002. Menyanthes trifoliata. Water trefoil, or buckbean.
Class Pentandria. Order Monogynia. L. Gen. Plant. 202.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cor. hirsuta. Stimga 2-sidum. Caps. 1-locularis.
Spec. Char. M. fol. ternatis.
This plant is common in every part of England; it grows in marshes and ponds, producing its flowers in an open terminal spike about the latter end of June. The scapus, or stalk, rises from six to twelve inches in height. The petals are sometimes entirely white, but more commonly rose-coloured on the outside, and within they are finely fringed, so as to have a hairy or fibrous appearance, hence named Trifolium Fibrinum: the root is perennial, creeping, and jointed, sending forth many long slender filaments.The trifoliata is easily distinguished from the other species of Menyanthes by its ternate leaves, which have been thought to resemble those of the common garden bean, and have given it the English name, Buckbean.
The whole plant is so extremely bitter, that in some countries it is used as a substitute for hops in the preparation of malt liquor [Flor. Lappon. p. 50.]; yet Linnaeus observes, that the poorer people in Lapland make a bread of the powdered roots mixed with meal, but at the same time he acknowledges it is a very unpalatable food [Ibid.].
The blackness manifested by adding a solution of green vitriol to the juice, or to a strong infusion of the leaves of Buckbean, is a sufficient test of its astringency; while a dram of the powdered leaves seldom fails to open the body, or produce vomiting; so that in common with the tonic properties of a bitter, it seems farther to possess a considerable share of medicinal activity: we can therefore more easily credit the reports of its success in a great number of chronic diseases mentioned by various authors [Trifolii Fibrini Historia, selectis observationibus et perspicuis exemplis, illustrata a Jo. Franco, anno 1701. Recte observavit D. Tancredus Robinson herbam hanc Germanis, aliisque gentibus septentrionalibus nunc dierum unice charam et in magno pretio esse, et assiduo usu frequentari in omnibus fere morbis, ut certissimam panaceam, ad quam etiam in deploratis affectibus, velut ad sacram anchoram, confugiunt (Raii Histor. Plant, p. 1099.) See also Willius Act. Hafn. vol. 3. Sim. Pauli, Quadrip. Bot. p. 173. et seq. Tilling Mise. N. curios. Dec. 2. Gulbrand Diff. de Sanguifluxu Uterino. Du Clos Anc. Mem. p. 329. Schulz Mat. Med. p. 445.], as scurvy, dropsy, jaundice, asthma, periodical headachs, intermittents, hypochondriasis, cachexia, obstructio mensium, rheumatism, scrophula, worms, gout. Dr. Boerhaave was relieved in the last mentioned complaint by drinking the juice mixed with whey [Eph. Nat. Cur. Dec. I. ann. III. Obs. 123. (this answers Dr. Alston's query, who asks, "Where is this related?" Alston. Mat. Med. vol. 2. p. 240.]; and Dr. Alston tells us, that "this plant had remarkable effects in the gout, in keeping off" the paroxysms;" but adds, "though not to the patient's advantage." [l. c.]
In confirmation of the good effects of Water Trefoil in dropsies, we are told that sheep, when forced to eat it, are cured of the rot; [Dr. T. Robinson.] (oves tabidae) yet as we have but few and imperfect proofs of its diuretic powers, this fact will be considered of little weight.
Bergius confines the uses of this plant to scorbutus, leucophlegmatia, arthritis, rheumatismus, cacoethes [Mat. Med. vol. 1. p. 91.] and this specification is still farther contracted by later writers on the Materia Medica. In Lewis's Mat. Med. (by Mr. Aikin) it is said, that the leaves of buckbean "have of late years come into common use as an alterative and aperient, in impurities of the humours, and some "hydropic and rheumatic cases;" and as an active and eccoprotic bitter, we should suppose them not ill adapted to supply the want of bile in the primae viae, and thus infer their use in protracted jaundice, and other biliary obstructions. Dr. Cullen has "had several instances of their good effects in some cutaneous diseases of the herpatic and seemingly cancerous kind [Mat. Med. vol.2. p. 75.]."
The leaves may be given in powder from ℈i to ℈ij for a dose two or three times a day, but a strong infusion of them is perhaps preferable, and with delicate stomachs it may be necessary to conjoin a grateful aromatick: they impart their properties both to watery and spiritous menstrua, and an extract is ordered to be prepared from them in the Ph. Dan. p. 171. Efficax et frequentis commodique ufus. Murray.