"The rhizome and rootlets of Veronica virginica, Linné," (Leptandra virginica, Nuttall).
COMMON NAMES: Black-root, Culver's root, etc. (see History).
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 196.
Botanical Source.—This is the Veronica virginica, of Linnaeus, and Leptandra virginica, of Nuttall. It is an indigenous, perennial plant, with a simple, straight, smooth, herbaceous stem, from 2 to 5 feet in height. The leaves are whorled in fours to sevens, short-petioled, lanceolate, acuminate, finely serrate, and glaucous beneath. The flowers are white, numerous, nearly sessile, in long, terminal, and verticillate, sub-terminal spikes. Spikes panicled and crowded; bracts very small. Calyx 4-parted. The corolla is small, nearly white, with a deeply 4-cleft, spreading border, the lateral or lower segments narrower than the others, tubular and pubescent inside; the tube of the corolla is longer than its limb, and much longer than the calyx. Stamens 2, very much exserted. Capsule oblong-ovate, not notched, opening by 4 teeth at the apex, and many-seeded (G.—W.).
History.—Leptandra is one of the very old Eclectic drugs. Like most medicinal plants it is known by several popular names, as Black root, Culver's root, Culver's physic, Bowman root, Tall speedwell, Veronica, Tall veronica, Physic root, and Whorlywort. Its name Veronica is probably derived from St. Veronica. Black root is found more or less plentifully throughout the United States, from Vermont to Wisconsin, and southward, growing in wet, or moist, rich ground near streams, in woods, thickets, glades, and open plains. It is particularly plentiful in limestone districts. It is a perennial herb, growing from 1 to 5 feet high, with an upright stalk, having whorls of leaves, and surmounted by spikes of crowded white flowers. It blooms in July and August. The rhizome is perennial, and should be gathered in the fall of its second year. When fresh, it has a faint, almond-like odor, and a bitter, nauseous taste, which is somewhat lessened by drying, and yields its properties to water at 100° C. (212° F.), or still better to alcohol. Age does not impair its virtues.
This drug was well-known to the Indian Herb Doctor Peter Smith, and to Dr. Hough. To the former it was known as Culver's, or Brinton's root, and he states that his father "used to cure the pleurisy with amazing speed" with it. Hough said of it that it was "a most mild and efficacious purge in fevers, in disorders of the stomach, or the bowels, to destroy vicious humors in the blood, to remove costiveness, or to cool fevers." The Wyandots were acquainted with its virtues, and regarded it as "a very good healing purge." The early Eclectic physicians considered it one of their most valuable therapeutic agents.
Specific Leptandra, the most extensively used preparation, has a dark-brown color, the peculiar, and markedly so, odor of the drug, and a bitter taste that is accompanied by the aroma of the root from which it is prepared. When dropped into water it produces a turbidity or milkiness. If specific leptandra be allowed to evaporate by rubbing a few drops in the palm of the hand the skin is impregnated with the strong odor of leptandra in an intensified degree.
Description.—Leptandra is officially described as "of horizontal growth, from 10 to 15 Cm. (4 to 6 inches) long, and about 5 Mm. (1/5 inch) thick, somewhat flattened, bent, and branched, deep blackish-brown, With cup-shaped scars on the upper side, hard, of a woody fracture, with a thin, blackish bark, a hard, yellowish wood, and a large, purplish-brown, about 6-rayed pith; roots thin, wrinkled, very fragile; inodorous; taste bitter and feebly acrid"—(U. S. P.). (See also illustration of the microscopic structure of leptandra, by A. P. Breithaupt, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1897, p. 235.)
Chemical Composition.—The root of leptandra, as well as its preparations, possesses a peculiar, strong odor, and yields, with diluted sulphuric acid, an acid distillate of an unpleasant odor, and containing traces of formic acid (F. F. Mayer, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1863, p. 298). Prof. E. S. Wayne procured a bitter principle by the following process: The root, in coarse powder, was treated with water in a percolator until the infusion was no longer bitter; subacetate of lead was added to this, and the precipitate removed by filtration; carbonate of sodium was then added to remove excess of lead, and the liquid again filtered. The pale-yellow liquid was then allowed to filter through a column of purified animal charcoal. The liquid that passed through was totally devoid of taste and color. The coal was then washed with water until this commenced to have a bitter taste; it was then dried and treated with boiling alcohol, and the alcoholic solution allowed to evaporate spontaneously. It dried to a dark-green mass, no signs of crystallization being observed during the time. It was again dissolved in water, treated with ether, and allowed to evaporate, when a number of bitter, pale-green, needle-shaped crystals were obtained (Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. CXXV, p. 510).
