Natural Order Ranunculaceae, Tribe Helleboreae.
BOTANICAL ANALYSIS.—Rhizome knotted, horizontal, with fibrous roots. Stem, from six to twelve inches high when in flower, about a foot high when mature; erect, round, sparingly hairy, with short, somewhat appressed hairs; surrounded at the base with two or three yellowish scales. Leaves, two, alternate, roundish-cordate, five or seven palmately lobed, veiny; margins, doubly serrate: Lower leaf, the larger, on a petiole one to two inches long; upper leaf, sessile. Flower solitary, erect, terminal, on a peduncle from a half to an inch long. Sepals from two to four, generally three, round, concave, greenish white, caducous. Petals none. Stamens numerous, spreading; filaments thickened upward, white; anthers adnate, dehiscing longitudinally. Pistils, ten to twenty, in a head; ovaries one-celled, two-ovuled. Fruit, a head of fleshy carpels, each containing one or two small, black, hard seeds.
COMMON NAMES.—The Pharmacopoeia (1880) has adopted, and we think wisely, Golden Seal as the common name for this plant. In commerce the drug is known either as Golden Seal or Yellow Root. The name Golden Seal is very applicable to the plant, and has reference to the seal-like scars on the rhizome, and its golden or yellow color. The term was introduced by the Thompsonians, and is largely used by the drug trade, especially by Eclectic houses. Yellow Root is also applicable, and is also a common name for the plant in commerce. Unfortunately, however, it has been applied to several other plants. One of them, Xanthorrhiza apiifolia, is an article of commerce under the name. On this account it would be better if the name Yellow Root, as applied to Hydrastis, should be discontinued in favor of the Pharmacopoeial name. In addition to these two names, a number of local names have been given the plant. In botanical works it is usually called Orange Root or Yellow Puccoon. When in fruit the plant resembles an herbaceous Rubus, and hence is called Ground Raspberry. It was formerly reputed valuable as an eye-wash, and in old works the name Eye-balm and Eye-root are given to it. From the yellow coloring matter, and the fact that it was used as a yellow stain by the Indians, it has received the names Indian Paint, Yellow Paint, Indian Dye, Golden Root, Indian Turmeric, Wild Turmeric, Curcuma, Ohio Curcuma, Wild Curcuma (spelled in old works Kurkuma), Jaundice Root and Yellow Eye.
BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—Hydrastis grows in patches in rich, open, hilly woods. The stem is produced from a terminal bud of the perennial rhizome. Its growth is very rapid: a week or ten days' continuance of warm weather in May is sufficient for it to grow six inches high and to expand its flower. At the base the stem is surrounded by a few yellow bud-scales, and the color of the underground portion of the stern, and for about an inch above the ground, is light yellow.
In a patch of Hydrastis will be found, in about an equal number, two kinds of sterns, sterile and fertile. The sterile stems bear only a terminal peltate leaf. In reality these sterile stems are radical leaves, with the articulation at the base of the petiole.
The fertile stem is from six inches to a foot high at flowering time, round, erect, and about an eighth of an inch in diameter. It is naked below, and at the top apparently forks, one branch bearing a leaf, the other a smaller leaf and a flower. In fact, the stem bears two alternate [The alternate arrangement of the leaves is clearly indicated by the articulation. Plants are also occasionally found with three leaves, all alternate. A three-leaved specimen, sent us by R. H. Wildberger, has the two lower leaves of the usual size and position, the third a small, sessile leaf, placed about halfway between the flower and middle leaf, and at an angle with both the other leaves.] leaves and a terminal flower, the lower leaf on a stalk about two inches long, and the upper leaf sessile at the base of the flower stem.
The leaves at flowering time are only partly developed: the lower is larger, measuring from two to three inches in diameter; the upper, which is about half as large, encloses the flower in the bud, and is generally but partially unfolded when the flower opens. After the plant has flowered, the leaves grow to be six to eight inches in diameter. In shape they are roundish cordate, and have five to seven palmate lobes. The veins are very prominent on the lower side of the leaf.
