Botanical Source and Description.—This plant has a dark-colored, fibrous, perennial root, matted in masses about as large as a chestnut-burr, from which arise one or more short, ivory-white stems, 4 to 8 inches high, furnished with sessile, lanceolate, white, semi-transparent, approximate leaves or bracts, and bearing a large, white, terminal, solitary flower, which is at first nodding, but becomes upright in fruit. The calyx is represented by two to four scale-like deciduous bracts, the lower rather distant from the corolla. The corolla is permanent, of 5 distinct, erect, fleshy petals, which are narrowed below with a small, nectariferous pit at the base. Stamens 10, sometimes 8; anthers short on the thickened apex of the hairy filament, 2-celled, opening by transverse chinks. Stigma 5-crenate, depressed, and beardless. Pod or capsule 5-celled and 5-valved; the seeds numerous, and invested with an arillus-like membrane (W.—G.—Eaton).
History and Chemical Composition.—This is a singular plant, found in various parts of the Union from Maine to Carolina, and westward to Missouri, growing in shady, solitary woods, in rich, moist soil, or soil composed, of decayed wood and leaves, and near the base of trees, on whose roots it is said to be parasitic. The whole plant is ivory-white in all its parts, resembling frozen jelly, and is very succulent and tender, so much so that when handled it dissolves and melts away in the hands like ice. The flowers are inodorous, and appear from June until September; their resemblance to a pipe has given rise to the names Indian pipe or Pipe-plant. The root is the part used; it should be gathered in September and October, carefully dried, pulverized, and kept in well-stoppered bottles. A. J. M. Lasché (Pharm. Rundschau, 1889, p. 208) has found in this plant a crystallizable poisonous principle, which also occurs in several other ericaceous plants; it is named andromedotoxin (C31H51O10).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Ice-plant root is a tonic, sedative, nervine, and antispasmodic. It has also been employed in febrile diseases, as a sedative and diaphoretic. The powder has been employed in instances of restlessness, pains, nervous irritability, etc., as a substitute for opium, without any deleterious influences. It is reputed to have cured remittent and intermittent fevers, and to be an excellent antiperiodic. In convulsions of children, epilepsy, chorea, and other spasmodic affections, its administration has been followed with prompt success; hence its common name Fit or Convulsion root. The juice of the plant, alone, or combined with rose water, has been found an excellent application to obstinate ophthalmic inflammation, to ulcers, and as an injection in gonorrhoea, and inflammation and ulceration of the bladder. Dose of the powdered root, from 1/2 to 1 drachm, 2 or 3 times a day. It has been used as a substitute for opium.
This plant is undoubtedly one of value, and deserving of more confidence and attention than is at present bestowed upon it. It is, however, seldom or never used at the present day. It is not the Mesembryanthemum crystallignon (see Ficus, p. 891), or Ice-plant of Europe, which has a creeping stem a foot or more in length, with large, ovate, wavy, frosted leaves, and white flowers; and the whole plant is, covered with frost-like, warty protuberances, which give it a singular aspect.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.