Botanical Source.—This is an indigenous, perennial plant, sometimes known as Ground-squirrel pea, and Rheumatism-root. Its rhizome is horizontal, with matted fibrous radicles; the scape or stem is simple, naked, 1-flowered, and from 8 to 14 inches in height. The leaves are in pairs, binate, placed base to base, oval, broader than long, ending in an obtuse point, smooth, glaucous beneath, and borne on petioles as long as the scape, which arise from the rhizome. The flowers are large, regular, and white. The calyx consists of 4 colored, deciduous sepals. The corolla is composed of 8 flat, oblong, spreading, incurved petals. Stamens 8, with oblong-linear anthers, on slender filaments. Ovary ovoid, soon gibbous, pointed; stigma 2-lobed. The capsule is obovate, or somewhat pear-shaped, stipitate, and 1-celled, opening half-way round horizontally, making a persistent lid. The seeds are many on the lateral placenta, with a fleshy lacerate aril on one side and oblong (W.—G.).
History and Description.—This plant is found from New York to Maryland and Virginia, and in many parts of the western states, growing in limestone soil, in woods and near streams and rivers, and flowering in April and May. The part used is a thick, knotty rhizome, from which long, fibrous roots proceed, and is of a brownish-yellow color. It is used as an adulterant of hydrastis, and is often artfully mixed therewith. In cases that have come under our observation, this root has been chopped so as to bring it to about the size of hydrastis. In other instances it has been matted together inside of bunches of hydrastis, and in still others the rootlets have been removed, chopped, and mixed with hydrastis. The epidermis is somewhat corrugated, and in some specimens transversely cracked. The bark is resinous, and contains the active principle of the roots. The central portion is ligneous, of a light straw color, and is easily separated by bruising the root. The root has an odor similar to that of podophyllum, and a bitter, mucilaginous taste at first, followed by a pungent, nauseous, and acrid taste. Water or alcohol extracts its virtues.
Chemical Composition.—An analysis by Prof. E. S. Wayne, showed this plant to contain tannic acid, gum, starch, sugar, mineral matters, considerable pectin, fatty resin, a bitter substance, an acrid and nauseous matter somewhat similar to polygalic acid, which occasioned vomiting with persistent nausea (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. XXVII, p. 1). Prof. F. F. Mayer states that the pectin of Prof. Wayne, in the above analysis, is saponin; also that the root contains a large proportion of a white alkaloid, and a small quantity of berberine (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1863, p. 99). A. W. Flexer (Amer. Druggist, 1884, p. 227), denies the existence of berberine in Jeffersonia.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Diuretic, alterative, antispasmodic, and a stimulating diaphoretic. Successfully used in chronic rheumatism, as a tonic in secondary or mercurio-syphilis; also used with advantage in dropsy, in many nervous affections, spasms, cramps, nervous excitability, and even during pregnancy. In syphilitic diseases it has been combined with corydalis, but I have been unable to determine any other than a tonic influence, with evident improvement in nutrition, whether it be administered alone in this malady, or combined as just stated (King). As a gargle it has been beneficial in diseases of the throat, ulcers about the fauces, scarlatina, ophthalmia, and indolent ulcers. It is administered in decoction and saturated tincture. Dose of the decoction, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 3 times a day; of the tincture, from 1 to 3 fluid drachms, 3 times a day. Some practitioners substitute this plant for Senega, as an expectorant and emetic.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Pain in the head with dizziness and sensation of tension (Watkins, Compendium of Eclectic Practice).
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.