The flowers are small, white, and last but a few days. A patch of Hydrastis will not remain in blossom longer than a week or ten days. The sepals are only seen in the bud, as they are caducous, falling away when the flower expands. The numerous stamens have white filaments, and they are the most conspicuous part of the flower.
The fruit ripens in July, turning from green to bright red.
The color is of a very rich shade, and is that which is known to artists as crimson lake. It is borne on an erect stalk, about an inch long. In shape it resembles a large red raspberry, with coarse drupes. Botanically it is an etaerio, viz.: a fruit consisting of several drupes aggregated together. Each fruit consists of from eight to twelve drupes. The drupes contain two, or, by abortion, one, round, black, shining seed, imbedded in a white pulp, which has a sweetish taste. Some of the drupes are generally entirely abortive, and some much more developed than others, giving the fruit an irregular appearance that is not sufficiently shown in our cut (Fig. 28), which was drawn from a very perfect fruit.
BOTANICAL HISTORY.—At the time Linnaeus published the first edition of his Species Plantarum (1753), he was acquainted only with the leaves of the plant, [These specimens of Hydrastis leaves are still preserved in the Linnaean Herbarium. They were most likely given to Linnaeus by Peter Kalm, the Swedish naturalist, who traveled three years (1749-51) in this country. On the sheet containing the specimens, Linnaeus has written: "Hydrophyllum verum canadense, cujus flores non videt.—P. Kalm." In this connection it is a little singular that Kalm makes no mention of the plant in his works. He was an excellent observer, and had he known any economic use for the plant, would have no doubt recorded it. At Philadelphia, the only part of his journey where he could have met the plant, it is very rare, and was probably not brought direct to his attention.] and from their resemblance to the leaves of Hydrophyllum, he supposed it to belong to this genus, and called it "Hydrophyllum verum canadense."
A flowering plant of Hydrastis [This specimen, which in the Linnaean Herbarium has no mark to indicate from what source it was obtained, was probably given to Linnaeus by John Ellis, who had many American correspondents. The specimen is a small flowering plant, broken off about three inches below the leaf, and is merely marked "Hydrastis," in Linnaeus' handwriting. That Ellis was the donor of the specimen, we think is probable, because Linnaeus gives the generic name, with Ellis as authority, though Ellis had never published any description of the plant.] was obtained by Linnaeus a few years later, and in 1759 he described the genus in Systema Naturale (Ed. 10, 1759), giving it the name Hydrastis, [The derivation of this name is usually ascribed to the Greek words υδωρ, water, and δμαω, to act, in allusion to the medical action of the drug on the mucous membranes. This is, we think an error, for probably neither Linnaeus nor Ellis was aware of its medical action. It is probable that Ellis gave this name from what he supposed was its natural situation, from υδρεια, an imbibing of water. Hydrastis is erroneously described as a bog plant in several old English works; and these statements are probably the cause of Prof. Wood, in as late a work as his Class-Book, giving its habitat as "bog meadows."] and Ellis as authority for the name.
In the same year (1759), Miller published a good colored figure of the plant, stating, "This plant has been lately introduced from North America by the title of Yellow Root, and the character of its flower and fruit being different from those of all the established Genera of Plants, I have given it the name of Warneria, [This plate and name of Miller's was probably not seen by Linnaeus until after the publication of the second edition of his Species Plantarum (1762). In Linnaeus's private copy of this work, he has written on the interleaf opposite Hydrastis, "Warnera Mill. ic. 130, t. 285."] in honor to Richard Warner, Esq., of Woodford, in Essex, who is a very curious botanist, and a great collector of rare plants."
The name Warneria, given to the plant by Miller, was only adopted, as far as we can learn, by Jussieu, who changed it to Warnera. That it should not have been generally adopted is, we think, a matter of regret, as it was published the same year as Linnaeus' name, and was accompanied with a picture, and also a very accurate description of the plant.
GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.—The area of country over which Hydrastis grows abundantly enough to be a commercial source of the drug, is extremely limited. In but four States, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, can it be profitably collected. Cincinnati is nearly the geographical center of this area, and the supply of the drug once reached the market through this city. In extreme southern Illinois, southern Missouri, northern Arkansas and central and western Tennessee, there are occasionally localities where the plant is common, but they are hardly of sufficient extent to yield any amount of the drug.
Throughout most of Illinois, northern Indiana, southern Michigan, the southern peninsula of Ontario, and near the base and along ravines of the Allegheny Mountains, the plant is found, but is scarce.
In Pennsylvania and western New York it is sometimes reported, but on every occasion as being extremely rare; and its discovery in most any section of these States is considered a matter of considerable botanical interest.
The plant grows in patches, generally on a hillside, in rich, open woods, where the leaf mould is abundant. It does not grow naturally in prairie countries, sterile soil, or swampy situations. [The habitat in Wood's Class-Book, "bog meadows," is incorrect.]
Hydrastis has no power to adapt itself to altered conditions of growth. Cultivating the land is sure to exterminate it at once, and even cutting off the trees will cause it to disappear in a few years. It is the common report from all botanists that the plant is becoming scarcer every year. In many places where it formerly grew abundant, it is now reported rare.
DESCRIPTION OF THE RHIZOME.—The fresh, full-grown rhizome (see Plate VIII) is from one and a half to two and a half inches in length, and from one-fourth to three fourths of an inch in diameter. It usually subdivides when it reaches a length of from one and a half to two inches in length, and not unfrequently forms knotty clumps. When dry the diameter is from one-eighth to one-third of an inch. The color of the fresh rhizome, both internally and externally, is bright yellow, and the plant could be easily recognized by the bright color of the rhizome. The weight of the fresh rhizome, with attached roots, averages from eighty to one hundred and seventy-five grains, and we found that one hundred and sixty-six parts after drying gave forty-six parts. There is considerably more loss of weight by drying if the root is collected while the plant is succulent and growing, than there is after the fruit has ripened.
The dried rhizome is knotty, contorted, rough externally, of a dull brown color, and considerable soil usually adheres to that which appears in commerce. The young dried rhizome is usually marked by little ridge-like rings, from the sixteenth to the eighth of an inch apart. If it is gathered in the spring of the year, after the plant has commenced to grow, it shrivels in drying, and will be wrinkled longitudinally. Upon the upper side of the growing rhizome, near the stem, several cup-like projections are usually to be found, and these mark the positions occupied by former annual stems. These give the plant the name Golden Seal. The herbaceous stems are articulated to the rhizome, and easily broken off; hence remnants of the stems are seldom found attached to commercial hydrastis, and after the third or fourth year the scar (seal) often becomes indistinct. After four to six years' growth the rhizome gradually decays at one extremity as fast as it grows at the other, and hence a great age is not accompanied by a proportional increase of size.
The recent rhizome is thickly studded with fibrous roots which are sparingly distributed upon the upper surface, but abundantly upon the sides and lower part. These subdivide repeatedly, and when dry they vary in size from the twentieth to the fortieth of an inch, but when fresh are twice as large. The fresh fibers are from three to six inches in length, and are so brittle when dry that as found in commerce the rhizome is often nearly naked.
A transverse section of the rhizome shows that the central ligneous portion of the roots have their origin about one-third the distance from the surface of the rhizome. When fresh their structure is scarcely visible, but upon drying, the surrounding portions of the rhizome assume a hard, resinous appearance, and bright yellow aggregations are deposited upon the woody fibers.
The fresh rhizome contains an abundance of a bright yellow juice, which sometimes, in drying, assumes an orange-yellow color, and by concentration in certain places near the center of the root, occasionally imparts a reddish hue to the central part of the dried root. Usually, however, the fracture of a dry young root is golden or lemon yellow, and that of the old ones of a decided greenish yellow. When the dried rhizome is kept from season to season, it gradually changes internally to brown, or greenish-brown. This alteration commences at the surface and creeps inward, until after some years, by this form of decay, the yellow principles will have nearly perished, and the drug will have become proportionately of less value.
