English Name—BITTER DOGSBANE.
French Name—Apocyn Amer.
German Name—Fliegen Fangemdes. (No such name in German. -Henriette)
Officinal Name—Apocynum radix.
Vulgar Names—Milk-weed, Bitter-root, Honey-bloom, Catchfly, Flytrap, Ipecac.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Kalm, Michaux, Pursh, Schoepf, Elliot, Bigelow, fig. 36, &c.
Genus APOCYNUM—Calyx five cleft. Corolla bell shaped, five cleft. Five Corpuscles surrounding the germ. Five Anthers alternating with them, connivent and adhering by the middle to the stegyne or cover of the pistils, which are two, small and concealed; succeeded by two follicles, with numerous downy seeds.
Species A. ANDROSEMIFOLIUM—Smooth, stem erect, dichotome; leaves petiolate, opposite, entire, acute; cymes nodding, lateral, and terminal, beyond the leaves. Follicles linear.
Description—Root perennial, large, bitter and milky like the whole plant. Stem very smooth as well as the leaves, lactecent and with a tough fibrous bark: from three to five feet high, with few branches and leaves, cylindrical, often rose coloured: forked several times upwards. Leaves opposite, petiolate, pale beneath, ovate, acute, entire, two or three inches long, with one large nerve.
Flowers on cymose racemes, lateral and terminal; always longer than the leaves, lax nodding and few flowered. Minute acute bracts on the peduncles. Calyx short, five cleft, acute. Corolla white, tinged with red, similar to a little bell, divided into five spreading acute segments at the top. Stamina five, with short filaments, anthers connivent arrow shaped, cohering with the stegyne or singular body covering and concealing the pistils, (mistaken for a stigma by many Botanists): it is thick and round. Five glandular corpuscles, (called nectaries by some,) alternate with the stamina. Two pistils ovate, concealed, two sessile stigmas. Fruit a pair of follicles, slender, linear, acute, drooping, cylindrical. Seeds numerous, oblong, embricate, seated on a central receptacle or spermophore, and crowned by a long down.
History—A pretty and interesting plant belonging to a very distinct genus, which gives name to a large natural tribe of plants the APOCYNES, distinguished by the singular stegyne, double follicles, &c. In the Linnaean system they are put in PENTANDRIA digynia, although the stegyne was mistaken for a single stigma.
Apocynum means dogsbane in Greek, and the specific name implies the similitude of the leaves to Androsemum. There are some other species of the same genus in North America, but none so pretty. All have small white flowers, while in this the flowers are larger, flesh or rose coloured. The Ap. cannabinum has been used by the Americans to make a kind of hemp: the fibrous tough bark of all the species are calculated to afford it by maceration. All have a bitter milky juice, and yet the flowers smell of honey, and produce that sweet substance.
Bees and other insects, collect this honey; but small flies are often caught by inserting their proboscis between the fissures of the anthers, where it is not easy for them to extricate it; they are often seen dead in that confined situation, after unavailing struggles. Whence one of the names of this plant, Catchfly. No animals eat it.
Locality—Rather a common plant, found from Canada to Georgia and Missouri. It grows in woods, hills, dry or sandy soils, along fences, and over old fields: it is rare in limestone soils, and rich land. It blossoms in summer from June to July.
Qualities—Kalm has mentioned this plant to be poisonous and blistering like Rhus Vernix; but it is quite harmless. The root when chewed has an intensely bitter and unpleasant taste, perceptible in the whole plant in a lesser degree, except the flowers, and arising from the bitter milk it contains. The decoction is of a red colour and very bitter. The spirituous solution is colourless but bitter. It contains therefore a bitter principle soluble in water and alcohol, and a colouring principle not soluble in alcohol; besides a volatile oil and caoutchouc.
Properties—This is a very active plant, highly valued by the Southern Indians. It is tonic, emetic, alterative and syphilitic. The root is the most powerful part: but it must be used fresh, since time diminishes or destroys its power. At the dose of thirty grains of the fresh powdered root, it acts as an emetic, equal to Ipecacuana; in smaller doses it is a tonic, useful in dyspepsia and fevers. The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations employ it in syphilis, and consider it a specific, they use the fresh root chewed, swallowing only the juice. This later use has been introduced into Tennessee and Kentucky as a great secret. It must act as a tonic in all those cases, tonics being often emetic and antivenereal. An objection to this plant is its nauseous bitter taste. Many substitutes may be found of a less disagreeable nature.
Substitutes—Ipecacuana—Eupatorium perfoliatum—Prenanthes opicrina—Lobelia siphilitica—Aletris farinosa—Sanicula marilandica—Euphorbia Corollata & E. Ipecacuana—Frasera— Mezereon—Guayacum, &c. and all bitter tonics or emetics.
Remarks—Barton and Henry have not mentioned this plant, Bigelow represents it with leaves too sharp or acuminate. All the other species of the same genus have the same properties in a lesser degree. The A. cannabinum is distinguished from this by smaller leaves and flowers in shorter panicles; while the A. hypericifolium has prostrated stems with narrow leaves, and grows only on the banks of streams and lakes.
Additions and corrections
7. APOCYNUM ANDROSEMIFOLIUM—There are several varieties of this plant. 1. Acutifolium, 2. Acuminatum, 3. Obtusifolium, leaves nearly elliptic, 4. Roseum, &c. The milk of this plant is acrid; when dried, it forms a kind of gum elastic, very inflammable. It bears also the vulgar name of Snake's milk, and is called Hovatte in Canada and Louisiana like Asclepias. The roots are creeping: the bark of these roots is the only active part, being two thirds in weight of the whole. This bark is soluble in water and alcohol; as a tonic the dose is fifteen to twenty grains, as an emetic thirty to forty, it acts like Ipecac without inducing vertigo. It Is also employed as a cathartic, to purge the bile, and cure costiveness. Zollickoffer has used it in acute rheumatism, pneumonia, and phrenitis, after cathartics, as an efficient diaphoretic, in doses of ten grains. Some Empirics use it in hemoptysis without adequate care.
APOCYNUM, Add. Very valuable, affording hemp and cloth from the stems, cotton in the pods, sugar in the blossoms, shoots edible like asparagus, root very powerful, emetic, cathartic, diuretic, sudorific, vermifuge, and pectoral, according to doses and forms. Six grains of the powder is sudorific, 30 grains will purge and vomit, useful in asthma united to skunkweed. Also used in dropsies, rheumatism, and whooping cough by empirics. All the species nearly equal, and deserving attention.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.