Garget, Coakum, Pigeon-Berry.
Description: Natural Order, Phytolaccaceae. This Family is represented in our country by the single genus PHYTOLACCA. Root perennial, very large, branched, coarse, spongy, whitish, succulent and sweetish when young. Stem annual, five to eight feet high, very smooth, green when young, red-purple when old, an inch or more in diameter, very juicy, hollow, with interrupted half-circular shelves of pith. Leaves alternate, petiolate, oblong, entire, six inches by three, smooth, thick, juicy. Flowers in racemes four to six inches long, twenty or more on each raceme; racemes lateral and opposite the leaves, drooping. Calyx of five rounded and whitish sepals; corolla wanting; stamens (in this species) and styles ten, short; ovary flat, furrowed, green. Fruit a flattened berry, ten-furrowed, ten-celled, ten-seeded, very dark purple, filled with a rich lake-colored juice in autumn, hanging on the pendent racemes late in the fall.
This stately, large-leaved, and unbranched plant grows in nearly every section of America, in pastures and other open and grassy places. The young leaves are used as "greens" in the spring, and are the best of articles for that purpose; but the older leaves are too acrid to use thus. The sweetish taste of the young roots sometimes leads children to eat them; and they provoke very persistent vomiting, heat and dryness of the throat, burning at the stomach, diarrhea, very great prostration, and subsequently coma. Some children have died in convulsions from eating them. The older and dried roots retain the same aero-narcotic properties, and this part of the plant is rejected from Physio-Medical practice as a dangerous poison. Their ashes, according to Rafinesque, yield an unusually large percentage of potassa. The berries yield a rich, yet evanescent, dyeing material. Birds are fond of them.
Properties and Uses: The berries of this plant are relaxant, with a peculiar and not very unpleasant taste, and a slow action. Their chief power is expended on the glandular structures, mildly but persistently securing a better flow of saliva, urine, and perspiration, and freer action of the bowels. They make a valuable agent in scrofulous maladies, especially those connected with a chaffy skin and costiveness; but their relaxing quality is so great, that it is usually best to combine them with a moderate quantity of such stimulants as menispermum or stillingia. So general is their glandular influence, that they may be used as a common relaxant alterant, particularly in salt rheum and similar affections of the skin. In chronic and sub-acute rheumatism, few agents exert so peculiar and so valuable a power; and their action in such cases is very reliable, rarely failing to give relief to this obstinate malady. Those forms of rheumatism which attack the synovial and ligamentous membranes, the muscular sheaths, and other serous tissues, seem to be most benefitted by their use. Generally the profession has overlooked this article, or used it only in chronic cases; and many look upon the berries as being poisonous, because the roots are. But they are not poisonous, and may be used in subacute cases quite as well as in chronic ones. The best method of employing them, is to crush the ripe berries, and add thirty percent alcohol to preserve the mass, filtering off a sufficient quantity as required to be dispensed. Or a half pint of rectified whisky may be added to each pint of the crushed berries. The dose may range from one to two fluid ounces three times a day. This saturated tincture is usually combined with a moderate quantity of fluid extract of macrotys or of xanthoxylum, according to the conditions of the case; or, in sub-acute cases, the latter articles may be used by infusion at short intervals, while the phytolacca is used by itself three or four times a day. Some strongly commend the use of one ounce each of the fluid extracts of jeffersonia and macrotys to eight ounces of the above phytolacca tincture, in chronic cases; with the use of such vapor baths and liniments as are desired.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com