If dried hydrastis is soaked in cold water, after some hours both the rhizome and roots resume near their natural size and fresh appearance. The freshly broken, dried drug presents a mealy appearance, and upon being magnified a few diameters this surface resembles broken yellow beeswax.
The odor of powdered or crushed hydrastis is peculiar and persistent, adhering for hours to the hands or the clothing of workmen who handle it in quantities. [Our experience is that after twelve hours have passed it will adhere to our clothing so noticeably as to he unpleasant to members of our family.] All parts are bitter, and also impart, when chewed, a persistently acrid, irritating sensation, which is entirely distinct from true bitterness and the principle that produces the acridity occasions an abundant flow of saliva.
Rhizome.—The cork upon the outside of the rhizome is composed of from four to eight rows of thin-walled, tabular cells, of a dark brown color, with broken and irregular walls, the outer edge of the cells frequently being darker than the inner. The green layer of the bark is composed of from twelve to fifteen rows of oval, clear white, thin-walled cells of parenchyma, loaded with starch grains, chlorophyll bodies, oil and protoplasm. The corners of these cells are thickened, leaving many little open spaces between the cells. The liber layer of the bark is very similar to the green layer, only that the cells are more compressed, fitting into each other so closely as to leave no intercellular spaces.
The cambium is composed of several rows of brick-shaped or tabular cells, separating the bark from the wood. They are clear white, with exceedingly thin walls, and contain only protoplasm.
The medullary rays are quite wide, and composed of a number of rows of parenchymatous cells, stronger and thicker walled than the cambium cells, and loaded with starch grains.
The pith has the usual appearance of large, hexagonal cells of parenchyma, loaded with starch grains.
The woody bundles between the medullary rays, the cambium and the pith, are not fully developed. There are a few small reticulated cells, with pointed ends, and surrounded with a small amount of prosenchyma and considerable parenchyma. The reticulated cells have quite thick walls, and are not parallel with the surface of the rhizome; so it is quite difficult to obtain a good longitudinal section of them. The prosenchyma is in clusters around the reticulated cells, and is of a bright yellow color.
Starch Grains.—Every part of the rhizome, excepting the cork and woody bundles, is loaded with minute starch grains. These are nearly round, with no distinct rings or nucleus, and about 1-4000 of an inch in diameter. Occasionally they are found in groups of three, like the starch grains of sarsaparilla.
Root.—In the center of the root is the woody bundle. It is not perfectly developed, and often four clusters of reticulated cells are placed equal distances from each other. At the very center is found a small amount of wood parenchyma. The cells of prosenchyma found in the woody bundle are short and with thin walls. Surrounding the woody bundle is a single row of parenchymatous cells, with frequently the inner wall thickened like stone cells. This row is slightly tinged with yellow, and closely resembles the nucleus sheath of monocotyledonous roots.
The principle bulk of the root is found outside of the woody bundle, and is composed of simple parenchyma loaded with starch grains. This tissue occupies fully four-fifths of the entire root. On the outside of this parenchyma and surrounding the entire root, are two or three layers of dark brown, brittle, empty cells, closely resembling the cork cells of the rhizome.
All parts of the root, excepting the woody bundle and epidermal-like cells, are equally loaded with starch grains similar to those of the rhizome.
COMMERCIAL HISTORY.—The Early Record.—Tradition teaches that hydrastis was valued by the North American Indians for a dye stuff, as well as in the treatment of disease. This is accepted by early American writers, and the rich color of its yellow juice renders the statement scarcely questionable, when we consider the value that our aborigines placed on bright colors. It is not always easy to establish authentic support for these accepted traditions, and we have therefore been to considerable trouble in searching the records, in order to discover a commercial value for hydrastis among the natives of America. This we are enabled to present as follows: Mr. Hugh Martin read a paper, October 4th, 1782, before the American Philosophical Society, entitled "An Account of some of the principal Dyes employed by the North American Indians." This paper was published in the transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1793, p. 224), from which we reproduce as follows:
"The Indians dye their bright yellow with the root of a plant which might very well be called radix flava americana. This root is generally from one to three inches long, and about one-half an inch in diameter, and sends out a great number of small filaments in every direction excepting upward; these filaments are as yellow as the body of the root itself. From the root there grows up a stalk about a foot from the ground, and at the top is one broad leaf. [It is only the sterile stems that have solitary leaves. Those that bear fruit always have two leaves. Mr. Martin is a little confused in his statement.—L.] A red berry, in shape and size resembling a raspberry, but of a deeper red, grows on the top of the leaf. This berry is ripe in July."
