. ed. 3d. vol. 2. p. 2, 31, 35, 48.
Coxe's Am. Disp. p. 560. 2d ed. p. 530.
Pers. Syn. Pl. vol. 1. p. 483.
Barton's Prodromus, Fl. Phil. p. 50.
Mitchell's Inaug. Dis.
Willd. Sp. Pl. 2, p. 622.
Muhlenberg. Cat. p. 44.


Chimaphila. Mich. Fl. Boreali-Am. vol. 1. p. 251. et Pur. Fl. Am. No. 364. Cat. 5-partitus. Pet. 5. Stigma sessile crassum, orbiculatum, germine immerso. Caps. 5-locularis, angulis debiscens.
Sub Pyrola.
Nat. Syst. Juss. Ericae Classis IX. Ordo III.

Pyrola. T. L. Pyrole. Calix minimus 5-partitus. Corolla. 5-partita, quasi 5-petala connivens petalis basi latis. Stamina 10 non exserta. Stigma 5-crenulatum. Capsula 5-locularis 5-valvis. Suffrutices aut herba; folia alterna aut subverticillata, pleraque radicalia; flores bracteolati terminates, spicati aut rarius umbellati vel solitarii. Gen. PL de Juss. ed. 1789. p. 161.
Nat. Ord. Lin. Bicornes.
Classis, Decandria; Ord. Monogynia. Lin. syst. (Sect. Polypetalae Regulares.)

Chimaphila umbellata: foliis cuneato-lanceolatis basi acutis serratis concoloribus, scapo corymbifero, filamentis glabris. Pursh. FL Am. Sep. 1. p. 300. ♃. Flowers in June and July.


Chimaphila corymbosa. Pur. Fl. Am. Sep. 1. p. 300.
Pyrola umbellata. Michaux. Fl. Boreali-Am. 1. p. 251.
P. umbellata. Willd. Sp. Pl. 2. p. 622.
P. pedunculis subumbellatis. Fl. Suec. 333, 363. Gmel. Sib. 4. p. 129. n. 18. Pollich. pal. n. 398. Hoffm. Germ. 144. Roth. Germ. I. 151. II. 464.
P. frutescens, arbuti flore. Bauh. pin. 191.
P. 3. fruticans. Clus. pan. 507.
Houttuyn Lin. Pfl. Syst. 6. p. 505.
Doldentragendes Wintergrün. Willd. (German.)
Habitat in Europe, Asise, et America Septentrionalis Sylvis.

Descriptio Uberior.

Radix repens. — Caules subdecumbentes, lignosi, spithamxi. Folia aliquando verticillata, opposita. vel sparsa, subsessilia, in petiolum decurrentia, cuneiformi-lanceolata, obtusa, argute serrata, superne lucida viridissima, inferne pallida viresentia. Pedunculi terminales, terni, quaterni sire quini. Flores formosi, majores quam in pyrola rotundifolia. Calix, perianthemum 5-partitum, exiguum. Petala 5, alba, apicem versus rubicunda. Filamenta 10, filiformia, brevia. Anthers bicornes. Stigma capitatum, obtusum, magnum. Habitat in sylvis umbrosis America Septentrionalis. Med. Chi. Tran. vol. 5. p. 357.

