The root of Apocynum cannabinum, Linné, (Apocynum hypericifolium, Aiton), gathered in autumn after the leaves and fruit have matured.
COMMON NAMES: Canadian hemp, Bitter root, Indian hemp.
ILLUSTRATION: (See King's American Dispensatory, 8th ed., p. 114).
Botanical Source and History.—This is an erect, branching plant, from 2 to 4 feet high, which is found growing throughout the United States, on the borders of fields and in similar localities. The stem is covered with a strong fibrous bark, which is green when the plant grows in the shade, and of a reddish-brown color when in sunny localities, in which situations the plant is usually found. The fibrous bark was used by the Indians, and on this account, the name Indian hemp has been applied to this plant; but it is a bad term, as it has led to much confusion, from the fact that this is the common name for several other plants. The plant should never be designated by this name. The entire plant exudes a milky juice when wounded. The leaves are opposite, and attached to the stem at an acute angle. They exhibit considerable diversity of shape in plants that grow in different localities, and form several well-marked varieties; presenting, in the different varieties, modifications in outline from oblong to oval, with the bases of the leaves acute or subcordate. The most common form has oblong-lanceolate, veiny, entire leaves, on leaf-stalks, about 1/4 of an inch long, and end in a short, mucronate point. The flowers are small, numerous, and in close, peduncled, flat cymes, which are shorter than the lateral branches. The calyx is small, with 5 narrow, sharp lobes; the corolla is 5-parted, with erect lobes, white or pale-red color, and but a little longer than the calyx. The stamens are 5, small, distinct, and included. The pistil has 2 ovaries covered by 2 united, sessile, fleshy stigmas. The fruit, which is produced by only a few of the flowers, consists of a pair of slender, diverging pods, containing numerous small seed, which are furnished with a bunch of silky, white hair at the apex (see Fig. 27). This plant, also erroneously called Bowman's root in Kentucky and some other sections of country, is indigenous, inhabiting the same locations and blossoming in the same months as the A. androsaemifolium. It is replete with a lactescent juice, which becomes hard, like opium, under exposure to the air. The bark of the stem, when dry, from its fibrous, cohesive nature, is a superior article in the manufacture of rope, giving a white, strong, and durable production. A permanent brown or black dye, according to the mordant used, is obtained from a decoction of the plant.
The root of the plant is gathered by diggers and thrown upon the market under the names, bitter root, or Indian hemp. It is not to them known as the true Apocynum cannabinum, few of the diggers being aware that two species exist. Some writers have supposed that the roots of A. cannabinum and A. androsaemifolium are not to be distinguished from each other. Doubtless, such assertions have been made after having compared the roots sold upon the market under the foregoing names, in which case they are usually identical, being in almost every instance, obtained from the Apocynum cannabinum. There is, however, a marked difference both in the external appearance and the internal constitution of these two roots, and those who have compared authentic specimens can distinguish the two at a glance.
Description.—The root of A. cannabinum, gathered in the autumn and dried, is about 1/3 of an inch in diameter, wrinkled longitudinally, and marked by occasional transverse fractures through the bark, which show the white central portion. It consists of a bark, externally ash-gray in color, beneath which is a thin, brown, corky layer, and within this, the inner bark, which is of a pale-pink color. The remainder of the root is composed of white medullary matter, perforated by numerous longitudinal tubes, disposed more thickly in concentric circles about the fortieth of an inch apart, or forming a single circle. Radiating from the center are delicate medullary rays. When gathered in the spring, or in early summer, the center is pierced by a light pith, or a small cavity. The root, when dry, is brittle, and snaps readily, giving a clear, smooth fracture. As found in market, there are few, if any, fibers attached although, when fresh, the root is plentifully supplied with secondary roots; but as they are very brittle when dry, they do not long remain attached. We call attention to the exact engraving presented of the dry root, and also to a section of the root magnified (Fig. 27), and suggest that a comparison be made between these and those of A. androsaemifolium (Fig. 28). The woody portion of the root is slightly bitter; the bark is extremely bitter and disagreeable. It is described in the Pharmacopoeia as follows: "Long, cylindrical, somewhat branched, 5 to 10 Mm. (1/5 to 2/5 inch) thick, gray or brownish-gray, longitudinally wrinkled and transversely fissured; brittle; fracture short, white; the bark rather thick; the wood porous, spongy, with delicate medullary rays; inodorous; taste bitter, disagreeable"—(U. S. P.). Water readily takes up the active properties of the root, which are also partially soluble in alcohol; its virtues are impaired by age.