From the time of the Indians until a demand was created for hydrastis by the Eclectics, it was scarcely an article of commerce, but about 1847 (see Medical History and Uses) it became an important drug with those who supplied the medicines known as Eclectic remedies.
In viewing the commercial history of hydrastis, we find that it was scarcer and more expensive in its early day than afterward. The explanation is of interest, as other American drugs are usually found to have similar records. This was owing to the fact that botanists were few, and that there was comparatively little demand for American drugs. In consequence, it became necessary that a higher priced labor should procure the drug at that day than is engaged in its collection at present. Therefore, notwithstanding its abundance and the limited demand as compared with the present day, hydrastis was formerly more expensive than now.
Variation in Supply.—Cincinnati, at that day, was the source of supply for the country, as indeed it largely is at present. When crops are abundant and money plentiful, fewer persons engage in the collection of herbs than during seasons of a failure in produce, or in hard times. In consequence of this fact, the price of hydrastis tends to be greater when the commercial interests of the country are prospering, rather than when there is a depression in trade. This alone will not, however, account for the variation in price as witnessed during the past fifteen years. It is true of hydrastis as with many other of our indigenous drugs, that occasionally, and without any apparent reason, the supplies will be consumed at a season of the year when it is impossible to replace them. This creates an immediate increase in price, and an unwarranted valuation will be temporarily affixed to the drug by those who are compelled to have it. This fictitious price stimulates many persons to collect it who would not do so under other circumstances. The result is that after a few seasons the stock of the country is more than replaced, after which the market becomes glutted. It requires months to make this fact known to the root diggers, and as a consequence they often have a quantity of the drug left on their hands. This they must then dispose of on a market in which there is really no demand, and prices fall to less than the cost of collection. Then the collectors turn their attention to other substances, the hydrastis stocks of the country are gradually consumed, and prices are quiet and regular, until finally it is found that the supply is again exhausted, when "history repeats itself."
The foregoing record may be modified by circumstances of a local nature, such as the opening of a railroad through a new country; and in one case we know the market to have been temporarily (locally) glutted with hydrastis from this reason.
It will therefore be seen that with hydrastis the periods of abundance in market are not necessarily connected with the season's influence on the growth of the drug, although a long, wet autumn favors its collection. Indeed, this plant is of slow growth, and the question of its supply in market does not seem to be dependent on a favorable season.
Fluctuations in Price.—In arriving at the statistics herein tabulated, we must call attention to the fact that little dependence can be placed on old commercial prices currents. [In the early days hydrastis was mostly in demand by physicians who carried their own drugs, and hence it was not named in regular drug lists.] Persons familiar with indigenous drugs will recognize the fact that list prices to the consumers of these drugs are not altered, unless some unusual reason exists for making a change. [The writer has known some of these drugs to be sold for less than cost, rather than change the price temporarily.] Therefore we shall give this record from information furnished us by dealers in the drug and our own experience.
About 1844, Mr. Joseph West was a member of the Shaker village near Lebanon, Ohio. He distinctly recalls the early commercial history of the drug, and supports his evidence with figures that give the commercial value of hydrastis between the years 1844 and 1850 at 31.00 per pound. Dr. T. C. Thorp, of Cincinnati, an early dealer in indigenous drugs, corroborates him in these particulars; and we are thus enabled to show that at first hydrastis commanded a very much higher price than it has at any subsequent day. [There is little use to search elsewhere than about Cincinnati for a record of this drug from first hands at that period. Then Cincinnati was the headquarters for American drugs, and hydrastis especially came into market almost entirely from this city.]
