"The rhizome and roots of Iris versicolor, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAMES: Blue flag, etc. (see below).
ILLUSTRATIONS: Meehan, Native Flowers and Ferns, I, 141; Bigelow, American Medical Botany, I, 155; Millspaugh, American Medicinal Plants, 173.
Botanical Source.—Iris versicolor is an indigenous plant, with a fleshy, horizontal root or rhizome. Its stem is 2 or 3 feet in height, terete, flexuous, round on one side, acute on the other, and frequently branched. The leaves are about 1 foot long, 1/2 to 1 inch wide, ensiform, striated, erect, and sheathing at the base. Bracts scarious. The flowers are from 2 to 6 in number, generally blue or purple. The ovary is obtusely 3-cornered. The peduncles are of different lengths, and flattened on the inside. The sepals are spatulate, beardless, the border purple, the claw variegated with green, yellow, and white, and veined with purple. The petals are erect, varying in shape from spatulate to lanceolate, usually paler than the outer, entire, or emarginate. The stigmas are 3, petaloid, purple, or violet, bifid, crenate, and more or less reflexed at the point. Stamens 3, concealed under the stigmas, with oblong-linear anthers. Capsule 3-celled, 3-valved, when ripe oblong, turgid, 3-sided, with roundish angles. The seeds are numerous and flat (L.—B.—W.).
History and Description.—Iris versicolor has been designated by various names, as Blue flag, Flag lily, Water flag, Liver lily, Snake lily, Flower de luce, Poison flag in contradistinction to Sweet flag (Acorus Calamus), and Larger blue flag to distinguish it from the other species of this genus. The name Iris, from a Greek word meaning "the rainbow deified," was given it by the ancients on account of the brilliancy and diversity of color in its blossoms.
Blue flag is one of our most beautiful and interesting common wild flowers, growing throughout the United States in wet, marshy localities, blooming in May and June. The flowers, from 2 to 6 in number, are large and showy, of a purplish, or violet-blue color, variegated with white and greenish-yellow, interspersed with purple veins. The plant grows from 1 to 3 feet high, having a stout, sometimes branching stem, angled on one side. The leaves are sword-shaped, from 6 to 8 inches long, and 3/4 of an inch wide. The root, which resembles that of Acorus Calamus, is the part officially used. It has a peculiar odor, augmented by rubbing and pulverizing. The U. S. P. thus describes iris: "Rhizome of horizontal growth, consisting of joints, 5 to 10 Cm. (2 to 4 inches) long, cylindrical in the lower half, flattish near the upper extremity, and terminated by a circular scar, annulated from the leaf-sheaths, grayish-brown; roots long, simple, crowded near the broad end; odor slight; taste acrid and nauseous"—(U. S. P.). The recently dried root varies from a light, pinkish-brown internally, studded over with minute white dots, somewhat resembling in color very light sandstone, to a dark red-brown—the latter being unfit for pharmaceutical uses. Care should be exercised as to the locality in which the plant grows. We recently rejected a large lot, more than 2000 pounds, extra fine in external appearance, that came from the South, and was of a dark, red-brown internally, but almost destitute of oleoresin, which principle had been replaced by a red, astringent tannate. Our experience is to the effect that the Ohio raised iris is superior to that of any other locality known to us, and in collecting the drug, for specific iris, many times the market price is paid for the rhizome from one locality in the state.
The active properties of iris are taken up by boiling water in infusion, and by alcohol or ether; and its acridity, as well as its medicinal virtues are diminished by age. The fresh root, sliced transversely, dried in an atmosphere not exceeding 39.4° C. (103° F.), pulverized, and then placed in darkened and well-closed vessels to protect it from the action of light and air, will have its medicinal virtues preserved for a great length of time.
Chemical Composition.—The fresh rhizome of iris, when distilled with water, yields an opalescent distillate, from which a white, camphoraceous substance separates, soluble in alcohol, and having a faint odor (C. H. Marquardt, 1876). The rhizome furthermore contains starch, gum, tannin, sugar, oil, and resin. The resin is of a light-brown color, of a faint odor, and of a taste resembling that of the root; when perfectly freed from oil it is whitish-yellow. Its therapeutic influences are not positively known. It is soluble in chloroform, ether, and boiling alkaline solution, from which acids precipitate it. The oil possesses in a high degree the taste and smell of the root, and is the principle to which it owes its medicinal activity. Cressler (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1881, p. 602) found indications of an alkaloid, obtainable by extracting the alcoholic extract of iris with acetic acid, removing fat by means of ether, and abstracting the alkaloidal substance by means of amylic alcohol after rendering the fluid alkaline.