Chemical Composition.—Dr. Griscom, who analyzed the root in 1832, found it to contain tannic and gallic acids, gum, resin, wax, fecula, apocynin, coloring matter, woody fiber, and, probably, caoutchouc. From the precipitate of the fluid extract, a white, waxy body without taste, and cane-sugar crystals were obtained by Prof. J. U. Lloyd in 1879. Two bodies having properties resembling those of digitalin were obtained, in 1883, by Schmiedeberg; one, apocynin, an amorphous principle, resinous, nearly insoluble in water, but readily dissolved by ether and alcohol; the other, apocyneïn, a glucoside of a yellow color, dissolving freely in alcohol, but insoluble in ether, chloroform, and benzin. Boiling the former with chlorhydric acid renders it inert. Bromine and sulphuric acid give no test reaction with either of these bodies.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Dr. Griscom states that this agent has four different and distinct operations upon the system, which it almost invariably produces, viz.: (1st) nausea or vomiting; (2d) this is followed by increased alvine discharges, which are succeeded (3d) by copious perspiration, and in many instances (4th) by diuresis. In full doses it occasions considerable sickness at the stomach, lessens the pulse, and produces an inclination to sleep, probably from some somniferous principle in it—copious vomiting soon ensues, and the other effects as above stated. Snuffed into the nostrils, the powder will excite sneezing. In diaphoretic doses it has proved beneficial in intermittent and remittent fevers, and pneumonic affections. A strong decoction in doses of a teaspoonful every 1, 2, or 4 hours, is exceedingly valuable in irritable and congested uterus, accompanied with nausea, vomiting, tympanitic abdomen, headache, and powerful pulsations of the abdominal aorta. In some cases it may be advantageously combined with asclepias. As a hydragogue cathartic, and also as a diuretic in those instances where this effect is displayed, it has been found most useful in dropsy. Indeed it has proved very efficient in dropsy and its accompanying symptoms, when associated with general debility or a strong tendency to struma, albuminuria being absent, removing the effusion without necessarily inducing watery stools. It is, however, seldom employed in dropsical complaints for its purgative action, but rather in the small dose for its action in removing oedematous, infiltration, probably acting upon the heart by strengthening that organ, and thereby affecting the kidneys, secondarily inducing diuresis. Used for this purpose, it is the most certain diuretic in the materia medica. Certain conditions, however, govern its use. If dropsy be dependent upon structural lesions, as organic disease of the heart, liver, or kidneys, apocynum will not relieve the trouble, though it becomes a useful addition to digitalis, strophanthus, cactus, and other remedies used to mitigate the urgent symptoms. Neither would it act well where the pulse is quick and hard, evidencing circulatory obstruction, and in febrile disorders. The cases calling for apocynum are those of debility or weakness, that atonic state which readily permits exudation from the blood-vessels. Under such circumstances it is positive whether it be simple oedema or anasarca, ascites, or dropsy of any of the serous cavities. The indication is watery fullness of tissues, as if infiltrated. It may be puffiness of the eyelids, feet, or other parts; the parts pit upon pressure; and there may be a blanched, glistening appearance of the skin. Chronic cases, as a rule, are those in which it acts best, though it is of great value in acute hydrocephalus, as well as the chronic form, the fontanelles protruding, the sutures spreading, the eyes prominent, and the lids puffy. The dropsies following ague and scarlatina are particularly cases for its employment. In gynaecological practice it is of value in amenorrhoea, passive menorrhagia and leucorrhoea with watery discharges, the uterus being in all these disorders full and relaxed. Usually there is oedema of some other part. In menorrhagia the profuse flow lasts too long and too frequently recurs. It is a good remedy for the depression attending old cases of scrofula and syphilis, and in atonic dyspepsia fulfils an important use in removing constipation and fluid accumulations when present. Rheumatism yields to it when oedema of a part of or whole of the body is present, or even where there is slight puffiness or glistening of the parts. Frequently it must be given with other antirheumatics.
Apocynum is a decided heart tonic. The conditions above-named, and a dilated condition of the cardiac ventricles, point to its use. It is not the remedy where the circulation is excited, with hard, quick pulse. Dr. E. R. Freeman reports an inveterate case of angina pectoris benefited by it. Oedema was a feature of the case. Dr. Waterhouse (Ec. Med. Gleaner, 1891) relieved the praecordial oppression of a smoker with it. Dr. J. C. Kilgour (Ec. Med. Jour., 1886) declares it a decided antineuralgic, relieving sciatic, crural, and lumbar neuralgias. Prof. G. C. Gere (Cal. Med. Jour.) asserts that it is the most valuable of deobstruents to relieve renal congestion in the second stage of tubular nephritis (Dynam. Therap.). Too much, however, must not be expected of it where there are structural changes of the vital organs. Acute inflammation of the upper laryngeal and post-nasal region is specifically met by this drug, according to Prof Webster being nearly as positive as phytolacca, and preferable when the irritation does not extend beyond those parts, and is readily brought on by slight exposure (Dynam. Therap.). Goss found it to remove ascarides from the rectum when given in cathartic doses. As an emetic, from 12 to 30 grains of the powdered root-bark may be given; as a hydragogue or diuretic, the decoction is the best form in which to employ it-1 ounce of the root may be boiled in a pint of water, of which half a wineglassful, or even less, may be given 3 or 4 times a day. Smaller quantities of the decoction, given warm, will cause diaphoresis; as a purgative, the aqueous extract may be given in doses of from 3 to 6 grains. For its specific uses the decoction in small doses (a teaspoonful every 1 or 2 hours) or the specific medicine is preferred. Rx Specific apocynum, gtt. x to ℨj; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Sig. A teaspoonful every 1 to 3 hours. The decoction is most effectual.
APOCYNIN is reputed a powerful heart tonic, similar in action to strophanthus and digitalis.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Watery fullness of cellular tissues—oedema; puffiness of eyelids, and wrinkled lids as if the parts had recently been swollen; feet full and oedematous, pitting upon pressure; constipation, with oedema; scanty urine; skin glistening; circulation sluggish; passive hemorrhages, small in amount, with great depression, and oedema of the feet; hemoptysis; menorrhagia, profuse, too often and too long continued; full, relaxed uterus, with watery discharges.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.