The root of the Aralia nudicaulis, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: American, Wild, or False sarsaparilla, Small spikenard, Wild licorice, Shot bush.
Botanical Source.—Aralia nudicaulis is a smooth, herbaceous, perennial plant, with a large, fleshy, horizontal, creeping, tortuous root, very long, often many feet in length, about 6 lines in diameter, and yellowish or brownish externally; from this arises a solitary, large, compound, radical leaf, the leaflets of which are oval and obovate, acute, and finely serrate. A scape or flower stem also arises from the root, which is shorter than the leaf, naked, about 1 foot high, terminating in three small, simple, many-flowered, globose umbels, without involucres. The flowers are greenish, or greenish-yellow. The fruit is a small drupe or berry.
History.—This plant, sometimes known as American, Wild, or False sarsaparilla, is indigenous, growing in moist woodlands, in the Northern and Middle States, and as far south as Tennessee and South Carolina. The part employed is the root; when fresh it has an agreeable balsamic odor, and a pleasant, spicy, saccharine taste. It yields its virtues to water or alcohol. In commerce this plant is often substituted by spikenard.
Description and Chemical Composition.—The rhizome, when dry, is found in commerce in longitudinally-wrinkled pieces, having but few rootlets, and being a little over 1 foot long, and about 1/4 inch in diameter, of a grayish-brown color externally, and marked by shallow, cotyloid scape-scars, and annulated on the upper surface. The bark of the root easily exfoliates. Internally the root is white, with a starchy, sponge-like pith, enclosed by a yellowish wood. It breaks with an abrupt fracture, and has a somewhat balsamic odor, and a mawkish, somewhat oily, unpleasant taste. It contains starch, pectin, sugar, resin, and a trace of a volatile oil. For an interesting paper on this drug, see contribution of William Alpers to the American Pharmaceutical Association, 1897.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Small spikenard possesses alterative properties, and is used in decoction or syrup as a substitute for sarsaparilla in all cases where an alterative is required. It is likewise used in pulmonary diseases. Externally, a decoction of it has been found beneficial as a wash in zona (shingles) and in indolent ulcers.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.