Chimaphila umbellata is a plant common to Europe and America, and is indigenous also to the south of Asia. This species belongs to a genus recently severed from Pyrola, by Mr. Pursh. The generic name he has given, is compounded of two Greek words expressive of one of the most common English appellations, χειμα hyems, and φιλος amicus. In justice to the celebrated author of the Flora Boreali-Americana, it is proper to remark, that Michaux long since hinted at the propriety of making a new genus of two of the species of Pyrola: "P. maculata et umbellata, forsan constituunt genus a Pyrola discrepans habitu, stigmate sessili et indiviso, antheris breviter rostratis et foramine sub-bivalvi dehiscentibus." [Flora Boreali-Americana 1. p. 251. ] Mr. Pursh therefore has done nothing more than establish the genus, taking for its characters those proposed by Michaux. Seeing no good reason for his change of the specific name, 1 have not thought proper to follow him further than by adopting the genus. In restoring the specific term of umbellata, which ought never to have been laid aside, I am supported by the best usage, in cases where it becomes expedient to impose a new generic name. Of the genus as it now stands, there are two species; the C. maculata, and C. umbellata; the latter is correctly figured in the plate. This plant is nearly allied in botanical affinities to the uva ursi; and we also find a corresponding analogy in its medicinal properties and effects. The root, which is perennial, is long, creeping, and of a yellowish colour, sending off radicles. When chewed, it imparts to the taste a degree of aromatic pungency, not disagreeable. When bruised, it has a strong unpleasant smell. The stems arise, often several together, from the root, which they nearly resemble in colour at their lower ends — the middle and upper portions are reddish or dingy rose-coloured. They vary in height from six to eight inches; and, though generally erect, are not unfrequently found semi-procumbent. The leaves have the appearance of being whorled: and in general there are two of these whorls on each stem. Sometimes the leaves are alternate, and irregularly situated. They are lanceolate and somewhat wedge-shaped, narrowed towards the base, deeply sawed on their edges, of a thick coriaceous texture, and of a very shining sap-green colour. The calix is small, five parted, and persistent. The corolla consists of five roundish, concave and spreading petals, which are white, tinged with rose-colour; they exhale an odour remarkably agreeable and spicy. There are constantly ten stamens; the filaments of which are awl-shaped, and shorter than the petals. The anthers are purple, large and nodding, bifurcated, or two-horned upwards. The germ is globular, angular, of a green colour, and always covered with a viscid matter; the stigma is thick and sessile, and the style persistent. The seeds, which are numerous and chaffy, are enclosed in a roundish five-angled capsule, having the five cells gaping at the angles. The seed vessel is persistent through the winter, and is often found on the new plant while it is in flower. C. umbellata is found in great abundance in the pine forests and woods of our country, from Canada to Georgia. Pursh restricts its southern range to Virginia, in which he is incorrect; I have myself seen it in the neighbourhood of the dismal swamp in North Carolina, and sparingly in the vicinity of Norfolk, Virginia. Mr. Nuttall informs me he has observed it further south than this; and that he has seen it in Dr. Baldwin's Herbarium, from Flint river in Florida. It delights in a loose sandy soil, enriched by decayed leaves; and thrives most luxuriantly under the shade of trees. It is very abundant in Jersey along the course of the Delaware; but also common in almost all the woods near to the city of Philadelphia. It is in full flower in June.

Chemical Analysis.

From the chemical analysis of this plant, made by Dr. John Mitchell, [Inaugural Dissertation, Un. Penn. 1803.] it appears that the decoction strikes a black colour with the sulphate of iron; and that there is little or no difference in the quantity of astringency in the leaves, and in the stalks. The proportions of gum and resin contained in the plant, are, according to Dr. Mitchell's experiments, as follow: 1. Upon adding alcohol to half an ounce of the dried leaves and suffering the mixture to stand for twenty-four hours exposed to a moderate temperature, then filtering and evaporating to dryness, a residuum weighing eighty-six grains was obtained. By the addition of water to this residuum, nineteen grains of gum were procured. 2dly. Upon adding water to half an ounce of the powdered leaves, and letting the mixture remain quiescent for twenty-four hours, exposed to the same degree of heat as in the first experiment, and then filtering the infusion, and evaporating it to dryness: a residuum was obtained, weighing forty-eight grains. By the addition of alcohol, twenty-two grains of resin were procured from this remaining powder.

Medical Properties.

