English Name—YELLOW PUCOON.
French Name—Hydraste du Canada.
German Name—Gelb Puckuhn.
Officinal Name—Hydrastis radix.
Vulgar Names—Yellowroot, Ground Raspberry, Yellowpaint, Golden Seal, Orange root, Indian paint, Eyebalm, &c.
Synonyms—Warnera Canadensis Miller—Hydrophyllum verum Linn. Hydrastis Ellis.
Authorities—Linn. Mich. Pursh, Miller, Elliot, Eaton, Torrey, Stokes, Coxe, B. Barton, W. Barton, fig. 26, bad.
Genus HYDRASTIS—Perigone simple, petaloid, three leaved, caducous. Stamina many, unequal, linear. Pistils many forming an ovate bead, Styles verv short, stigmas compressed. Fruit a compound berry, formed by acines or fleshy seeds.
Species H. Canadensis—Stem two leaved, uniflore: leaves unequal, alterne, lower petiolate, upper sessile, painiate, cordate, three to seven lobed, lobes acute, unequally serrate; flower terminal on a short peduncle.
Description—Root perennial, of a bright yellow, tortuose, knobby, wrinkled, with many long fibres. Stem a foot high or less, simple, straight, round, pubescent, base naked, top with two unequal alterne leaves. First leaf petiolate, cordate, palmate, five or seven lobed, sinuses oblong and obtuse, lobes oval, unequal, acute, with irregular sharp serratures, five branched nerves. The upper or second leaf similar, but sessile and commonly trilobe. These leaves are not quite expanded when the blossoms appears.
Flowers single terminal, on a peduncle shorter than the upper leaf. Three petals or petaloid leaves, flesh or rose colored, oval, obtuse, equal. Many unequal filaments, shorter than the petals, linear and compressed; anthers oblong, obtuse, compressed. Many Pistils oval, crowded forming an oval head, styles very short, stigma dilated, compressed. Berry red and oval, formed by many oblong grains or acines; fleshy, obtuse, murieatcd by the persistent styles, each one seeded, seeds oblong.
Locality—From Canada and Maine to Carolina and Tennessee, in rich shady woods, on the banks of streams, sides of hills, deep valleys: very common in West Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, &c. rare in limestone plains.
History—A pretty and singular plant, easily known by its habit. It blossoms very early in spring in March and April, and the petals are so caducous and fugaceous that they fall off, as soon as the blossoms expands, leaving the Stamina and pistils bare. The fruit ripens in May, and is very much like a Raspberry of a bright red color; but scarcely edible.
Linnieus knew so little of this plant, that he united it at first with Hydrophyllum! he afterwards adopted the name Hydrastis of Ellis, which is a very bad name meaning imbibing water, while this plant is not at all aquatic. The name of Miller Warnera would have been better, and I should have adopted this last and called it Warnera diphylla or tinctoria if established errors were not so difficult to correct. The vulgar names of this plant are also various, and common to many others, yellow root is a name given to ten or twelve plants, Jeffersonia, Coptis, Xanthorhiza, &c. Pucoon is an Indian name for all roots dying red, orange or yellow, such as Sanguinaria, Batschia, Galium, Ceanothus, &c.; but this is their best yellow Pucoon, affording a juice of a brilliant yellow color, which they use to stain skins and clothing; it may become a valuable dye.
Hydrastis belongs to the RANUNCULACEOUS Order where it forms a very distinct genus, by its berry like seeds. Also to Polyandria polygynia.
Qualities—The root is only used, it is juicy when fresh, and loses two thirds of its weight by drying. The taste is exceedingly bitter, rather pungent and nauseous. The smell is strong and virose. It contains Amarine, Extractive, several salts, and a peculiar principle Hydrastin of a yellow color.
Properties—Tonic, ophthalmic, detergent, &c. This plant is much used in Ohio, Kentucky, &c. for diseases of the eyes, the juice or an infusion are used as a wash, in sore or inflamed eyes. It is considered a specific by the Indians for that disorder; they also employ it for sore legs, and many external complaints, as a topical tonic. Internally it is used as a bitter tonic, in infusion or tincture in disorders of the stomach, the liver, &c. and is equivalent to Aletris and Coptis. It is said to enter into compound remedies for the Cancer, acting as a mild detergent tonic, and the Cherokees are supposed to use it in that disease; but better detergents are known. The properties of this plant are not yet fully known, it appears to be slightly narcotic and available in many other disorders. Some Indians employ it as a diuretic, stimulant and escharotic, using the powder for blistering, and the infusion for the Dropsy.
Substitutes—Jeffersonia binata—Coptis trifolia, Xanthorhiza, Aletris, Sanguinaria, Sigillaria, Frasera, Menyanthes, &c. But none of these is so efficacious for sore eyes, except perhaps the Jeffersonia. For Cancer Viburnum dentatum, Rumex and Orobanche.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.