English Name—COMMON SNEEZEWORT.
French Name—Helenie d'automne.
Vulgar Names—Sneezeweed, Sneeze wort, Swamp Sunflower, False Sunflower, Yellow Star, Oxeye.
Authorities—Lin. Mich. Pursh. Torrey, Elliott, Cornut, Clayton, Schoepf, B. Barton, W. Bart, ft. fig. 26, Duncan, &c.
Genus HELENIUM—Perianthe many parted, segments linear. Flowers radiate, rays cuneate trilobe, styliferous, from 15 to 20. Phoranthe hemispherical, naked, chaffy on the margin. Florets complete, four or five cleft. Pappus with five chaffs. Seeds hairy.
Species H. AUTUMNALE—Pubescent, Stem corymbose above, winged: leaves lanceolate, serrate, decurrent: peduncles thicker above, rays flat, florets five cleft.
Description—Root perennial, fibrous. Several Stems from three to seven feet high, erect, angular, winged by the decurrent leaves, branched and corymbose above: covered as well as the leaves with a very short and dense pubescence. Leaves glaucous, alternate, sessile, decurrent, lanceolate, acuminate, unequally serrate, dotted by small pits, subtrinervate.
Flowers corymbose, golden yellow, large, one or two inches in diameter. Peduncles axillary, uniflore, with one oval lanceolate bract, clavate or thicker upwards. Perianthe with many unequal linear acate segments. Phoranthe semiglobose, with chaffs near the rays, lanceolate. Rays from five to twenty, spreading flat, or sometimes rather reflexed, shape runeate, end broad trilobe, middle lobe often smaller. Disk greenish yellow convex, florets small crowded five cleft, with syngenesious stamina, a bifid style, oblong germ, pappus formed by three to five chaffs subulate and awned.
Locality—It grows all over the United States, and from Canada to Texas and Florida, in wet meadows, and Savannas, damp fields, overflowed grounds, banks of streams, &c.
History—Linnaeus has employed the specific name of the Inula helenium or Elecampane as a generic one in this instance, owing to a faint resemblance. The Helenium was said by the Greeks to have sprung from the tears of the fair Helen. This was once a unique species, but now several others are added, which grow in the Southern States. It belongs to the great Order of RADIATES where it is the type of a small family the Helenides: Linnaeus puts it in his Syngenesia superflua.
It is a fine plant, rather ornamental, and adorning in the fall the meadows with its golden blossoms, appearing from September to November. The Cattle do not touch it. The varieties are 1. Villosa, 2. Pumila, 3. Prealta, &c.
Qualities—The plant has hardly any smell: the taste is bitter, and a little pungent or even acrid. It has not been analyzed; but contains amarine, extractive and an oil.
Properties—Tonic, febrifuge, errhine. Clayton and Schoepf mention its use in intermittents; but it is not extensively employed as yet in fevers: while it is known and employed all over the country as a valuable Errhine. The whole plant reduced to powder act as such; but the flowers and particularly the central florets are powerful sternutatory. A very small pinch of their powder produces a lasting sneezing. The late B. Barton has eminently extolled it, as a substitute to more acrid Errhines, either alone or united to other ingredients. It may be used in diseases of the head, deafness, anavrosis, head-ache, hemicrania, rheumatism or congestions in the head and jaws, &c. The shocks of sneezing are often useful in those cases, when other remedies can hardly avail. This plant has probably many other properties, little known as yet, and deserving investigation.
Substitutes—As a tonic Chelone glabra, and other herbaceous tonics. As an errhine, Asarum Canadense, Sanguinaria canadensis, Myrica cerifera, Tobacco and Cephalic Snuffs. Besides the Helenium quadridentatum of Louisiana and Florida, which will be known by its lower leaves pinnatifid, upper entire, and the florets quadrifid or four cleft.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.