G. Steinmann (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 229) obtained a bitter principle by pouring a concentrated tincture of the root into water, which precipitates the resin. The filtrate was acidulated and shaken out with benzol. Upon evaporation of this solvent, 0.1 per cent of a crystalline and very bitter residue was left, which was again crystallized from ether. The pale, lemon-yellow crystals are insoluble in petroleum benzin, soluble in alcohol, ether, benzol, hot water, and yield no precipitate with Mayer's solution, nor with tannic acid; neither does it reduce Fehling's solution after being boiled with diluted sulphuric acid. The resinous matter, precipitated by water and purified by repeated precipitation is absolutely inert (see Leptandrin). The filtrate from the first precipitation of the resin contains mannit (E. S. Wayne, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1859, p. 557). J. U. Lloyd (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1880, p. 491) calls attention to the fact that the bitterness of the tincture of leptandra disappears when in prolonged contact with diluted sulphuric acid, or more rapidly upon boiling. An inert resin is formed in both cases, and the solution contains a great amount of reducing substance.
Ɣ LEPTANDRIN.—Leptandrin was discovered and introduced about the year 1850, by Mr. William Stanley Merrell. It was one of the class of Eclectic concentrations or resinoids and followed podophyllin, macrotin and irisin, which were previously discovered by Prof. John King. As found in commerce it is prepared by pouring an evaporated alcoholic tincture of leptandra, of a thick, syrupy consistence, into cold water. A black, tarry substance is thrown down. This precipitate is then washed with pure cold water and becomes tasteless. This product has a deep-black color, resembling asphaltum, and breaks with a shiny fracture. By this process the bitter principle of leptandra remains dissolved in the water used as a precipitant. The leptandrin made by the foregoing process (Greve) is inferior as a medicine. Prof. Lloyd agrees with Dr. Greve, that a dried alcoholic extract (not precipitated in water) possesses more nearly the medicinal qualities of the drug. He further states that the dried precipitated resin differs so markedly from the dried alcoholic extract as to forbid their substitution for each other. If the resin be rubbed with distilled water and filtered the filtrate will be colorless, nearly tasteless, and without bitterness, while the filtrate from the dried alcoholic extract, similarly treated, is dark-colored and extremely bitter. The resin of leptandra, or leptandrin, will not run together nor lump in any temperature or in any atmosphere. Under like conditions, or if not well dried, the alcoholic extract will run together and form a hard mass. The root, which should be well dried and at least one year old after collecting, yields about 6 per cent of resin. Of the alcoholic extract the yield is about 10 per cent. The yield of resin increases with age and exposure after collection, consequently the roots of two or more years of age are preferable for the production of leptandrin. Prof. John King, to whom maybe ascribed the popularity of leptandra as a medicinal agent, did not employ the so-called "leptandrin," but found the therapeutic value of the drug to depend upon a mixture of the aqueous and alcoholic extracts (see Amer. Pharm. Assoc. Proc., Vol. XXVIII, p. 421). In this connection the following remarks from former editions of this work may be used to indicate the opinion of Prof. King concerning the preparation sold under the name leptandrin.
"Dr. T. L. A. Greve states that 'under the name of leptandrin various preparations have been sold. Originally, the soft resin was simply dried and powdered but it was found to be nearly inert. The alcoholic extract, dried and powdered, makes a good preparation, and would, probably, be better if deprived of its resin. It is very difficult, however, to dry it without the addition of magnesia or some other absorbent. Most of the so-called leptandrin made at present for medicinal purposes, is merely a dried aqueous extract, so that our practitioners may observe how much they have been imposed upon heretofore by the representations of some manufacturers of the concentrated principles as to their modes of preparation, etc. (N. B.—The powder known heretofore by the name 'leptandrin,' being at this day prepared so as to be nearly worthless, I have substituted the extract for it in nearly all the formulae in this work where its use occurs)" (King.)
At present, neither leptandrin nor other "resinoids" are used to any great extent by Eclectic physicians.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Physiologically, leptandra acts upon the gastric, hepatic, and intestinal apparatus. The fresh root is actively and dangerously cathartic, and has produced violent emesis and bloody purging, accompanied by vertigo, and administered to the pregnant female has produced miscarriage. In this state, it is totally unfit for a cathartic, but upon drying the root loses its drastic qualities, and becomes a safe cholagogue, laxative, and cathartic. In ordinary doses it does not produce copious alvine discharges, but gently stimulates the functions of the liver. It does not debilitate nor lower the tone of the bowels or the general system, but gently stimulates and strengthens the functional activity of the whole intestinal appendages. It favors normal intestinal excretion and improves digestion. Prof. Scudder regarded it as a gastro-intestinal tonic, and thought it indicated where there is enfeebled circulation with tendency to stasis. The only condition in which the green root has been used was for intermittent fever, but as we possess better remedies for this state, its use as a cathartic is at least injudicious.
