Classif. Nat. Order of Acteacea. Polyandria monogynia L.
Genus PODOPHYLLUM. Calyx three leaved deciduous. Six to nine petals. Eight to fifteen stamina, anthers adnate. One pistil, no style, stigma sessile multilobe. Berry with one cell and many seeds, all inserted on one side. Creeping root, stem two leaved, uniflore, single flower between the leaves. 3 species.
1. P. peltatum. L. and auct. Stem cylindric, not furrowed, thick, longer than petioles; leaves peltate palmate, sinus obtuse, segments cuneate, bilobe, and toothed at the end; petals obovate, concave, seven to nine: stamina twelve to fifteen; berry ovate, yellow. The most common kind found all over the United States, many varieties: 1. Pumilum. 2. Elatior. 3. Grandiflorum. 4. Odoratum 5. Hetorophyllum. 6. Oligodon. 7. Triphyllum. 8. Extraxillare.
2. P. montanum. Raf. (See the figure.) Stem elongated, deeply furrowed; leaves palmate, not peltate, sinusses acute, segments unequal, ends acutely bifid, with many unequal teeth; petals oblong, obtuse, six to seven, stamina seven to nine, berry oblong, yellowish. In the Alleghany mountains, from New York to Virginia. Variety 1. Acuminatum. 2. Parviflorum.
3. P. callicarpum. Raf. in Flor. Lud. sp. 20. Stem short, equal to the petioles; leaves peltate palmate, six segments, obovate, bifid, with unequal teeth; petals six round, concave; stamina ten; berry oblong, white and rose coloured. In Louisiana and Texas. Flowers large, smelling like orange flowers; berry small.
All these species have cylindrical, creeping, and perennial roots, of a yellowish brown. Stem erect, two unequal smooth leaves, glaucous beneath, with five to nine segments, a nodding peduncle, the petals white, veined, reticulated, and a berry good to eat.
History. A fine natural genus, considered as having a single species (since the P. diphyllum was called Jeffersonia,) to which I have added two others of the same habit, but well distinguished; the P. montanum, by the slender furrowed stem, sharp bifid leaves, not peltate, and narrow petals; the P. callicarpum, by the short stem and leaves, small white fruit, &c. They are all equally medical, and I have figured the second as most novel and interesting.
They are all found in rich soils, are perennial and vernal plants, blossoming in May and June; the fruit is only ripe late in the summer, and is edible, tasting somewhat like the Papaw or Asimina. The blossoms have commonly a sweet smell; the generic name means leaf like afoot.
Properties. One of the best native cathartics; it is equal to jalap, although a little more drastic, but quite safe and unfailing. The root is used; when dry, it is brittle, and easily powdered; the taste is unpleasant, nauseous, and bitter; the bitterness is extracted by water and alcohol; it contains resin, fecula, bitter extractive gallic acid, and a gummy substance. The medical properties of this article have been well ascertained, and are admitted by all physicians: many use it frequently in the country: the extract is very good, even better than the powder. Those who employ mercurial preparations, use it united to calomel, twenty grams of the powder with ten of calomel being a strong dose: but from five to twenty grains of the extract alone is equally good. In smaller doses, it proves a gradual and easy laxative. Ten grains alone of the powder, taken at night, purges the next morning. It is chiefly useful in bilious complaints, and by its decided operation supersedes the use of a previous emetic; nay, sometimes emesis is produced by it, when the dose is large. It may be united to Cremor Tartar in all fevers where active purging is required. It has been found very useful in dropsical complaints, ascites, anasarca, rheumatism, chorea, epilepsy, &c. by Dr. Burson and others. The Cherokees use it against worms, which are expelled by its drastic effects. Dr. Zollickoffer denies this property. The leaves are said to be narcotic. No cattle ever eat them. A drench of the whole fresh plant in decoction, will purge a horse completely. Two ounces of the leaves in decoction killed a dog. The Cherokees employ the fresh juice of the root for the cure of deafness, by putting a few drops in the ear. The Osage Indians consider it as a cure for poisons, by driving them through the bowels. They are very fond of the fruit, like all the Indian tribes. A fine preserve is made of them in Louisiana. To me, this fruit is hardly palatable, and the root is so nauseous that I employ a syrup of it like the Cherokees, which becomes then a mild and not unpleasant purgative, two spoonsful being a dose. Small doses of it, or of the extract, lower the pulse from 77 to 64, and are useful in cough and pleurisy.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.