The first demand was supplied at a price of 31.00 per pound, and from that the drug fell to forty cents, and afterward to twenty-five cents. It sold at 31.00 in 1849. [Mr. West writes us, "Prior to 1846, we dug and sold golden seal root at 31.00 per pound."]
In continuing the commercial history, we find that it declined in price until it reached this valuation of about twenty-five cents per pound, which may be said to have been the average price between the period of its fictitious valuation in the early day, and the close of the war. [Dr. Thorp states that during the war there was a market for all the hydrastis that came into Cincinnati at 25 cents. There was a scarcity in 1867 and 1868, the prices being 50 cents (1867) and 40 cents (1868), as shown by sales of Mr. West; but this was simply one of the periods of scarcity to which we refer elsewhere.]
After the war the depression in trade that followed caused hydrastis to further decline, until its ruling price was from twelve to fifteen cents, and finally the price paid to the collector was only about eight cents. This did not repay the labor of collection, even to the class of people who dig roots, and the drug nearly ceased coming into market. [From 200 to 250 roots of dry hydrastis are required to make one pound, and after paying commissions it can bring but a trifle to the digger at six cents. In our pamphlet of 1878, entitled "Berberidaceae of North America," we describe the people who gather the May-apple, and as the same class gathers hydrastis, we reproduce a portion of that description: "Large amounts from the mountainous and hilly parts of Kentucky and Virginia reach this (Cincinnati) market, from whence it is often shipped in quantities to eastern and other cities. It is gathered by the poorer classes, and regions of country not adapted to cultivation usually furnish the supply. The 'diggers' carry it to the nearest country store and exchange it for groceries and goods. The storekeeper in time accumulates a sufficient amount, sometimes several tons, and consigns the lot to a commission merchant or drug-broker, who disposes of it to manufacturing pharmacists or wholesale druggists. It is usually poorly washed, and is mixed with foreign substances such as trash, dirt, and varieties of other roots; large amounts are shriveled and worthless, being gathered out of season. Such a state of affairs results from the extremely low price of the article; and when we take into consideration the fact that it has paid two commissions and been transferred a hundred miles or more, we can not wonder that the poor digger is careless, or, that the 'root and herb gatherers' are the most distressed of our population."] In the winter of 1867 and 1868 a general demand arose, for it was found that the stocks were exhausted and could not be replaced. (Hydrastis should not be gathered before the fruit turns red. After this occurs the plant quickly dies to the ground, especially during a dry season, and soon every vestige of it disappears. Thus it is that when the stock of the country is exhausted, it can not be replaced before the next season.) Then an advance followed, and collectors were paid as high as twenty-two cents for a limited period, and in some instances fifty cents (1867) and forty cents (1868). [The house with which the writer is connected was compelled to pay more than double their customary price for some thousands of pounds that had been sent from our city to New York, and we had to freight it back again.] Prices afterward gradually returned to their normal condition, and in 1879 the market was glutted and the warerooms were overflowing. At this period the price became so depressed that commission houses were glad to dispose of the drug for six and eight cents per pound; and we recall one lot of eight thousand pounds that sold in Cincinnati in 1880 at four cents. [This lot sold, in 1882, for thirty cents in New York, and part of it, we are informed, returned to Cincinnati at a higher figure.]
