Description: Natural Order, Rubiaceae. In the same Family with cleavers, madder, and button bush. Genus MITCHELLA: Small, smooth, evergreen herbs, with opposite leaves and procumbent stems. Flowers two on each double ovary, calyx four-parted; corolla small, funnel- shaped, hairy within; stamens four, inserted on the corolla. Fruit a red berry about the size of a pea, composed of two united ovaries. M. REPENS: Stem creeping, small. Leaves half an inch long, roundish-ovate, on short petioles, flat, very dark green, tough. Flowers generally but two at the extremity of the stem; corolla white tinged with rose-red, tubular, one-fourth of an inch long, four, five, or even six-parted, very fragrant. Berries at once distinguished by their double structure, bright red, of a pleasant flavor, full of stony seeds, remaining on the stem all winter. Blooming in June.
This lowly evergreen is found throughout the Northern States and Canada, in open woods, prostrate among the fallen leaves and brush, usually growing in tufts. From the similarity of common names, it is generally confounded with the gaultheria procumbens; but gaultheria is not a creeping stem, its red berry is round instead of being two-parted, and its leaves are large and peculiarly fragrant–characters which at once distinguish it from mitchella. As it comes to market dried, it is a peculiarly dark-looking plant; with a not unpleasant yet permanently bitterish taste. Water and diluted alcohol extract its qualities readily.
Properties and Uses: This herb is claimed by the Eclectics, simply because they "selected" it after others had taught its use. It was largely employed by the people of New England as a family remedy as early as 1820; and the Thomsonians of that section made much use of it from 1823. Dr. J. Masseker, of New York, used it extensively from 1825 onward, while the Eclectics did not "select" it till 1836. When Dr. J. King says, in his Dispensatory, that this article is not "noticed or used by other practitioners" than the Eclectics, I am sorry to say that he utters what I think he knew was wrong; as "other practitioners" taught Eclectics how to use it.
This article is mildly stimulating and slightly relaxing, exerting its influence rather slowly but persistently, and leaving a gentle but desirable tonic impression upon the frame. The greater portion of its power is expended upon the uterus, where its action is tonic and moderately antispasmodic; but it also influences the kidneys, testes, and the entire nervous system as connected with the generative organs. The chief value set upon it by most physicians is for its soothing and strengthening influence upon the uterus in hysteria, leucorrhea, prolapsus, and rheumatic or neuralgic pains, and chronic painful menstruation. Its action in all these connections is of the most beneficial character; at the same time that it steadily maintains a fair secretion of urine, and relieves aching of the back. It has been commended in dropsy and gravel, but is only secondary in value. Used for several weeks before parturition, it allays the uterine crampings incident to the latter period of gestation, and so strengthens this organ as to make an easy labor much more probable.
The attention of physicians has been so much fixed on the above uses of mitchella, that its influence upon other portions of the system has almost been overlooked. For all forms of nervous feebleness and irritability of a chronic character, it is an excellent agent; and it exerts a highly favorable influence over spermatorrhea. I have used it largely in the management of this malady, especially in combination with the flowers of althea, celastrus, and uva ursi, and commend it earnestly to the profession. On the mucous membranes it exerts a mild tonic influence, which slowly abates excessive mucous discharges, and has led most writers to pronounce it an astringent; but this action is wholly tonic, and may be used for catarrhal and leucorrheal discharges, as well as for chronic dysentery.
When used alone, it should be made into a decoction by digesting an ounce of the herb in a quart of boiling water for an hour, straining with pressure, evaporating to half a pint, and giving two fluid ounces three times a day.
Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Compound Sirup Mitchella, Mothers Cordial. Mitchella, one pound; viburnum, (cramp bark,) helonias, and caulophyllum, each four ounces. Crush well, and macerate for three days in a sufficient quantity of diluted alcohol. Transfer to a percolator, treat with diluted alcohol, and reserve the first three pints that pass; then treat with boiling water till exhausted, add two pounds of sugar, evaporate to two pints, and mix with the reserved liquid. Some speak of using brandy instead of diluted alcohol, but this is not now pursued in practice.
This is almost the only form in which mitchella is used at the present time. It was first suggested by Dr. Sweet, of Connecticut, (to whom the entire profession is under obligations for teaching the natural method of reducing all dislocations by the process of "manipulation,") as early as 1826. He published his formula in the Botanic Vindicator and other journals, and it was in common use by the old Thomsonians as early as 1830. Prof. King introduces the formula into the later editions of his Eclectic Dispensatory, with his initials appended to it, thus claiming as his own a valuable preparation that was extensively employed in the section where he formerly lived, probably before he was old enough to study medicine. C. Gardner, M. D., now of Lee Center, Illinois, but formerly of Newport, R. I., tells me this preparation was employed extensively in the Thomsonian Infirmary with which he was there connected, prior to 1833. "Honor to whom honor;" and let these Eclectic "selections" be ventilated. The first edition of the Eclectic Dispensatory gave the formula without Dr. King's initials; which shows that his laying claim to it was an afterthought. (See Hydrastis.)
This preparation is one of great value in all nervous and uterine difficulties incident to females, including weakness of the back, leucorrhea, prolapsus, cramps, persistent menstruation. Few compounds in the whole range of Pharmacy are so mild in action, yet at the same time so reliable. The usual dose is a large tablespoonful three times a day, but a larger quantity may be used. I have had the happiest results in treating spermatorrhea by combining one ounce of the fluid extract of celastrus with a pint of this sirup.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com