As early as 1844, Prof. John King prepared and introduced to the profession the oleoresin of iris—about the same time that he discovered the resins of cimicifuga and podophyllum. The name, oleoresin of iris—a trade name being iridin—was applied to this substance 50 years ago. It is but little used at present, except in combination with other hepatics, in pill form, in the treatment of chronic diseases of the liver. The preparation upon the market known as irisin, though commonly spoken of by medical writers as iridin, or oleoresin, is a mixture of the oleoresin, with a sufficient amount of the root to stiffen it and render it pulverizable. It may be stated here that the watery fluid preparations of iris are very unreliable. Fluid preparations should be made only from recent rhizomes, presenting internally a very light pinkish-brown color, studded with minute white dots. Those having a brown-red color throughout, should be rejected. When dropped into water the preparation should give an opalescent, milky appearance, and when in large amount should precipitate oleoresin. The odor of iris should also be perceptibly increased when its preparations are added to water, being to most people a disagreeable, nauseous, fatty odor.
Medical History.—This plant was highly esteemed by our American Indians, who used it in gastric affections, and it was also a popular domestic remedy when it was thought necessary to produce salivation without resorting to mercurials—hence it is sometimes called "vegetable mercury." Bigelow, Smith, and Thacher wrote regarding its cathartic properties, but on account of its unpleasant effects, when given in purgative doses, it did not come into general use until taken up by our school, where it is not used as a cathartic.
The blue flag is one of our most valued of early Eclectic medicines, having been used almost exclusively by our practitioners, until of late years, when it found quite a prominent place in the therapeutics of both Allopathic and Homoeopathic practice.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Physiologically, iris acts upon the gastro-intestinal canal, and the glandular and nervous systems. It powerfully excites the biliary, salivary, and pancreatic secretions. Upon the gastro-intestinal tract it acts violently, causing acid vomiting, frequent, hydragogue catharsis, with intestinal burning and severe colic. A writer says: "The root of the blue flag extends its influence through every part of the system in small doses, and repeated at short intervals. It seems to act more particularly on the glandular system, exciting them to a discharge of their respective offices. In large doses it evacuates and exhausts the system, acting on the liver, and the alimentary canal throughout." Animals, after death from its ingestion, show marked congestion of the gastric and intestinal tissues. By its action upon the nervous system, it has produced neuralgia of the face, head, and extremities. Iris salivates, but without injury to the gums and teeth. In general practice salivation is not, as a common rule, desired for the cure of disease, yet we have many articles which produce it, and often without the practitioners being aware of the fact, and hence, when it does occur, the cry is at once raised that mercury is used. Salivation caused by vegetable agents may be known from that by mercury, by the absence of mercurial fetor, and no sponginess of the gums or loosening of the teeth.
Therapeutically, this agent is alterative and cholagogue. It is one of our best agents to influence the process of waste and repair. It exerts a powerful catalytic action upon the lymphatic glandular system, and the ductless glands, as well as upon the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. In cachectic states of the system, bad blood, scrofula, and "mercurial diseases," it does excellent service, and in secondary syphilis, with cerebral disturbances, and copper-colored dermal pigmentation, it is one of the best drugs we possess.
Upon the liver, its action is marked. In that unpleasant condition known as "biliousness," it is prompt and efficient, and as a remedy for bilious headache, accompanied by nausea and vomiting of bitter ingesta, or in sick headache, dependent upon indigestion, it is unsurpassed. In chronic hepatitis, and other hepatic disorders, with constipation, and sharp, cutting pains, increased by motion, iris may be given alone or may be advantageously combined with other hepatics. Duodenal catarrh, with jaundice, and clay-colored stools, indicating a lack of biliary secretion, is cured by iris, and it is likewise valuable in constipation, dependent upon biliary and intestinal torpor. Minute doses of iris allay gastric irritation, being valuable in cholera infantum and cholera morbus. Rx Specific iris, gtt. v; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Dose, 1 teaspoonful every hour. In diarrhoea and dysentery, with large, slimy evacuations: Rx Specific iris, gtt. xv; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Dose, 1 teaspoonful every hour. Iris, in small doses, is often valuable in gastric irritation, associated with sickness at the stomach and vomiting, and in gastralgia. It is not without good results in burning aphthous states of the oral cavity. From 1 to 5 drops should he used in the latter case. Reflex muscular pains, dependent upon gastro-intestinal and pancreatic disorders, are relieved by it, and especially when the muscular coats of the viscera are involved. Pectoral pains and distressing sensations beneath the scapula are also relieved by iris in doses of from 1 to 5 drops.
Ɣ Iris is specifically indicated in soft glandular enlargements. It is one of the very few reliable drugs used for the cure of goitre, or enlarged thyroid. Indeed, for this condition it is our most direct and effectual remedy, whether the enlargement be constant, or whether it be simply a fullness due to menstrual irregularities. This use was early pointed out by Prof. King. Further, it has a marked influence for good on the ovarian and uterine disturbances giving rise to this fullness. In goitre, apply a cotton cloth saturated with specific iris, and give internally a teaspoonful, 3 times a day, of a mixture of specific iris, flℨss; aqua, fl℥iv. Basedow's disease—exophthalmic goitre—in the early stage, has been cured by iris; Addison's disease of the suprarenal capsules has been greatly improved, though not cured by it. In chronic affections of the pancreas, with a sodden, leaden-colored tongue, and in chronic splenic disease, when the skin is blanched—as in leucocythemia—this drug is indicated. Chronic renal diseases, ascites, anasarca, hydrothorax, and hydropericardium, have yielded to its curative powers. In dropsy, it is administered in cathartic doses. It is seldom used at present as a cathartic, but when so used its harsh effects may be somewhat overcome by combining it with ginger, piperin, or camphor.
