"The rhizome and roots of Aristolochia Serpentaria, Linné, and of Aristolochia reticulata, Nuttall"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAMES: (1) Virginia snakeroot, (2) Red River or Texas snakeroot.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 246.
Botanical Source.—Aristolochia Serpentaria, also called Snakeroot and Snakeweed, is a perennial, herbaceous plant, with an extremely fibrous, knotty, brown root, sending up numerous stems. The stems rise singly or severally from the same root, are erect, simple or branched, jointed, flexuous, cylindrical, often with a reddish tinge, and most commonly under a foot high. The leaves are alternate, on short petioles, oblong, entire, acuminate, heart-shaped, at base 3-nerved, and more or less downy on the surface, having a slightly yellowish tint. The flowers grow close to the ground, curve downward, have a stiff, leathery texture, and a dull brownish-purple color. The peduncle, which supports them, has one or more bracts, and gradually enlarges into a furrowed obovate ovary. The calyx, like others in this singular genus, consists of a long, contorted tube, bent in the form of the letter S, swelling at its two extremities, having its throat surrounded by an elevated edge or brim, and its border expanded into a broad, irregular margin, forming an under and upper lip, which are closed in a triangular manner in the bud, and is dull-purplish or red. Corolla none. Anthers 12 in number, growing in pairs to the sides of the fleshy style, which is situated in the bottom of the calyx, and covered by a firm, spreading, convoluted stigma, which extends over the anthers. Capsule obovate, 6-angled, and 6-celled, with numerous small, flat seeds (B.—L.).
Aristolochia reticulata, or Red River snakeroot, has a very flexuous stem, oval, cordate, clasping, subsessile leaves, thickish, strongly reticulated, with the lobes decussating. The plant is not smooth, but hirsute. The flowers are small, radical, densely pubescent, and of a purplish hue.
Description.—Several species of Aristolochia have been confounded with the above, but as they are nearly identical in medicinal properties, the confusion is probably of but little consequence. These species are the A. hirsuta, Muhlenberg, growing in the southern states, and strongly resembling the above; the A. hastata of Nuttall, or A. sagittaria of Muhlenberg, growing in the south; as well as the A. tomentosa, a tall climbing species of Louisiana. A. reticulata, of southwestern growth, is now official.
Aristolochia Serpentaria is found in rich woods, hedges, and thickets, from Connecticut to Illinois, and southward to Louisiana, being more common near the Alleghanies, and flowering from April to July. In commerce, the dried root consists of a short, knotty, premorse rootstock, or head, with very numerous radicles, 3 inches or more in length, filiform, flexuous, interlaced, and brittle. The U. S. P. gives the following description: "The rhizome is about 25 Mm. (1 inch) long, thin, bent; on the upper side with approximate, short stem-bases; on the lower side with numerous, thin, branching roots, about 10 Cm. (4 inches) long; dull yellowish-brown, internally whitish; the wood-rays of the rhizome longest on the lower side; odor aromatic, camphoraceous; taste warm, bitterish, and camphoraceous. The roots of Aristolochia reticulata are coarser, longer, and less interlaced than those of Aristolochia Serpentaria"—(U. S. P.). Pinkroot and seneca are sometimes found mixed with the A. Serpentaria, as well as some other roots, especially golden seal (as much as 10 per cent, see Prof. Patch, in Merck's Report, 1896, p. 403), cypripedium, and ginseng roots. These adulterations may be detected by the difference in the appearance of the roots, and of the leaves and stems when present, as well as by the absence of the peculiar serpentaria flavor. The root of Polemonium reptans has also been substituted for serpentaria (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 374). The active principles of the root are extracted by water, alcohol, or proof-spirit. The tincture is bright-green, and is rendered turbid by water.
