English Name—ORANGE SWALLOW-WORT.
French Name—Houatte Tubereuse.
German Name—Knollige Schwalbenwurz.
Officinal Name—A. tuberosa radix.
Vulgar Names—Pleurisy root, Butterfly weed, Flux root, Wind root, White root, Silk weed, Canada root, &c.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Schoepf, Michaux, Pursh, B. Barton, Chapman, Thacher, Dispensaries, Parker, Tully, Bigelow, Med. Bot. fig. 26 & Seq. W. Barton M. Med, fig. 22, &c.
Genus ASCLEPIAS—Calix quinquefid. Corolla five parted, flat or relaxed, bearing five auricles with appendages and a large central truncate stegyne, supporting and concealing the five stamina, covering the two pistils: which are succeeded by two follicles.
Species A. TUBEROSA—Hairy, leaves scattered, variable, nearly sessile, oblong or lanceolate, entire: umbels with subulate bracts, flowers lax and orange color.
Description—Root perennial, large, fleshy, white, of variable form, fusiform, crooked or branchai—Many stems either erect or ascending or— procumbent, round, hairy, green or red—Leaves scattered, sessile, or on short petiols, very hairy, pale beneath, entire or undulate, oblong or lanceolate, or nearly linear, obtuse or acute.
Several terminal or lateral umbels, divaricate, with subulate bracts for involucre. Flowers erect, peduncled, and of a bright orange color. Calix small reflexed, five parted. Corolla reflexed, five parted, segments oblong; auricles erect, nearly as long, cuculate, with incurved appendages or horns. Stegyne tough, pyramidal, having five coalescent stamina around, each with two cells and two masses of pollen suspended by a threat. Two pistils completely concealed by the stegyne; germs ovate with short styles, stigmas obtuse.—Follicles two, often abortive, lanceolate, acute, erect, downy, dehiscent laterally; seeds many, imbricate, flat, ovate, connected to a longitudinal receptacle by long silken hairs.
History—The beautiful genus ASCLEPIAS belongs to the natural order of APOCYNES, section Asclepides. In the Linnean system, it has been put in PENTANDRIA digynia; but the singular structure of the flower is such as to puzzle Botanists, and it might as well be considered as decandrous, or monadelphous! the flowers appear to have a double corolla, the inner one has five lobes called nectaries or auricles. This structure renders, however, the genus very natural and easily recognizable. It is dedicated to Esculapius, the ancient god of medicine, under his Grecian name of Asclepias.
This species is easily known at first sight by its bright orange flowers blossoming in July and August, among all the numerous American congeneric species; which are upwards of thirty. It is a very ornamental plant, although inodorous, while many others are sweet scented. The roots which are nearly tuberous, have given name to it, although the A. acuminata is also tuberous. The A. decumbens of some Botanists is only one of its varieties: it is very variable in the stems and leaves.
All the Asclepias are milky; but this less than others. They all produce a fine glossy and silky down in the follicles or pods; which has been used for beds, hats, cloth and paper. This down makes excellent beds and pillows, being elastic, and one pound and an half occupying a cubic foot. Light and soft hats are made with it: the staple is too short to be spun and woven alone; but it may be mixed with flax, cotton, wool and raw silk. It makes excellent paper, and the stalks of the plants afford it likewise, as in flax and Apocynum. The A. syriaca or Silky Swallow-wort producing more of the down, has been cultivated for the purpose, and a pound of down produced from forty to fifty plants. Its young shoots are edible like poke, and the flowers produce a honey by compression.
The A. syriaca, A. incarnata, and several other species, have similar medical properties, and may be substituted to this, although somewhat less active.
Locality—Found all over the United States, but most abundant in the South; it prefers open situations, poor and gravelly soils, along gravelly streams and on hills. Rare in rich and loamy soils.
Qualities—The root is brittle when dry, and easily reduced to powder; it is somewhat bitter, but not unpleasant: it contains a bitter extractive and fecula, both soluble in boiling water. When fresh the root, as well as the whole plant, is rather unpleasant, subacrid and nauseous.