All collection of hydrastis had now ceased, and in 1881 many parties were found without a supply sufficient to carry them to the next season, and that year the memorable drouth that extended over the entire section of our hydrastis producing country rendered its replacement impossible. [Members of the American Pharmaceutical Association will remember this drouth. It was the year the Association met at Kansas City, and the journey over the parched plains of what is usually a rich, verdant country will not soon be forgotten by those who made the trip.] During the winter of 1881 and 1882 hydrastis, in consequence of these combinations, advanced to a figure above anything that it has occupied since 1856, and the crude root sold in lots, when it was attainable, at from thirty-five to fifty cents per pound. The price in a small way was higher, and we recall several sales of from twenty-five to fifty pounds each of powdered hydrastis that commanded seventy-five cents. [The question was not, What is it worth? but, Can you spare any? It must be remembered that the stocks in market really had cost but from six to eight cents, and a price of even twenty-five cents seemed exorbitant. However, these could not be replaced at the old figure for some time.] One stock of twenty thousand pounds was entirely disposed of for not less than thirty cents. During this hydrastis famine consumers resorted to every available method to procure it. Advertisements were placed in the country papers, and even religious newspapers were used to reach the collectors; but of course there was no immediate return, because the drug could not be found and collected in the winter season. The collectors of 1882 received from twenty-two to twenty-five cents at first, but eventually the price fell to fifteen and eighteen cents. Notwithstanding the stimulus of these figures, only an average supply was obtained, for with the entire stock of the country exhausted, it was impossible to more than replace it in one season, and the dealers in hydrastis were glad to get it in 1883. [It must be remembered that one season will not inform all the root diggers that a drug is in demand. Many of them live in mountainous countries, and it is not unusual for them to learn of a demand, then turn their attention to collecting the drug, and finally bring it to market when the demand is over.] Even now (1884) the price is firm at figures that really are higher than usual. However, the drug is freely coming into market, the small avenues of supply are running into the main channels, and it is not impossible that there will be another surfeit before many seasons. [In this connection we must not overlook the fact that liberal advertisements of preparations of hydrastis have had a tendency to create an unusual demand during the past three years. There is no doubt that more hydrastis is now being consumed than ever before.]
The Supply of Hydrastis.—By referring to our map (Plate IX.) it will be seen that comparatively a small section of country produces hydrastis in quantities sufficient for collection. Of this portion, a few narrow channels really produce all the drug of the market. The main source of supply is the country bordering on the Big Sandy river, and the adjacent mountainous portions of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, Southeastern Ohio, where the country is hilly and broken, also contributes, but not as largely as the portions mentioned of Kentucky and West Virginia. It will be seen that these sections of country are tributary to the Ohio river, and naturally the drug collects in the country stores along the Ohio valley, and eventually much of it arrives in the Cincinnati market by shipment down the river, although some is retained in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Considerable amounts now reach the eastern cities via the Baltimore & Ohio Railway, and since the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad through the mountains of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, a portion of it passes to the seaboard by that line, which also, by means of its connections with the northeastern part of North Carolina, brings to that market a limited supply from the Allegheny Mountains, in the northeastern part of that State. It is estimated by Mr. George Merrell, that of the hydrastis which would ten years ago have all drifted to Cincinnati, but three-fifths now appears in this market, the remainder reaching eastern cities.
The Ohio & Mississippi Railway and the Ohio river carry the hydrastis from southern Indiana (yearly diminishing in amount) to either Cincinnati or St. Louis, although the latter city receives in all but little of the drug.
The sections of country that we have mentioned supply the hydrastis of the world. If the real collecting portions of these States could be placed together, we doubt if the space would occupy more room on our map than the size of the thumb nail. Of course limited amounts occasionally appear in other sections, but these are unimportant and spasmodic. We have consulted every prominent dealer or collector in American drugs in the hydrastis section of the country, and have corresponded with the wholesale druggists in each city within and adjacent to the territory. We think that we have recognized every avenue that brings this drug to market, and every section that produces it for market.
The Past and Present Supply.—By consulting our map (Plate IX.), it will be seen that only a small area of country can yield the drug in amounts sufficient to repay collection at present prices, and of this section of country but a limited portion actually contributes any of it to the market. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the plant will not disappear over sections that have never yielded the drug. Hydrastis is so sensitive that even a partial destruction of the timber causes it to shrink away, and one turn of the soil by the plow blots it from existence. If it were like Podophyllum, and content to thrive in woodland pastures, the future would be brighter; as it is, each year witnesses a shrinkage in area and a loss to the world (without economic return) of this peculiarly interesting American plant. It has nearly vanished from the rich hillsides bordering the Ohio river, and is no longer found in quantity in the populated sections of our valley. The more inaccessible portions of broken hillsides must now be drawn upon, and in this view of the matter we find a second in Mr. George Merrell, [Mr. Merrell is a son of the late Wm. S. Merrell, who really introduced hydrastis as a drug into commerce. Mr. Merrell is now the moving spirit of the firm that is the heaviest consumers of hydrastis in the world, and his statistics are particularly valuable.] who writes us as follows:
"I think the root is becoming scarce, being gathered now, I am told, in small quantities, in isolated places here and there, where in former years it was found growing more like we have seen Podophyllum, in large patches."