The plant is principally entitled to the attention of physicians, for its diuretic property; for which it is now sought and used by many of the physicians of Great Britain. [A druggist in Philadelphia received a drawing and description of this plant from Dublin, and order to send thither a large quantity.] Dr. William Somerville of the English army, deputy inspector of military hospitals, has published the result of his trials of this plant, in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions of London, Vol. 5. p. 340. It appears from this paper that Mr. Carter, a surgeon who had charge of the hospital at William Henry in Canada, had used a strong infusion of the plant in a case of ascites, with good effect. The patient had been taking digitalis, chrystals of tartar, and other diuretics, without any success. The diuretic effect of the infusion in this instance, was manifest and considerable. It induced Dr. Somerville to try the medicine in the case of sir James Craig, the governor of Canada, who laboured under general dropsy, and whose system was cachectic. He tells us that the benefit of the herb was not durable, though while it lasted, it was very considerable: that its effects upon the kidneys were perceptible in two days; and that the medicine also produced a decided effect on the stomach, increasing the appetite. Sir James was directed to begin by taking a strong infusion of the whole plant, in the quantity of a pint in twentyfour hours. The same patient took this plant, in various forms, with benefit. Dr. Somerville says that the patient for whom he had prescribed it, remarked, that an agreeable sensation was produced in the stomach soon after taking the medicine, followed in some instances by extraordinary increase of appetite; and he justly observes that this circumstance gives it a very great advantage over other diuretics none of which are agreeable to the stomach, and most of them very offensive to it. Sir Walter Farquhar, it appears from Dr. Somerville's paper, had also used the Pippsissewa in the case of a lady labouring under ascites. In the detail of this case the diuretic effects are very striking. The urine seems generally to imbibe the colour of the infusion of the herb, which resembles the infusion of common green tea. Dr. Somerville says he has generally observed the good effects of the plant on the stomach, and that as far as his experience or information extended, no circumstance had occurred to forbid its use in any form, or to render it expedient to limit the dose. He further remarks, that, "the extract was prescribed in three hopeless cases of ascites accompanied with unequivocal marks of organic visceral derangement; the patients were private soldiers: in two instances the kidneys were stimulated powerfully, and in the third the patient complained of sickness at the stomach, and did not persevere in taking the medicine." He says the surgeon of the East York militia was cured of dropsical symptoms, by the extract of chimaphila. Dr. Marcet found" striking effects" from the plant which he tried at Guy's hospital, in doses of fifteen grains of the extract thrice a day. Dr. Satterley likewise corroborates the accounts of the diuretic effect of this vegetable, by two cases which came under his care; and I am happy to have it in my power to add, that since perusing Dr. Somerville's paper, I have prescribed the infusion of the plant in four cases at the Marines' hospital under my care at the navyyard of this city. The strong infusion was given combined with flax-seed tea in two cases, and with treacle or molasses-and-water, in the other two, to the extent of a pint in twenty-four hours. In all, the diuretic effects were evident; and in one, where strangury was produced in an old man, by a large blister which had been applied for an affection of the side, the good effects of the infusion were evident in the speedy evacuation of water. Dr. Somerville says that "an ounce of the dried plant including root, stalk, and leaves, cut small, and macerated twelve hours in two pints of cold water, then boiled till it yielded one pint of strained liquor, was found to act with greater energy than the infusion." Mr. Carter found that thirty-four pounds