Botanical Source.—This plant is indigenous, perennial and pubescent, having an herbaceous, decumbent stem, about a foot high, and which is often viscid as well as the whole plant. The branches are somewhat dichotomous and angular. The leaves are very variable, even in the same plant, solitary or in pairs, ovate or lanceolate-ovate, cordate or acute at base, often obtuse at the apex, repand-toothed or entire, petiolate, from 1 to 4 inches in length, and 1/2 or 2/3 as broad, or even of equal breadth; when they occur in pairs, one of them is much smaller. The flowers are solitary, axillary, and pendulous; the corolla campanulate-rotate, twice as long as the calyx, tube very short, limb obscurely 5-lobed, greenish-yellow, with 5 brownish spots at the base inside. Calyx 5-cleft, persistent, enlarged, inflated, and angular; stamens 5, connivent; anthers opening lengthwise. The fruit is a yellow or orange-colored berry, inclosed in the calyx. There are many varieties of this plant, some of which have been unnecessarily divided into species, as P. obscura, P. pubescens, P. pennsylvanica, and P. philadelphia (W.—G.).
History.—This plant is common in many parts of the country, and is found growing in dry fields, hillsides, and roadsides, flowering in July-and August. Its root is fusiform, white, and bitter, and will probably act as a bitter tonic. The fruit or berries are slightly acid and edible, with a faint bitterness. Water or proof-spirit extract their properties.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Tonic, laxative, and diuretic, said also to be sedative. The juice of the berries, or a strong infusion, is reputed very beneficial in gravel, difficult urination, and several urinary disorders. Dose, of the juice of the berries, 1 or 2 fluid ounces. It will be found very useful in febrile and inflammatory diseases, attended with considerable vascular excitement, high-colored or scanty urine, restlessness or wakefulness, and torpor of the bowels.
Withania coagulans, Dunal, of India.—Sometimes confused with alkekengi. It contains a powerful coagulating principle, and is used by the natives, in place of rennet, to coagulate milk. (For medical uses in India, see Dymock, Materia Medica of Western India.)
Physalis Alkekengi, Alkekengi, or Winter cherry, of Europe, has the stem somewhat branching below, the leaves in pairs, entire, acute; flowers white; calyx of the fruit red or reddish, with acid and somewhat bitter berries. It grows about a foot high, and possesses similar properties to physalis, and is recommended as a febrifuge (AV.). It is naturalized and sometimes cultivated in the United States, being known as Strawberry tomato. Dessaignes and Chautard, in 1852, obtained the bitter principle of Physalis Alkekengi, which they call physalin (C14H16O5), and which has been employed with success in intermittent fever. Pure physalin is a white, amorphous powder, with a faint tinge of yellow; its taste is at first faintly, afterward permanently bitter. It is sparingly soluble in cold water, more soluble in hot water, chloroform, and alcohol, and sparingly soluble in ether and acids. It is dissolved without chemical alteration by ammonia, but is precipitated from alcoholic solution by an ammonical solution of acetate of lead. The fruit of Physalis Alkekengi contains citric acid and sugar.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.