029. Cochlearia officinalis. Common scurvy-grass.

Botanical name: 

029. Cochlearia officinalis. 029. Cochlearia officinalis. C. Synonyma. Cochlearia hortensis. Pharm. Lond. & Edin.
Cochlearia. J. Bauh. 2. 942.
Cochlearia rotundifolia. Gerard. 324.
Cochlearia folio subrotundo. Bauh. Pin. 110.
Cochlearia major rotundifolia sive Batavorum. Park. 285.
Cochlearia. Raii Hist. Spec. 1. p. 822. Synop. 302.
Nasturtium foliis radicalibus subrotundis, caulinis oblongis, subsinuatis. Hal. Stirp. Helv. No. 503.
Cochlearia officinalis. With. Bot. Arrang. 677. Flor. Dan.

Class Class Tetradynamia. Ord. Siliculosa. L. Gen. Plant. 803.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Silicula emarginata, turgida, scabra; volvulis gibbis, obtusis.
Spec. Char. C. foliis radicalibus cordato-subrotundis; caulinis oblongis subsinuatis. Caulis ramosus.

The root is perennial, fibrous, and usually produces several upright branched angular stems, about a span high; the radical leaves are heart or kidney-shaped, fleshy, succulent, and stand upon long footstalks; the stem-leaves alternate, rhomboidal, blunt, and dentated on each side; towards the top the leaves are sessile, or embracing the stem, but towards the bottom they are frequently upon short broad footstalks; the flowers are cruciform, and stand upon short peduncles, terminating the branches in thick clusters; the calyx consists of four leafits, which are oval, blunt, concave, gaping, deciduous, and whitish at the margin; the petals are four, white, oval, spreading, and twice the length of the calyx; the filaments are six, four long and two short, greenish, tapering, and crowned with yellow anthers; it has no style, and the germen becomes a small roundish compressed pod, containing rough seeds. It is found on the mountains of Scotland, Cumberland, and Wales, but more commonly about the Sea mores: it flowers in April and May.

We have figured this plant from a specimen obtained from Mr. Curtis's botanic garden at Brompton, where it differs in no respect from the same plants growing in their native soil, a circumstance which induces many to cultivate Scurvy-grass in gardens for medical use. It has an unpleasant smell, and a warm acrid bitter taste. "Its active matter is extracted by maceration both in watery and in spirituous menstrua, and accompanies the juice obtained by expression. The most considerable part of it is of a very volatile kind; the peculiar penetrating pungency totally exhaling in the exsiccation of the herb, and in the evaporation of the liquors. Its principal virtue resides in an essential oil, separable in a very small quantity, by distillation with water." [Lewis M. M. 242. "The oil is so ponderous as to sink in the aqueous fluid, but of great volatility, subtility, and penetration. One drop dissolved in spirit, or received on sugar, communicates to a quart of wine, or other liquors, the smell and taste of Scurvy-grass." Lewis l. c.]—Scurvy-grass [This species is now preferred to all the other species of Cochlearia for its medical use.] is antiseptic, [See the experiments of Sir John Pringle.] attenuant, aperient, and diuretic, and is said to open obstructions of the viscera and remoter glands, without heating or irritating the system; it has been long considered as the most effectual of all the antiscorbutic plants, [We have testimony of its great use in scurvy, not only from phyficians; but navigators, as Anson, Linschoten, Maartens, Egede, and others. And it has been justly noticed, that this plant grows most plentifully in those high latitudes, where the scurvy is most obnoxious: Forster found it in great abundance in the islands of the South Sea. In Islandia parant incolae hanc herbam cum lacte acidulato vel ejus sero; condiunt eam etiam sale culinari in magnis doliis, & per hiemem servant. Cum oves in locis, ubi Cochlearia crescit, pascuntur, avide quidem illam edunt & valde pinguescunt, sed caro nauseoso sapore inficitur. Olafsen. Reise durth Island, T, I, p. 257, Vide Berg. M. M. 557.] and its sensible qualities are sufficiently powerful to confirm this opinion. In the rheumatismus vagus, called by Sydenham Rheumatismus scorbuticus, consisting of wandering pains of long continuance, accompanied with fever, this plant, combined with Arum and woodsorrel, is highly commended both by Sydenham and Lewis. [Opera 278. M. M. 241.] — A remarkably volatile and pungent spirit, prepared from this herb, and known by the name of Spiritus antiscorbuticus s. mixtura simplex antiscorbutica Drawizii. [Fit ex spiritu tartari et spiritu cochleariae, quibus vitriolum ad rubidinem calcinatum irroratur, succedente digestione et distillatione. Murray Ap. Med. vol. 2. p. 347.] (Pharm. Wert.) was found by Werlhof [Obs. de febr. p. 145. Dr. Cullen observes, that "several foreign dispensatories have ordered it to be treated by distillation with spirit of wine, and have thereby obtained a volatile poignant spirit, that may prove a useful stimulus in several cases. It may probably be improved by a combination with the volatile acid of tartar, as in the spiritus antiscorbuticus Drawitzii, and in this state may be a useful stimulant in paralytic cases; it may also be employed as a diuretic, and in this way also be useful in scurvy." M. M. vol. 2. 165.] to be a useful remedy in paralysis and other diseases requiring an active and powerful stimulant, given in the dose of thirty drops several times a day. But as an antiscorbutic, neither this, nor the conserve promises so much benefit as the fresh plant, eaten as sallad, or the expressed juice, as directed in the Pharmacopoeias.

Medical Botany, 1790-1794, was written by William Woodville, M. D., and illustrated by James Sowerby.