No better laxative can be used in atonic states of the system than leptandra. No matter how great the intestinal atony, it will be found to operate gently and without systemic disturbance. It is an exceedingly useful drug for conditions depending upon hepatic torpor. Small doses restore the liver to its normal condition. The cathartic action of leptandra is beneficial in the forming stages of fevers and in the early stages of dysentery. It relieves the constipated upper bowel, increases the biliary secretions, and acts as an unirritating intestinal tonic, and the dysenteric discharges are speedily checked. In acute dysentery it should be used early. It is an admirable remedy for chronic dysentery, with chronic enteritis, accompanied by dizziness, cold extremities, headache, abdominal and hepatic pain, with mental depression. It is a good agent for atonicity of the stomach and liver. The indications pointing to its use are drowsiness, coldness of the extremities, hot, dry skin, sluggish circulation, abdominal plethora, dull aching pain in hepatic region and in left shoulder, and dull heavy frontal headache, sallow or yellow skin, with a pale, white-coated, broad, thick tongue, and a bitter, disagreeable taste.
Leptandra stimulates the glandular system to activity, and is valuable in chronic diseases of the mucous membranes. For indigestion, with deficient secretion and constipation, it may be combined with podophyllin triturate (1 in 100). When the stools are clay-colored, with a deficiency of the biliary secretion, it may be used to bring about bilious discharges, even though diarrhoea be already present. In dyspepsia, with an unpleasant frontal headache, yellow, furred tongue, with nausea and yellowness of the skin and conjunctiva, specific leptandra will be found an excellent drug. In gastric atony, if necessary, it may be combined with hydrastis, xanthoxylum, chelone, and the milder bitter tonics in general. Black root is a good remedy in diarrhoea when indicated. There is a passage of undigested aliment, the liver is inactive, there is dull abdominal pain, and the stools may be of a light clay color. Here leptandra will be found to act kindly. Another condition in which it will prove serviceable, is in the diarrhoea of children passing through the period of dentition. Chamomilla or rhubarb may be exhibited with it, when specifically indicated. When the skin shows a jaundiced condition, and there is hepatic tenderness, R Compound syrup of rhubarb and potassa flℨiij, specific leptandra flℨi. Mix. Sig. Ten to 20 drops every hour until the diarrhoea ceases.
Leptandra is a useful remedy in disorders of the liver. It is a valuable agent in that state known as "biliousness." In acute hepatitis combine the dried alcoholic extract with a small portion of diaphoretic powder to relieve the congested viscus. An occasional dose is not without good effect in chronic inflammation of the liver. Specific leptandra may be employed after the passage of biliary calculi. Combined with hydrastis, it will materially alter the condition upon which the formation of the concretions depends. In jaundice it may be combined with dioscorea, chionanthus, or chelidonium, as indicated. It has been successfully employed in acute muco-enteritis and chronic enteritis. In the formative stage of fevers, particularly bilious fever, its cathartic action will be appreciated. Many times it checks the morbid process, and puts the patient on the road to recovery. It has been used with advantage in typhoid fever in malarious districts, though it is questionable whether, as a rule, any agent should be employed which has a tendency to increase the intestinal secretions and alvine evacuations. It is better suited to those cases showing typhoid characteristics, but not evidencing lesions of Peyer's patches.
Leptandra has been found useful in malaria. The chill should first be broken with quinine and followed by a cathartic dose of leptandra. Many contend that by its exhibition in this manner, the abnormal condition producing the chill is rectified and a return of the unpleasantness is wholly averted, while under the influence of quinine alone, though the chill be broken, there is likely to be a return of the malady. Dropsy has been quite successfully treated with leptandra. In hydrocephalus its cathartic action is desirable. It should be combined with cream of tartar and mentha viridis for this purpose. In ascites, with hepatic congestion and great mental depression, it will be administered both with a view to removing the excess of fluid and to prevent its further accumulation. Dose of the powdered root as a cathartic, from 20 to 60 grains, which may be given in sweetened water; of the infusion, in typhoid conditions, 1/2 fluid ounce every hour until it operates, and to be repeated daily. Dose of the alcoholic extract, which is one of its best forms of administration, from 1 to 5 grains in form of pills, Specific leptandra, 2 drops to 1 fluid drachm.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Drowsiness, dizziness, and mental depression, with tenderness and heavy pain in the hepatic region; the tongue is coated markedly white, the skin is yellow, there is a bitter taste, cold extremities, nausea, and dull frontal headache; thirst, with inability to drink; restlessness, with insomnia; diarrhoea, with half-digested passages, or clay-colored evacuations; enfeebled portal circulation, with lassitude and gloomy and depressed mental state.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.