Chemical Composition.—Mr. J. A. Ferguson (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 481) found the rhizome and roots of Aristolochia reticulata to contain volatile oil (1 per cent), resin, soluble in petroleum ether (3.2 per cent), resin, soluble in ether (1.9 per cent), furthermore tannin, gum, starch (6.48 per cent), dextrin, sugar, malic acid, calcium oxalate, etc., and a crystallizable alkaloid, which he named aristolochine, perhaps the aristolochin of Chevallier and Feneulle. It is very bitter, soluble in water, alcohol, ether, chloroform, and benzol. The volatile oil of this species was investigated by Joseph C. Peacock, ibid., 1891, pp. 257-264), who found it to contain a terpene (C10H16), boiling at 175° C. (314.6° F.), and 40 per cent of solid, camphor-like borneol (C10H18O), which exists in the oil, partly free, partly in the form of an ester. Spica (Jahresb. der Pharm., 1887, p. 45) previously established the presence of borneol in the oil from Aristolochia Serpentaria, the lower fractions of which have a valerian-like odor.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Virginia snakeroot, in small doses, promotes the appetite and gives tone to the organs of digestion, and is very useful, especially in the form of vinous tincture, in cases of enfeebled stomach following exhausting diseases. In full doses, it stimulates the system, producing increased arterial action, free diaphoresis, and frequently diuresis. In large doses, it causes an uneasy sensation at the stomach, with sickness, vomiting, and purging, headache , drowsiness, and disturbed sleep, and, in warm infusion, it produces diaphoresis, and is beneficial in adynamic eruptive fevers, where the eruption is tardy, or has receded. In the typhoid stage of febrile diseases, where strong stimulants, as brandy, etc., can not be borne, it will be found very available. In periodic fevers, it may be advantageously used with or without its combination with quinine. It is a good remedy when the renal function is suppressed by colds, and in other troubles resulting from the same cause, with a tendency to locate in the viscera. An infusion of it forms an excellent gargle in putrid sore throat, and in atonic throat disorders, with a tendency to destruction of tissues. Dyspepsia has been benefited by it in tonic doses, and amenorrhoea has been cured, especially when caused by cold. When its use is too long continued it occasions sickness at stomach, emesis, gripings, and tenesmus. Long boiling impairs its virtues. A cold infusion is useful in convalescence from acute diseases. Atonic and torpid conditions are those in which serpentaria is valuable, while severe inflammations and high fevers contraindicate its use. Some cases of colliquative sweating are controlled by it; such cases are those requiring a cutaneous stimulant. Dose of the powder, as a tonic, 3 to 6 grains; as a stimulant, 20 to 30 grains; of the infusion, 1 or 2 fluid ounces; of the tincture, 1 or 2 fluid drachms; specific serpentaria, 1 to 30 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—A cutaneous stimulant, increasing secretion; sensation of dragging and weight in the loins, with scanty renal secretion, or urine containing triple phosphates; renal and other visceral disorders, the direct result of taking cold; fullness in the chest, with difficult respiration; malignant sore throat, with tendency to destruction of tissues; torpid and atonic conditions only.
Related Species.—A number of species of Aristolochia have been used in medicine. They all have similar properties, being stimulant, tonic, and emmenagogue. Of the European species there are the A. longa, A. clematitis, A. pistolochia, and A. rotunda. Aristolochin (aristolochic acid, Hesse) is the active principle of the seeds of A. clematitis and the roots of A. rotunda and A. longa (J. Pohl, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1892, p. 82). It is a yellow crystalline acid, soluble in alcohol, ether, and chloroform, insoluble in petroleum ether, little soluble in warm water. Another plant having the common properties of this genus, is the jarra (jarrhina) or milhomen of Brazil—the A. cymbifera of Martius (see Jahresb. der Pharm., 1887, p. 44). The Yerba del India, of Texas and Mexico (A. foetida), is applied to ulcers. A. argentina, of the Argentine Republic, a diaphoretic and diuretic, and A. indica, of the East Indies, both contain alkaloids. In the former species, O. Hesse found the alkaloid aristolochine, aristinic, aristidinic and aristolic acids (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1896, p. 141; also see Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. XXII, 1891, pp. 245 and 551).
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.