As a remedy for uterine hypertrophy, enlarged ovaries, ulcerated os and cervix uteri, uterine leucorrhoea, and dysmenorrhoea: Rx Specific iris, gtt. x to xx; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix, Dose, 1 teaspoonful every hour in acute troubles, and 4 times a day in chronic affections. It is all the more strongly indicated in these conditions, if there be impaired general health, with mental depression, and when the skin presents abnormal pigmentation.
This drug has been successfully used in chronic rheumatism, syphilitic rheumatism, gonorrhoea, spermatorrhoea, and prostatorrhoea. Specific iris, in doses of from 1 to 5 drops, every 4 or 5 hours, in a fluid ounce of water, will be found very useful in those prostatic discharges and nocturnal emissions, the result of masturbation, and which are accompanied with considerable debility, mental uneasiness, and more or less irritation of the nervous centers. Prof. Scudder, in his "Practice," states that he has for years placed great reliance on iris in treating syphilitic iritis. It is very efficient in malarial jaundice, and intermittent and bilious remittent fevers. It is rendered more efficient in malarial disorders, when combined with euonymus, or alstonia constricta. Iridin, in 3-grain pill, every night, followed by a saline cathartic in the morning, was quite popular among Edinburgh physicians some years ago as a remedy for the vomiting of pregnancy.
Iris is of great utility in dermal practice, given alone or associated with other indicated remedies. It seems to have a better action in chronic conditions. It is particularly adapted to diseases involving the sebaceous glands, and is especially useful in comedones, and other eruptions common to youth. It is indicated by rough, greasy, discolored conditions of the skin, and in those cases where pustular eruption seems to be associated with functional disturbances of the reproductive apparatus; also when associated with thyroid fullness in the female. It is valuable in syphilitic skin diseases. We have used it beneficially in eczema rubrum of children, and in cases of eczema of the scalp in adults. Some cases are benefited only, not cured by it. In One case of 13 years' standing, the unpleasant symptoms were subdued as long as the patient took the drug; as soon as the iris was withdrawn the unpleasantness returned, though the general health of the man was much improved by its administration. Herpes zoster and herpes praeputialis usually call for iris and rhus. Rupia and impetigo have been cured by it when associated with sulphur, or Fowler's solution. Persistent prurigo, psoriasis, and acne indurata will usually present conditions calling for iris. For lepra: Rx Specific iris, flℨi to flℨii; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Teaspoonful 4 times a day.
The system should first be prepared by sulphur, or the sulphites, compound tonic mixture, or acid solution of iron, if debilitated. Other remedies may be associated with iris in chronic skin diseases when indicated, as alnus, apis, phytolacca, or rhus tox. Pustules upon the scalp and face in children are benefited by the minute dose of iris.
The dose of iris depends largely upon the effect desired. If a pronounced action upon the gastro-intestinal and glandular secretions is desired, from 5 to 20 grains of the powder, or 10 to 60 minims of the strong tincture, or 5 to 20 drops of specific iris may be used. In some persons, and when exhibited in large doses, it is apt to occasion much distressing nausea, with considerable prostration; these effects may be obviated or mitigated by combining it with a few grains of capsicum, or ginger, a grain of camphor, or 4 or 5 grains of resin of blue cohosh (caulophyllin). For its specific uses, however, the specific iris, in doses of from 1/20 to 5 drops, is preferred. Like all representative fluid preparations of iris, specific iris is liable to decompose and gelatinize, and is then useless as a medicine. The remedy is not appreciated as it should be, but it is safe to say that with a reliable preparation it will grow in favor the more it is employed.
Specific Indications and Uses.—The specific indications for iris may be stated as fullness of thyroid gland; enlarged spleen; chronic hepatic complaints, with sharp, cutting pain, aggravated by motion; nausea and vomiting of sour liquids, or regurgitation of food, especially after eating rich pastry or fats; watery, burning bowel discharges; enlarged lymphatics, soft and yielding; rough, greasy conditions of the skin; disorders of sebaceous follicles; abnormal dermal pigmentation; menstrual wrongs, with thyroid fullness; unilateral facial neuralgia; muscular atrophy and other wastings of the tissues; bad blood.
Related Species.—There are several species of iris, as I. virginica, Linné, Boston iris; I. lacustris, Nuttall; Iris verna, Linné, or Dwarf iris, etc., which are often collected and mixed with the official article. Iris florentina, or Florentine orris, is said to be emetic, cathartic, and diuretic, but it is seldom employed except in the composition of tooth powders, and to conceal an offensive breath (see Iris florentina).
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.