Botanical Source and History.—The genus Gratiola is composed of small herbs less than a foot high, and found growing in low, damp situations. They all possess bitter properties and cattle refuse to eat them. They have opposite, sessile leaves and small axillary flowers. The calyx is sub-equally 5-parted, and the corolla tubular and bilabiate. The stamens are 2, and there are often 2 or 3 sterile filaments. The fruit is a dry, many-seeded, 2-celled capsule opening by 4 valves.
Gratiola officinalis, Linné, is a native of Europe, and has a smooth, 4-angled stem, and lanceolate, 3 or 5-nerved leaves. The corolla is pale-yellow, and striped with light-purple. The calyx-lobes are often 7. This species has long been used as a medicine in the south of Europe, and was mentioned by Lewis in his Materia Medica (1761), under the names Gratiola centaurioides, Gratia Dei, hedge-hyssop, and herb of grace.
Gratiola virginica, Linné, is the most common indigenous species, and is found in large patches in damp soil. It is a small, much-branched plant, with an erect, glutinous stem, The leaves are lanceolate, dentate, and clasping. The flowers are very numerous, with small, white corollas variegated with yellow, and pubescent in the throat. The other indigenous species of Gratiola are mostly found in the southern states.
Chemical Composition.—Nothing is known about the chemical constituents of the indigenous species, but they are probably similar to those of G. officinalis. Vauquelin (1809) found in the latter a bitter resinous substance, an acid in combination with lime and soda, believed by him to be malic or acetic acid, and various earthy salts and principles common to plants. Marchand (Journ. de Chim. Med., 1845, p. 618), proved the resin of Vauquelin to be a compound, identifying tannic acid and a white, bitter, crystallizable substance to which the name gratiolin was given. Afterward, Walz proved gratiolin to be a glucosid, and obtained in addition another glucosid, gratiosolin, and an acid named by him gratiolic acid. The chemical constituents of Gratiola officinalis are of little practical value, as the infusion, or tincture, or plant in substance, are alone used in medicine.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Hedge-hyssop is rarely, if at all, used in this country. In Europe it has been employed as a hydragogue-cathartic in the treatment of dropsical affections, in doses of from 10 to 80 grains of the powdered root. Its use is frequently followed by emesis and diuresis. In large doses its irritant action is pronounced, inducing violent vomiting and purging, the stools often being bloody and attended with severe colic. Gastro-intestinal inflammation may follow, the rectum being most generally affected. In smaller doses, it has been advised in chronic affections of the liver, in jaundice, and also in certain melancholic forms of insanity. Splenic engorgement, cerebral fullness and oppression, and other conditions attended with an obstructed circulation are the states in which it is recommended by Prof. Scudder (Spec. Med.), who regards the indications to be "soreness and rawness of the mouth." It is an active agent, and should be administered with judgment. An infusion of 4 drachms to a pint of boiling water, may be given in 1/2 fluid-ounce doses. Thirty grains act as a drastic cathartic. Probably a tincture of the root might be useful; but every indication for this agent can be fulfilled by one of our indigenous plants, as podophyllum, iris, euphorbia, apocynum, etc.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.