avoirdupois of the recent herb, yielded four pounds of extract. Of this extract Dr. Somerville says he gave five scruples in twenty-four hours. The extract may be given in pills, or dissolved in a small quantity of boiling water. It appears that the Hurons, and other Indian nations, are well acquainted with the effects of this plant upon the kidneys. They have long been in the habit, Dr. Somerville tells us, of using it "in all disorders which they ascribe to a diminished secretion of urine, and which they believe will be cured by an increase of that secretion. They use it in gravelly complaints very commonly. It is, indeed, said to be one of the principal articles of the Materia-Medica of the Indians; and in a paper by the late professor Barton, published in the 7th volume of the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions of London, he intimates that the knowledge the whites have of the use of this article in calculous affections, was derived primarily from the savages of our country. The professor says in the same paper, that, "all his trials and inquiries respecting this plant had convinced him that it is an important antilithic, not less so than the uva ursi." The tonic property belonging to this plant, noticed by Dr. Somerville, while it seems to enhance its value as a diuretic, has led to the use of the plant in intermittents and other similar affections. Dr. Mitchell relates some cases of its success in these fevers. In one of them the diuretic operation was noticed. The urine, which was considerably increased in quantity, was of a dark or black colour. This is an interesting fact, though inexplicable. Dr. Heberden has recorded a case of a similar colour being produced by the uva ursi. The Indians use a strong and warm decoction of the Pippsissewa, in rheumatism and fever. Its use in the first disease has led to one of its English names, rheumatism-weed. They employ the whole plant, and the decoction is taken in large quantities. It is probable that the relief they find in this mode of employing the plant, is owing to the perspiration induced by it. Professor Burton says he has been "assured on good authority, that it was very extensively employed, and with excellent effect, in many cases of typhus fever, which, under the appellation of ' camp-fever,' prevailed among the American troops, and carried off great numbers of them, during the time of the revolutionary war. [Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, Vol. 7.] A decoction of the plant, he tells us, was used, and he was of opinion that it did good by exciting copious perspiration. Pippsissewa is a topical stimulant, [Barton's Collections towards an Essay on the Materia Medica — 3d ed. part 2. p. 31.] and the bruised leaves are said sometimes to induce redness, vesication, and desquamation of the skin. This effect of the plant, as it is remarked to occur but seldom, has been said by the author of the "Collections," not to be particularly worthy of attention; yet it seems to derive some more importance from an observation of Dr. Somerville, in the paper already quoted. He informs us, that "in a case of acute rheumatism, in Canada, he saw the leaves of a plant which he supposed to have been the pyrola umbellata, applied as a cataplasm to the shoulder affected: the bruised leaves of the recent plant held to the fire till they were as hot as they could be endured, were applied to the part in a warm towel, for three hours. The application produced great heat, irritation, and redness in the part, followed by such sharp pain, that profuse perspiration over the whole body ensued, which was kept up in bed by warm drinks and clothing, for six hours." Dr. Mitchell relates the case of a gentleman of Philadelphia, who used the Pippsissewa during an attack of rheumatism; the bruised leaves moistened with brandy, were laid on the affected part in the evening: the next morning complete vesication was produced, but the pain was not alleviated. A decoction in vinegar has been said to be useful as an application to bruises. It follows from these facts, that the plant may not be unworthy the attention of physicians, or at least that it may be serviceable in domestic medicine, as a topical stimulant.

