WE are told by different writers, that this fine plant is a native of all the southern states from Pennsylvania to Georgia and Louisiana, growing in rich soils, especially about the borders of woods. It does not bear the severity of a northern winter. For my living specimens I was indebted to my excellent and learned friend, the late Dr. James Macbride, of Charleston, S. C.
The genus Spigelia has a funnel shaped corolla and a capsule, which is double, two celled and many seeded. The species Marilandica is perennial, with a simple stem and opposite leaves.
Class Pentandria; order Monogynia. Natural orders Stellatae, Lin. Gentianae, Juss.
The root of the Spigelia Marilandica is perennial, with many fibrous branches. The stalks proceed several from a root; they are simple four sided and nearly smooth. Leaves opposite, sessile, ovate, acuminate, entire, smooth, with the margins and veins sometimes pubescent. The stalk commonly terminates in a simple one-sided raceme of flowers, although I have seen luxuriant specimens with two. The peduncles are extremely short, so that the raceme may without impropriety be denominated a spike. Calyx persistent, with five linear-subulate, finely serrulate leaves, which are reflexed in the ripe fruit. Corolla five times as long as the calyx, scarlet or crimson without, orange coloured within, the tube inflated and angular at top, the border divided into five acute, spreading segments. Stamens very short, inserted into the mouth of the corolla between the segments; anthers oblong-heart shaped. Germ small, superior, ovate. Style longer than the corolla, jointed near its base and bearded at the extremity. Capsule double, consisting of two, cohering, one celled, globular portions, seated on a common receptacle.
The Spigelia is a mucilaginous plant, with a mild and not very disagreeable taste. The infusion and decoction of the root and leaves afford a flocculent precipitate with alcohol. They are discoloured but not precipitated by silicated potash. They have little sensibility to gelatin, all though the tincture is made turbid by it. After the decoction was filtrated from the mucus, which had been coagulated by alcohol, it gave a precipitate with nitrate of mercury, but none with muriate of tin. Sulphate of iron caused a dark green precipitate from the decoction, and but little change in the tincture. No distinct evidence of resin presented itself. A substance which may perhaps be considered a variety of extractive matter, appears to exist in this plant, as the tincture was affected in nearly the same manner by the salts of tin and mercury above mentioned, as the filtrated decoction.
Water may be considered an adequate solvent for the chief proximate principles of this plant.
The medicinal reputation of the Spigelia is founded on the powers which it is supposed to possess as a vermifuge. This reputation is now so generally established, that the plant has become a considerable article of commerce to various parts of the world, from our southern states, This is a sufficient evidence, that the medicine has, to a certain extent, satisfied public expectation, and obtained the sanction of practitioners. But beyond this, it is difficult to speak confidently on the subject. The Spigelia belongs to a class of medicines, which are frequently prescribed, without positive proof of the existence of the cause which they are intended to remove; which often fail altogether in the hands of the most successful practitioners; which frequently succeed merely because they are backed with medicines of a more active class; and whose apparent success is sometimes the consequence solely of a diseased state of the body. [From the list of equivocal anthelmintics, I would except those which have a cathartic operation, also a number of mineral origin. But I am fully persuaded, that many reputed vermifuges have enjoyed a reputation which they do not deserve. The Dolichos pruriens has received the commendations of practitioners and medical writers, on the presumption that its spiculae exert the same stimulant effect on the bodies of worms in the alimentary canal, that they do on the human skin externally. I was long ago inclined to doubt the power of these spiculse to withstand the digestive process of the stomach. My suspicions were confirmed upon finding that simple maceration in warm water for an nour, dissolves their virus, and renders them incapable of producing their usual stimulus of itching, when applied to the skin. Some late experiments by my pupil, Dr. Chandler, have shewn that the gastric juice destroys their activity in the same manner.
It is not necessary in this place to revert to the Fern root of Madame Nouffer, and various other exploded anthelmintics of its kind.]
Our plant is however entitled to trial, especially where it can be obtained fresh, and in full strength. A physician of the southern states, for whose opinion I have much respect, Dr. Norcom of Edenton, N. C. informed me some years since, that the Spigelia was most active when recently dried, and that its efficacy was always impaired by keeping more than six months. Dr. Garden had previously made observations somewhat similar. If this be the case, we may account for its failures in the hands of those who obtain it at a distance when half a dozen years old.
Drs. Lining, Garden, and Chalmers of Carolina, are the writers who first introduced the Spigelia to notice, and who have spoken most unequivocally in its praise. Each of these physicians has represented it as an anthelmintic of superior efficacy. It appears that under certain circumstances, it is capable of operating as a cathartic, and that in these instances, the most advantage has been experienced from it. Dr. Garden says, that he had given it in hundreds of cases, and that he "never found it do much good except when it proved gently purgative." As the action of the Spigelia upon the bowels is quite uncertain, most practitioners either unite, or follow it with calomel or some purgative medicine.
We are told that the pink root, when in its most active state, if given in large quantities, induces narcotic symptoms, such as stupor, headach, dilated pupil, &c. Dr. H. Thompson, who took large doses of the root to try its effect on himself, found that it produced an increased quickness of the pulse, drowsiness, flushing of the face and stiffness of the eyelids. Dr. Chalmers attributes to its too free use the cases of two children, who died in convulsions. Dr. Macbride informs us that its narcotic effects are seldom or never attended with danger, and that some physicians consider them an evidence of the favorable operation of the medicine. The opinion that this effect is owing to the root of some deleterious plant taken up with the Spigelia, seems to be void of foundation.
As in most other perennial plants, the root of the Spigelia possesses a greater share of activity than the herb. Of this root ten grains may be given in powder to a child four years old, twenty to one which is seven, and a drachm to an adult. If no inconvenience ensue, it may be repeated two or three times a day. If the infusion is preferred, an ounce of the root may be infused in a pint of water, and half the quantity taken by an adult or one or two spoonfuls by a child.
Spigelia Marilandica, Linn. Sp. pl.
Curtis, Bot. Mag. t. 80.
Woodville, ii. t. 105.
Walter, Flor. Car. 92.
Michaux, i. 147.
Pursh, i. 139.
Elliott, i. 236.
Lonicera spicis terminalibus, &c. Gronov. Virg. 30.
Periclymeni Virginiani flore coccineo planta Marilandica, &c. Catesby, ii. t. 78.
Chalmers, on the weather and diseases of South Carolina, i. 67.
Lining, Essays, phys. and lit. i. 436.
Garden, ditto, iii. 145.
Home, Clin. exper. 420.
Murray, App. Med. i.
Macbride, in Elliott's Car. 237.
Thompson, Inaug. Diss.
American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.