By JOHN R. JACKSON, A.L.S.
Curator of Museums, Royal Gardens, Kew.
Perhaps there is no one family of plants having so many species, with such a decided characteristic property running through the whole, as the Malvaceae. Almost all are mucilaginous, and though none of them are officinal in this country, the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis, L.) and the common mallow (Malva sylvestris, L.) are sometimes used by the peasantry in rural districts, a decoction of the leaves of the first being applied for fomentations, and the mucilage with which both this and the common mallow abound being employed as a soothing or softening drink in coughs and bronchial affections. It is, however, chiefly in France that the roots are used to produce a demulcent drink known there as Guimauve.
In tropical or temperate regions, where the species of this Order are found most abundantly, the mucilage and seeds of the several species are used by the natives for various medicinal purposes. Two of the most interesting plants are the ochro (okra) (Hibiscus esculentus, L.) and the musk mallow (H. Abelmoschus, L.) the first interesting on account of its esculent and medicinal properties and uses, and the second principally on account of its seeds being used, to a certain extent, as a substitute for animal musk.
The Ochro, or edible hibiscus, is an annual herbaceous plant, with hairy stems and alternate cordate leaves strongly toothed, and from three to five-lobed. The petals are pale yellow, with a deep crimson base. The capsules or fruits appear to vary much in size according to the country where they are produced. Those we have seen from the East Indies are usually from four to six inches in length and about one inch in diameter at the base, tapering upwards to the apex, while those grown in Venezuela and some other parts of South America, as well as those from South Africa, are not more than two or two and a half inches long and one and a half inches diameter across the centre. They are marked with from five to eight ridges, running longitudinally from the base upwards and corresponding with the number of cells, each ridge forming a valve and partially dehiscing when the fruit is ripe and dry; the small round seeds also becoming loose and shaking in the capsule like a rattle. The plant is a native of the West Indies, but is cultivated extensively in all tropical countries, as well as in the south of France, principally for the sake of its fruit. This is gathered before it is fully ripe and is used as a vegetable, but chiefly for imparting a mucilaginous thickening to soups; it is also used when very young for pickling, like capers. The plant is officinal in India, being considered a valuable emollient and demulcent; the capsules are employed in a decoction, and the Indian Pharmacopoeia gives the following instructions for its preparation:
"Take of the fresh immature capsules, sliced transversely, three ounces; water, a pint and a half. Boil to a pint and strain; sweeten to taste.
"Dose.—From three to six ounces, or ad libitum, as an ordinary drink."
The inhalation of the vapor of the hot decoction has been found very serviceable in allaying cough, hoarseness, irritation of the glottis and other affections of the throat and fauces. The dried capsules may be employed when they are not procurable in a fresh state.
According to the testimony of Dr. Gibson and others, the fresh capsules bruised form an efficient emollient poultice.
The seeds are used in native practice in the preparation of a demulcent drink, corresponding to our use of barley, and the leaves are used for poultices.
The musk mallow (H. Abelmoschus, L = Abelmoschus moschatus, Moench) is also an annual herbaceous plant with irregularly-toothed hastate leaves. The flowers, like those of the former species, are yellow with a crimson base, and are succeeded by an oblong-lanceolate hairy capsule. The plant is a native of the East Indies, but has become naturalized in the West, and is also cultivated in most tropical countries.
Both in the East and West Indies the bruised seeds are used internally and externally as a supposed remedy for snake bites; they have a very strong musky odor, and possess cordial and stomachic properties, and the Arabs mix them with their coffee to give it a perfume. They are also used by perfumers in this country, chiefly, we believe, in the form of powder for sachets, being imported from the West Indies for this purpose.
Both of the above-named plants abound in a strong silky fibre.—Pharm. Journ. and Trans. June 3, 1871.
The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).