090. Orchis mascula. Male orchis.

Botanical name: 

090. Orchis mascula. 090. Orchis mascula. C. Synonyma. Satyrion. Pharm. Edinb.
Orchis morio mas foliis maculatis. Bauh. Pin. p. 81. Park. Theat. p. 1346. Raii Hist. p. 1214. Synop. p. 376.
Cynosorchis morio mas. Gerard. Emac. p. 208.
Orchis radicibus subrotundis; petalis lateralibus reflexis; labello trifido; segmento medio longiori, bifido. Hal. Stirp. Helv. n. 1286. tab. 33.
Orchis mascula. Hudson Flor. Ang. p. 333. Lightfoot Flor. Scot. p. 515. Flor. Dan. t. 457. Curt. Flor. Lond. t. 121.

Class Gynandria. Ord. Diandria. Lin. Gen. Plant. 1009.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Nectarium corniforme pone florem.
Spec. Char. O. bulbis indivisis, nectarii labio quadrilobo crenulato: cornu obtuso, petalis dorsalibus reflexis.

The root is perennial, consisting of two roundish bulbs, from the upper part of which several small fibres are produced: the stalk is upright, round, smooth, solid, simple, purplish towards the top, and rises about a foot in height: the leaves are radical, long, pointed with a sharp prominent midrib, and commonly marked with dark coloured spots: the flowers are purplish, and terminate the stem in a long regular spike: the bracteae are membranous, purple, lance-shaped, and generally twisted at their points: the corolla is composed of five petals, two of which are upright, of an oval pointed shape, and their tips bent inwards: the other three are placed outwardly, and approach so as to form a galea, or helmet: the lip is large, with three lobes, of which that in the middle is the longest; they are notched, and spotted towards the base, which is white; the nectarium is lengthened out behind into a tubular part, resembling a little horn: the filaments are two, short, inserted in the germen, and furnished with oval antherae, which are incased in the limb of the nectary: the germen is oblong and twisted: the style is short, with a compressed stigma: the capsule is oblong, and contains numerous small seeds. It is common in meadows, and flowers in April and May.

This plant has a place in the Materia Medica of the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia only on account of its roots, which abound with a glutinous slimy juice, of a sweetish taste; to the smell they are faint, and somewhat unpleasant.

This mucilaginous or gelatinous quality of the Orchis root has recommended it as a demulcent, and it has been generally employed with the same intentions and in the same complaints as the root of althaea and gum arabic, both of which we have already noticed.

Salep, which is imported here from the East, and formerly held in great estimation, is now well known to be a preparation of the root of Orchis [Orchis mascula, though the chief, is not the only species from which the Salep is prepared.] which was first suggested by Mr. J. Miller, [Joseph Miller (Botan. offic. 1722. p. 385) to which we may add the names of Seba and Heister. This was first confirmed by Buxbaum (Plant. min. cogn. Cent. 3. p. 5.) See Murray, Ap. Med. vol. 5. p. 280.] and different methods of preparing it have been since proposed and practised: of these the latest and most approved is that by Mr. Mault, of Rochdale, [See Phil. Trans. vol. 59. p. 2.] which we shall transcribe from the words of Dr. Percival, [Percival's Essays Med. & Exper. vol. ii. p. 39.] who follows Mr. Mault in recommending the cultivation of a plant in Britain which promises to afford so useful and wholesome a food as the Salep.

Dr. Percival says, "Mr. Mault has lately favoured the public with a new manner of curing the Orchis root, and as I have seen many specimens of his Salep, at least equal if not superior to any brought from the Levant, I can recommend the following, which is his process, from my own knowledge of its success. The new root is to be washed in water, and the fine brown skin which covers it is to be separated by means of a small brush, or by dipping the root in hot water, and rubbing it with a coarse linen cloth. When a sufficient number of roots have been thus cleaned, they are to be spread on a tin plate, and placed in an oven heated to the usual degree, where they are to remain six or ten minutes, in which time they will have lost their milky whiteness, and acquired a transparency like horn, without any diminution of bulk. Being arrived at this state, they are to be removed, in order to dry and harden in the air, which will require several days to effect; or by using a very gentle heat they may be finished in a few hours." [The properest time for gathering the roots is when the seed is formed, and the stalk is ready to fall, because the new bulb, of which the Salep is made, is then arrived to its full maturity, and may be distinguished from the old one by a white bud rising from the top of it, which is the germ of the orchis of the succeeding year. Percival, l. c.]

Salep, considered as an article of diet, is accounted extremely nutritious, as containing a great quantity of farinaceous matter in a small bulk, and hence it has been thought fit to constitute a part of the provisions of every ship's company to prevent a famine at sea. For it is observed by Dr. Percival, that this powder and the dried gelatinous part of flesh, or portable soup, dissolved in boiling water, form a rich thick jelly, capable of supporting life for a considerable length of time. An ounce of each of these articles, with two quarts of boiling water, will be sufficient subsistence for one man a day. [Percival, l. c. See also Lind's Appendix to his Essay on the Diseases of Hot Climates. "Salep ex orchide morione in Suecia paratum citius solvi se passum est, quam Persicum, et tam tenacem mucilaginem exhibuit octo ejus grana in aquae fervidae unica una h.e. radicem in 60-plo aquae solvendo, ut per pannum linteum non perfecte transigi posset, sed affundi insuper deberet aqua; fervidae uncia dimidia, quo auxilio mucilago ista densitate aequavit alteram ex Salep Persico uncia una aquae elicitam: remansit vero residui ex isto Suecico Salep granum 1 ½ et Persico gr. i. Murray l. c. See Vet. Acad. Handl. 1764. p. 245, sq.] Dr. Percival not only recommends the use of Salep as other authors have done in diarrhoea, dysentery, dysury, and calculous complaints; but he thinks "in the symtomatic fever, which arises from the absorption of pus, from ulcers in the lungs, from wounds, or from amputations, Salep used plentifully is an admirable demulcent, and well adapted to resist that dissolution of the crasis of the blood which is so evident in these cases."

The supposed aphrodisiac qualities of this root, which have been noticed ever since the time of Dioscorides, seem to be founded on the fanciful doctrine of signatures. [Orchis, i. e. (greek), Testiculus, habet radices instar testiculorum.]

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