English Name—BLACK SNAKE-ROOT.
French Name—Serpentaire noire.
German Name—Schwarz Schlangewurz.
Officinal Name—Serpentaria nigra.
Vulgar Names—Squaw root, Rich weed, Rattle, weed, Rattle-Snake-root, Black Cohosh &c.
Synonyms—Actea racemosa, Lin. &c. Cimicifuga Serpentaria, Pursh, &c. Macrotrys, Sub-G. Rafinesque and Decandolle.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Schoepf, Golden, Michaux, Pursh, B. Barton, Elliot, Decandolle, some Dispensaries, Tully, Big. Sequel, &c.
|G. BOTROPHIS.||G. ACTEA.||G. CIMICIFUGA|
|1. Cal. four leaved.||Calix four leaved.||Calix four leaved.|
|2. Corolla, with many minute flat petals.||Corolla, with four large flat petals.||Corolla with four urceolate petals.|
|3. Stamina many.||Stamina many.||Stamina many.|
|4. Pistil one.||Pistil one.||Pistils several.|
|5. Capsul dehiscent longitudinally.||Berry not opening.||Several dehiscent capsuls.|
|6. Seeds many lateral.||Seeds lateral.||Seeds scaly.|
Species B. SERPENTARIA—Leaves ample, decomposed or tripinnate, folioles ovate acute, serrate or jagged; raceme terminal, very long, more or less bent: flowers scattered, peduncled, bracteolate.
Description—Root perennial, blackish, thick, with long fibres.—Stem simple straight, from three to six feet high, smooth, angular, furrowed, often crooked—leaves few and alternate, one nearly radical, remote, ample, decomposed, tripinnate, upper one bipinnate; folioles sessile, opposite, three to seven on each last division of the petiole, oval or lanceolate, acuminate, smooth, pale beneath, with yellowish reticulated veins, margin unequally jagged, or sharply serrate, particularly outside: the last foliole is trifid.
Flowers in a long terminal raceme, from one to three feet long, often with one or two shorter ones near its base. This raceme is cylindrical, white, always bent or crooked at first; the flowers are scattered, lax, often geminate or fasciculate, on short peduncles, with a subulate bract. The calix is white, like a corolla, with four thick rounded and obtuse sepals; the petals are very small, shorter than the calix and stamina: these last form a pencil, the filaments are white, club shaped; the anthers yellow, oblong, terminal. Pistil oval, without style, stigma sessile, lateral and flattened. Capsul blackish and dry, with one cell and a longitudinal receptacle, opposite to the opening, to which many flat seeds are attached.
This plant has many varieties, one is dwarf, a foot high, with a triangular stem, leaves small, biternate, and with several racemes: growing in the mountains of New York. If it is a peculiar speeies; it might be called B. pumila.
History—Notwithstanding my reluctance to innovate in this work, I am compelled to separate this plant from the Genera Actea and Cimicifuga, to which it has been by turns united. I did so ever since 1808, calling it Macrotrys, which meant long raceme, which name Decandolle has adopted as a subgenus of Actea; but this name being delusive, too harsh, and an abbreviation of Macrobotrys, I have framed a better one, meaning Snake raceme: the raceme or long spike of flowers being mostly crooked, and like a snake. To convince any one of the necessity of this change and impossibility of leaving this plant with Actea or Cimicifuga, I have given the characters of the three genera in opposition to each other, whereby the striking difference in the corolla, pistils and fruit, will be perceived at once.
Actea and Botrophis belong to a peculiar natural family, the ACTEIDES, having single pistils and fruits: while Cimicifuga belongs to RANUNCULIDES with several pistils. Botrophis must be put with Actea in POLYANDRIA monogynia, while Cimicifuga belongs to POLYANDRIA pentagynia or polygynia.
The Actea japonica is probably a Botrophis. The American species has an extensive range, and was used by all the Indians. It blossoms in June and July. The whole plant, and even the flowers are medical.
Locality—All over the United States, from Maine to Florida, Louisiana and Missouri, also in Canada and Texas; very common in open woods, rich grounds and sides of hills; less common in rocky mountains and sunny glades, very rare in moist and wampy soils.
Qualities—The root and plant have rather an unpleasant smell, and a disagreeable nauseous taste. Schoepf considers it as nearly poisoneus, and to be used with caution, yet powerful and heroic. It has not been analyzed, but appears to contain extractive and a fetid oil.
Properties—Astringent, diuretic, sudorific, anodyne, repellent, emenagogue, subtonic, &c. It is an article of the materia medica of the Indians, much used by them in rheumatism, and also in facilitating parturition, whence its name of Squaw-root. It has been found useful in sore-throat, as a gargle: also in dropsy, hysterics and psora, in decoction alone, or united with Sanguinaria Canadensis. It is a beneficial auxiliary in the treatment of acute and chronic rheumatism. It is used by the Indian doctors for agues and fevers, which it cures like Eupatorium perfoliatum, by a profuse perspiration. Yellow fever is said to have been cured by it, after an emetic had been taken.
This is one of the numerous Indian cures for the bites of snakes: they use the root chewed and applied to the wound; but they consider the Eryngium aquaticum & E. yuccefolium (corn Snake-root, or Rattle-snake flag) as by far more powerful and efficient. A decoction of the root cures the itch! it is useful for the diseases of horses and cattle, is said them, expel their worms and cure the murrain, given as a drench.
Substitutes—Actea alba & A. rubra—Eryngium aquaticum & E. yuccefolium—Eupatorium perfoliatum—Snakeroots—Spikenards or Aralias—Cohosh or Caulophyllum—Juniper and other similar sudorifics and diuretics.
Remarks—Not figured in Bigelow nor Barton's works. Henry's figure of the Squawroot, which he wrongly calls Asclepias purpurascens, is a bad representation of this plant; but his description and text apply to some other plant.
The Actea alba or Whiteberry Snakeroot, which has the same properties, will be known by a shorter stem, smaller leaves, short, oblong raceme, with round white berries like wax. It grows from New York to Tennessee, in rich woods.
The A. rubra or Redberry Snakeroot, hardly differs from A. alba, but has red berries and is less common.
These two plants are also called Baneberries, and their berries are poisonous. They are called White and Red Cohosh by the Indians: the blue Cohosh is the Caulophyllum, and the black Cohosh the Botrophis.
Additions and corrections
16. BOTROPHIS SERPENTARIA—It has been found to be narcotic, nervine and tonic. A full dose produces nausea, vertigo, anxiety, pains, restlessness, uneasiness, dilatation of pupil, quick small pulse, &c. These effects are immediate but transitory. It has been used as a substitute to Digitalis and Lycopus in alarming symptoms of pulmonary phthisis, and with some success; it imparts tone to the system and lessens arterial action: the tincture, infusion and powder have been used.
BOTROPHIS. Add, used for rheumatic pains, diseases of languor and squirrous tumors, in tincture or decoction, by the Cherokees and Southern tribes.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.