Botanical Source and History.—This is a perennial herb, a native of wet, places in Southern California and in the northern part of Mexico . The stem is erect, about a foot high, and bears a close, terminal spike of flowers. Near the middle of the stem is borne a large clasping leaf from the axis of which a few short, slender branches are produced. The leaves are mostly in a radical cluster at the base of the stem; they are from 2 to 4 inches in length, one-half as broad, of a firm, leathery texture, smooth and entire; their outline is oblong, with a cordate base. The leaf-stalks are about the length of the leaf, dilated at the base, and pubescent along the margin. The stem is remarkable for sending out from its base, slender, unbranched stolons, from 3 to 6 feet long. These stolons are of rapid growth, and produce at intervals of about a foot, roots and a cluster of leaves , which in another year become a separate plant. The flowers are small, and borne in a thick, dense spike (spadix), about ail inch in length. At the base of the spadix are about 6 large, petaloid, involucre leaves in the same manner as the flowering dogwood, which give to the entire inflorescence the appearance of a single terminal flower. The flowers are small, and destitute of either corolla or calyx, but are each subtended by a small colored bract. The stamens are about 6, with short filaments, and borne on the ovary. The stigmas are generally 3, spreading, and about as long as the stamens. The ovary is 1-celled, immersed in the spadix, and consolidated with it. The seeds are small, light-brown, and attached to the parietal placentae of the capsule. There is a pungent, disagreeable, somewhat aromatic odor, and a sharp, biting taste, imparted by all parts of the plant, when chewed, followed by a sense of astringency.
History and Description.—The Indians of Southern California, Mexico, and Arizona, according to Dr. Palmer (Amer. Jour. Pharm. , Dec., 1878), employ both the roots and leaves of this plant. Dr. William H. George, of California, first brought the drug to our notice, the root being the part employed. When dried, the roots are of a brown color, wrinkled, from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in diameter, and seem to grow mostly horizontally near the surface of the ground. From 4 to 10 fleshy rootlets spring in a clump from one side of the root at the base of the leaves, and run downward. A strange peculiarity of the lot of roots examined by us, is the presence of numerous grass stalks that pierce and grow through them, sometimes appearing several inches from the place of entrance. Internally, the root is pinkish; and, running lengthwise through it, about midway between the surface and the center, is a ring of course, fibrous, medullary matter. The upper portion of the root is not infrequently brown and half decayed.
Chemical Composition.—The active principles of this root are freely extracted by alcohol; they are, firstly, about 5 per cent of a volatile oil, which is heavier than water, is soluble in ether, alcohol, chloroform, and disulphide of carbon, and possesses the exact odor and taste of the plant. This oil turns blue when agitated with hydrochloric acid. Secondly, a vegetable tannate, which forms a black precipitate with ferrous sulphate. There is no alkaloid, or other body present, worthy of notice (Amer. Jour. Pharm., Jan., 1880).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—This plant was introduced to the profession by Dr. W. H. George, of California. He states that the natives esteem it a panacea far excelling the Yerba santa, and successfully employ it in all malarial fevers, in diarrhoea, and in dysentery (Eclectic Med. Jour., 1877, p. 238). In a letter to Prof. King, he observes that the natives frequently carry the root with them, chewing it and swallowing the juice, and consider it a certain remedy for cough and pulmonary affections. They likewise employ a strong infusion of it as an efficacious local application to saddle and collar galls on horses. Dr. George considers it a stimulant tonic, astringent, carminative, and anti-emetic. He has successfully employed it in gonorrhoea with profuse discharge, and thinks it equal to cubebs in this disease, and more pleasant to take. Prof. King has tried it in one case of gonorrhoea, and in several cases of bronchial cough, with favorable results. The dose of the fluid extract is from 10 to 60 minims, in syrup, repeated every 3 or 4 hours.
Related Species.—Saururus cernuus, Linné. Nat. Ord., Saururaceae. A common perennial known as Lizard's tail, found in swampy grounds in North America. Whitish flowers, borne upon a slender spike, recurved at the top; fruit fleshy and berry-like. The plant has a sub-acrid taste and a disagreeable, aromatic odor. Its constituents have not been determined. The decoction is freely used in irritative disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract and urinary apparatus, particularly strangury. As a poultice the root has been applied to painful inflammatory swellings and to various kinds of abscess.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.