It appears from the preceding observations, that the Pippsissewa is chiefly entitled to a place in the Materia Medica, by reason of its diuretic property. Injustice, it must be observed, that we are indebted to the experiments and observations of Europeans, for the discovery of this very general effect of the plant. And if future and more extensive trials of it in dropsical affections, should confirm the high character given to this plant by Dr. Somerville, we have much reason to congratulate ourselves on the accession to the Materia Medica, of so powerful a diuretic; one, not only divested in its introduction to the stomach of any nauseating or other unpleasant consequences, like those of digitalis and squill; but actually exerting a roborant effect upon that organ, manifestly increasing the appetite, and producing very agreeable feelings in the patient, soon after it is taken. Bearing in mind the good effects ascribed to uva ursi, in dropsy, by Dr. Ferriar, of Manchester, we may, from the facts now within our knowledge, together with the circumstance of the affinity of the plant to uva ursi, not hesitate to recommend the decoction of Pippsissewa as a valuable remedy in this disease, at least in conjunction with the use of the lancet. Its reputed efficacy in nephritic affections, if it does not rest on as broad a foundation as the diuretic virtue of the plant, should not be despised; and as a topical stimulant it is worthy of further investigation, particularly as one species of the genus to which this plant lately belonged, Pyrola rotundifolia, has been said to be esteemed by the Indians for its blistering property. [Remarks on the bite of the rattle snake, by professor Barton, Trans. Am. Phil. Soc. Vol. 3. p. 103.] This plant is likewise used in many parts of the United States, in cancerous affections; but it is entitled to no attention in such cases. [I have been informed by Dr. Hewson, the professor of comparative anatomy, that upon showing the C. umbellata to Caesar A. Rodney, Esq. of Delaware; it was recognized as a plant known in that state by the name of "King-cure;" and he informed the doctor it was a popular remedy for scrofula. The fact is only mentioned here, with a view to give all the information on the subject I am possessed of. Certainly we are warranted, from our knowledge of the real virtues of the plant, to believe that its exhibition in this complaint, is strictly empirical.] It is somewhat remarkable, that Mr. Pursh [Flora Americae Septentronalis.] has mistaken, in a medical point of view, the other species of Chimaphila, viz. C. maculata, for that which is the subject of the foregoing remarks; and he has quoted the Indian name incorrectly, calling it Sipsissewa; so far as I know, this appellation is never given. That in relation to the medicinal virtues he has confounded these two plants with each other, is evident, from his attributing active properties to Chimaphila maculata, which is not at this time known to possess any. He says he has himself been a witness of a successful cure made by a decoction of the plant, in a very severe case of hysteria; and remarks, "that it (the C. maculata) is a plant eminently deserving the attention of physicians." I am inclined to think Mr. Pursh has been misled in this instance by the name of Pippsissewa, which is applied in common to both species; for the experiments of Dr. Mitchell go to prove, that the species so highly commended by him is wholly inert, though it is worthy of remark, that the Indians are said to call this species poison Pippissewa, in contradistinction to the C. umbellata, which they call simply, Pippissewa. Besides this, Shoepf says of C. maculata, which he enumerates among his medicinal plants: "infusum foliorum, ante annos aliquot, sub nomine Pipsisseva, frequentissime ad Febres intermittentes, exhibeatur in Pennsylvania." [Mat. Med. Am. p. 68.] Pursh is altogether silent respecting the medical properties of C. umbellata; but after all, it is not unlikely that the C. maculata will turn out to be an active plant. It is not only very like the other in habit, but it may readily be confounded with it, on a slight view. It is most easily distinguished from the C. umbellata, by its leaves, which are of a dark olive green colour, and conspicuously maculated or veined with greenish-white; while in the Pippsissewa which is the subject of this article, the leaves are of a shining green hue, without any spots or veins. In the C. maculata, too, the leaves which are lanceolate, inclining occasionally to ovate, are broad at their bases, and taper to their apexes; they are also deeply sawed on their edges. Those of the C. umbellata are narrowed at their bases, broadest towards their ends; the serratures are not quite so deep, and are nearer together. It must be confessed, that the aspect of the Chimaphila maculata is strikingly indicative of active properties, and the plant is worthy of further investigation.

Oeconomical Use.

I have been informed by Judge Peters, that it is a common practice in the country, to give a bucket full of the decoction of the C. umbellata, to horses that are unable to stale, with the view, and uniformly with the effect, of relieving them. This is a strong fact in corroboration of the diuretic virtue of the plant, as described in the foregoing pages; and it is also an interesting one to farmers, or other persons who keep horses, and reside in the neighbourhood where the Pippsissewa grows.

Table I.

Fig. 1. represents the Chimaphila umbellata of the natural size. Sometimes two stems supporting a corymbus or kind of umbel of flowers, proceed from the upper whorl of leaves; and not unfrequently the persistent capsules of the last year, supported on the dried stem, remain on the flowering plant.
Fig. 2. the persistent capsules, by which and the leaves, the plant may be recognized when out of flower.

Vegetable Materia Medica of the U.S. or Medical Botany, 1817 (Vol. I), 1818 (Vol. II), was written by William P. C. Barton, M. D.