BY JOHN M. MAISCH.
In 1876 ("Proceedings Amer. Phar. Assoc." 1876, p. 661) Mr. Wm. Saunders directed attention to a root of which large quantities were then in the market, and which was sold as senega, but was deficient in acridity. In endeavoring to ascertain its origin, I was able to trace one lot of it to Greene county, Mo., where it was said to have been collected ("Amer. Jour. Phar.," 1877, p. 517), but did not succeed in obtaining either specimens of the root collected in that locality or of the plant. My attempts to solve the question, with the aid of several pharmacists near the locality named, were likewise unsuccessful. In the meantime the drug continued to appear in the market, and on inquiry it was usually said to have come from Texas, or another of our Southern States.
The same root has likewise been noticed in Europe; among others, it was described by Mr. Thos. Greenish ("Amer. Jour. Phar.," 1878, p. 522), who regarded it as young and immature senega, a conclusion which did not agree with my observation (Nat. Dispensatory, 1st edit. p. 1251; 2d edit., 1286). E. Siebert ("Amer. Jour. Phar." 1880 p. 469) suggested that this false senega might be derived from one of the numerous Central American species of Polygala.
Recently Dr. J. H. Gunn, of Calera, Ala., sent to the editor of "New Remedies" a plant which had been successfully used in place of senega, and this plant was recognized as Polygala Boykinii, Nuttall ("New Remedies" July, 1881, p. 208). (See http://www.swsbm.com/AJP/AJP_1889_No_9.pdf, where it was finally established that the main "False Senega" was Senega alba.—MM) No allusion having been made to the character of its root, I applied to Dr. Gunn for a specimen of the plant, with root, and was kindly supplied by him. The root closely resembles senega root, but is entirely destitute of the keel-like line of the latter, and in all its parts has a woody column circular upon transverse section. On comparing the root with the specimens of false senega in my collection they proved to be identical, and the microscopic structure agrees with that previously described by Thos, Greenish, and more recently by Geo. Goebel, Jr. (see last number, p. 321).
Dr. Gunn writes that the plant was brought to his attention a few years ago by an irregular practitioner, who thought it was Polygala senega, and who has been quite successful in treating chronic bronchitis with it in compound infusion.
The plant is one of the herbaceous perennial species of Polygala. Several slender stems are produced from the same root, and rise to the height of 12 or 18 inches without branching. The leaves are in whorls of about five, attain a length of about an inch, and vary between lanceolate and obovate in shape, the upper ones being even linear and sometimes alternate. The flowers are in terminal, slender, rather dense spikes, and are of a whitish color, with roundish, partly green wings. The seeds are hairy and have a caruncle of about two-thirds the length of the seed. The plant flowers from May or June to July or August, and grows in rich calcareous soil in Georgia and Florida and westward.
It would be of interest to examine the roots of the other perennial species of Polygala of our Southern and Southwestern States, to ascertain whether, in appearance and properties, they likewise resemble senega. Although the root of Pol. Boykinii undoubtedly possesses remedial properties, it is milder than true senega, and cannot be regarded as an equally efficient substitute for it.
The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 53, 1881, was edited by John M. Maisch.