Properties—Subtonic, diaphoretic, expectorant, diuretic, laxative, escarotic, carminative, antispasmodic, &c. It is a valuable popular remedy, and a mild sudorific, acting safely without stimulating the body. It is supposed to act specifically on the lungs, to promote suppressed expectoration, and to relieve the breathing of pleuritic patients. It appears to exert a mild tonic effect, as well as stimulant power over the excretories. It relieves the dyspnoea and pains in the chest. It often acts as a mild cathartic, suitable for the complaints of children; it is also useful in cholic, hysteria, menorhagia, dysentery, &c.
In the low state of typhus fever, it has produced perspiration when other sudorifics had failed. In pneumonia and catarrh it is always beneficial. It restores the tone of the stomach and digestive powers. It has been given in asthma, rheumatism, syphilis, and even for worms.
All these valuable properties, many of which are well attested, entitle it to general notice, to become an article of commerce, be kept in shops, &c.
The doses are from twenty to thirty grains of the powdered root three times a day, or a gill of the decoction and infusion every few hours: a vinous infusion and a decoction in milk are also recommended in some cases.
Substitutes—Snakeroots—Myrrh—Spikenard—Squill—Asarabaca—Sassafras—Tolu—Apocynum androsemifolium—Liquorice—Ginseng—Many other Swallow-worts, &c.
Remarks—It may be useful to notice some other species possessing the same properties.
A. syriaca or common Silkweed, grows all over the United States near streams; it has large oblong opposite leaves, white beneath, and large globular umbels of sweet scented flowers of a lilac color.
A. incarnata, grows also near streams every where, has lanceolate leaves, opposite and acute; flowers flesh colored or red, scentless.
A. acuminata, also near streams in New-Jersey, &c. with opposite ovate acuminate leaves, flowers red and white.
A. quadrifolia, from New-York to Kentucky in woods, beautiful little plant with leaves like the foregoing, but four in a whorl, flowers flesh coloured and very fragrant.
Henry calls our plant A. decumbens, but his figure is a very bad one of A. incarnata.
Additions and corrections
13. ASCLEPIAS TUBEROSA—Varieties, 1. Prealta, 2. Decumbens, 3. Undulata. 4. Angustifolia, &c. The Southern Indians employ it in dysentery, dropsy and asthma, also as an emetic in large doses, and they use the powder externally in venereal chancres as well as fungous ulcers. They make a kind of hemp with the stem, like that of A. debilis and Apocynum cannabinum, and use it for strings to bows. The silk makes better wicks for candles than cotton. The A. asthmatica of the East Indies, and A. curassavica of the West Indies, are emetic also and used in clysters for dysentery and piles. Mease says that our A. tuberosa is a safe and powerful diuretic. Burson extols it in Marasmus or Atrophy, Cholera Infantum, and diseases attending the dentition of infants as a mild cathartic destitute of smell and taste, he prescribes to unite it with aromatics. A. Ives considers it equivalent to Sanguinaria, but milder and less certain. Eberle, Zollickoffer, Hopkins, &c. confirm the valuable properties of this plant; yet it is only a palliative in Phthisis. The A. incarnata has been noticed by Tully and Anderson in a thesis as a useful emetic and cathartic. The A. syriaca has lately been employed as an anodyne in asthma, and a powerful diuretic in dropsy, Ives states many cures performed in New York, but it fails sometimes and relapses often happen. The A. serpentaria of Louisiana, is used by Indians against snakes.
ASCLEPIAS. Add, the Indians of Louisiana use A. serpentaria, Fl. lud. for the bite of rattle snakes. A. debilis makes a kind of flax. The A. phytolaccoides dies yellow green, the milk appears similar to opium; silk glovees have been made with the silk of the pods. The Oregon and Western tribes call many species Nepesha, they use the roots in dropsy, asthma, dysentery, and as emetics, chiefly the A. syriaca, A. incarnata, and A. obtusifolia.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.