English Name—COMMON GOLDTHREAD.
French Name—Coptis triphylle.
German Name—Kleinste christwurz.
Officinal Names—Helleborus trifolius, Coptis, Fibraurea, &c.
Synonyms—Helleborus trifolius Linnaeus, &c. Fibra aurea Colden and Schoepf. Anemone groelandica Oeder. Chryza fibraurea Raf.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Michaux, Pursh, Salisbury, Schoepf, Pallas, Oeder, Thacher, Coxe, B. Barton, Bigelow, M. B. fig. 5, & Sequel, W. Bart. V. M. M. fig 34.
Genus COPTIS—Calix corolliform and caducous, with five or six leaves. Corolla with five or six nectariform cucullate petals. Many hypogynous stamina. Pistils five to eight, stipitate, germs oblong, styles recurved. Capsuls as many, stipitate, oblong, beaked, one celled, many seeded, dehiscent longitudinally.
Species C. TRIFOLIA—Roots filiform, creeping; leaves sub-radical, ternate; folioles sessile, rounded, crenate; scapes one flowered.
Description—Roots perennial, creeping, filiform, of a bright yellow, with many small fibres— Caudex or base of the scapes and radical leaves, covered with imbricate scales, ovate acuminate and yellowish—Leaves evergreen, on long slender petioles, proceeding from the caudex, with ternate folioles, sessile, rounded or obovate, base acute, margin with unequal acuminate crenatures and lobes, surface smooth, firm and veined. Scapes as long as the leaves, slender filiform, with one flower and a minute mucronate bract under it.
Flowers about half an inch wide, with a white corolliform calix of five, six or seven sepals or folioles, oblong, obtuse, concave. Petals as many, shorter, nectariform, obovate, hollow, yellow at the top. Stamina many, filaments slender and white, anthers rounded, adnate and yellow. Pistils from five to eight, stipitate germs shorter than the gynophore or base, oblong, acute, compressed. Styles short and curved, stigmas acute. Capsules like the pistils naked, the calix having fallen off, umbellate, on long divaricate pedicels, oblong rostrate, unilocular, dehiscent on the inner side, and many seeds attached to the other side.
History—This plant was erroneously united to Helleborus by Linnaeus. I proposed to call it Chryza, in 1808: it was since called Coptis by Salisbury; although my name is anterior and more descriptive, and Fibraurea of Colden would have been good also, I am so little tenacious as to admit the Coptis which has already been adopted by many. The principal distinctions are found in the stipitate pistils and capsules, besides petals not bilabiate. My new genus Enemion biternatum, differs from Coptis by want of petals, and two seeded capsuls. Many botanists call the petals of this plant nectaries, and the calix corolla, thus saying that they have no calyx: but the natural affinities teach that wherever the perigone is double, the inner range is the corolla, whatever be its form.
Both Coptis and Helleborus belong to POLYANDRI polygynia of Linnaeus, and to the RANUNCULACEOUS tribe, or natural order ADNANTHERIA, section with irregular petals, and dehiscent fruits. This plant blossoms early in the spring of the cold regions or in May.
The roots are the only parts used; they are of a fine golden color, whence the name. They ought to be collected in the summer, and are easily dried; but not easily reduced to powder. The plant itself is a pretty evergreen, having the appearance of the strawberry plant.
Locality—A boreal plant found from Canada to Greenland and Iceland on the east, and to Siberia on the west. The most southern limits are New England, New York, and the shores of Lake Erie. It is commonly found in mossy swamps and bogs of evergreen woods; but also on the rocks of the White Mountains, Labrador, Newfoundland, &c.
Qualities—A pure intense bitter, without smell, nor astringency, consisting of extractive matter and a bitter principle, soluble in water and alcohol: the tincture is yellow.
Properties—Tonic and stomachic, promoting digestion, strengthening the viscera, useful in dyspepsia, debility, convalescence from fevers and whenever a pure bitter is required; being a good substitute for Quassia, Columbo, Gentian, &c. A tincture made with an ounce of the roots in a pound of diluted alcohol, is recommended in doses of a tea spoonful thrice a day, or ten to twenty grains of the powder: both agree with the stomach.
It has been used for ulceration of the mouth, in gargle, &c. but Bigelow pretends that it is inert in that case, being devoid of astringency; and to other articles added to it, are to be ascribed the benefit it may have afforded.
Substitutes—Quassia—Columbo—Menyanthes trifoliata—Frasera verticillata—Aletris farinosa—Sabbatia angularis, and other pure bitters.
Additions and corrections
27. COPTIS TRIFOLIA—Ives and others appear to doubt the assertion of Bigelow that it is inert in sore mouth: it is yet used extensively and alone for it and sore throat. It is also good for sore eyes like Hydrastis, of which it appears equivalent.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.