In this particular we agree with Mr. Merrell, and from the foregoing view only of the matter we would readily decide that the drug would drop out of market in a moderately near period; however, there is another side of the case.
The mountainous sections of the States we have named can never be cultivated, and they are peopled by a class of inhabitants who barely exist, and who are perfectly content if they only exist. These persons have few expenses, and depend mainly upon the game of their forests and the ginseng and other marketable drugs of their hillsides. The game is becoming extinct, but the nearly inaccessible mountain sides are covered with the virgin forests, and excepting ginseng, with the original luxuriant vegetation and undergrowth. These people are doubtless now turning their attention more directly to our native drugs than ever before, and although the mountainous territory that yields hydrastis is small compared with the United States, it covers considerable area. Over this country these inhabitants and their descendants will ever wander and eke out their existence. [Apparently in a miserable condition, in reality happy and contented. To pass through these sections of country is to have our sympathies excited, and unnecessarily. These people ask only to be left to themselves and their mountains.] They may dig hydrastis for many decades without exhausting it, for to dig a patch is to leave enough to reproduce itself. They will not have the aid of the plowshare, as was the case when the drug disappeared from the now cultivated Ohio Valley hillsides; and unless some unusual demand springs up, it is not unreasonable to argue that hydrastis will continue in market as plentiful and as cheap as at present for a generation, perhaps generations to come. This argument is supported by the fact that since the introduction of the drug it has decreased steadily in price, and excepting the periodical scarcity we have mentioned (see Fluctuations in Price, p. 90), there has been an abundance of it. The fact that large lots were a drug on the market in 1879, and sold at less than cost of collection (we doubt if any instance preceding 1879 can be shown where as much as 20,000 pounds sold for from four to eight cents), would seem to indicate that the decrease in area is not necessarily accompanied by a decreased supply. The fact is, that the large territory once rich in hydrastis, and now depleted, furnished but a small amount of the drug. The timber was chopped and the underbrush cleared away, without any return. Only here and there did a "root digger" ply his vocation, and great, rich sections of our country, from which the plant is now nearly exterminated, have never furnished a pound of the drug.
Consumption of Hydrastis.—It is usually difficult to arrive at an exact statement regarding the consumption of a drug, but, thanks to dealers and the liberal spirit of manufacturing pharmacists, we are enabled to present statistics that are certainly not far from correct.
The total yearly production of hydrastis will not vary much from 140,000 or 150,000 pounds. We had estimated 140,000 pounds, from statistics furnished by first hands for the drug, and Mr. Geo. Merrell places it at near 150,000.
Of this amount, from 25,000 to 28,000 pounds are annually consumed in making the alkaloids, and the remainder is retailed, powdered, made into pharmaceutical preparations, and exported. It is used in some proprietary medicines, one notably consuming considerable amounts.
Export of Hydrastis.—There is some demand for hydrastis in Europe, although but few of our drug brokers have any European trade in it. From statistics kindly furnished us by exporters, we find that 15,000 pounds were exported in the fall of 1883, but that the foreign consumption is spasmodic. Some of our most prominent jobbers and brokers state that they have never had a call for it from Europe, while others report yearly shipments of from 200 to 1,000 pounds. The demand seems to chiefly come from manufacturing chemists, makers of proximate principles of plants, rather than from those who supply physicians, and we can not find that the drug has been long used in any amount as a remedy in European medicine. During the past year a few contributions to the medical press of Germany and other European countries have directed attention to hydrastis, but the demand that has followed it has, according to our record, mainly been for the fluid extract or proximate principles.
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Drugs and Medicines of North America, 1884-1887, was written by John Uri Lloyd and Curtis G. Lloyd.