Classif. Nat. Order Polygalides. Diadelphia, L.
Genus POLYGALA. Calyx persistent, five parted, unequal. Corolla monopetalous, unequal, six to twelve stamens on the corolla, divided in two equal fascides. One pistil. Capsule two celled, two valved.
Subgenus TRICLISPERMA. Raf. 1814. Corolla three parted, two segments like wings, one semi-tubular cariniform, base nectariform, top fimbriate. Six stamina. Style clavate, stigma bilabiate truncate. Seeds covered with a trivalve arilla, not pubescent.
Sp. Polygala paucifolia. Mx. or Triclisperma grandiflora. Raf. 1814. Creeping, stems surculose, assurgent, leaves few, terminal, sessile, ovate acute, glaucous ciliate: flowers one to four terminal.
Description. Root perennial, creeping, yellow, terete. Stems procumbent at the base, naked, with one or two surculi, with abortive small leaves, and sometimes flowers; top of the stem assurgent, erect, three to six inches high, simple, smooth, terete, with three to five leaves at the end, fasciculated alternate, ovate acute at both ends, entire and smooth, uninerve, glaucous, minutely ciliate on the margin. Flowers terminal, one to four, mixed with the leaves, large, red, handsome, but scentless, pedunculated; wings large oval acute, keel shorter; only six stamina in two fascicles of three. Pistils and seeds as described in TricUsperma.
History. A pretty little plant, found commonly in granitic hills, from New England to Carolina, chiefly in the Blue mountains; rare in the Alleghany or Secandary mountains. It blossoms in the spring. Many varieties: 1. Apogonia, nearly beardless, probably the P. uniflora of Mx. 2. Procumbens 3. Heterantha. Surculi with apterous flowers. 4. Quadriflora. 5. Albiflora, &c.
The genus Polygala is a cahos, rather a family than a genus; the Heisteria, abolished by L. must be restored. The stamina are far from being always eight, as stated by L. I ascertained as early as 1803, that this plant was hardly a Polygala, except in habit, the arilla and stamina being the chief differences, and I established the genus Triclisperma in 1814, which must be a subgenus at least.
Properties. The whole plant, but chiefly the root, has a sweet pungent taste, and somewhat the smell of Gautiera. Its properties are similar to it, and to Polygala senega. It is stimulant, sudorific, restorative, &c. It may be used in tea or decoction: being milder than either; it may be very useful when the Senega would be too stimulant, and it may perhaps answer all its effects in asthma, rheumatism, dropsy, &c. It must contain the Gautiera oil, but it has not been distilled from it as yet.
Several North American species of Polygala are medical; such as P. senega, P. rubella, P. sanguinea, &c. The first is the common officinal Senega Snake-root, well known in materia medica, and kept in all the shops. It is stimulant, diuretic, sialagogue, expectorant, sudorific, menagogue, resolvent, deobstruent, purgative, and emetic. It was first brought to notice in 1785, as a cure for rattle snake bites, among the Senekas. Many physicians have since investigated its properties, and used it in dropsies, ascites, croup, typhus, with pneumonic symptoms, peripneumonia, rheumatism, lethargy, pleuritis, gout, marasm, asthma, &c. The Indians use it besides snake bites, for syphilis and malignant sore throat. The powder, decoction, tincture, wine, and syrup are employed. The taste and smell is very pungent and nauseating. A resin and the Senegine, a peculiar substance, are the most active constituents. Ten grains of the powder is a dose; a larger one will often prove emetic. It produces sometimes a plentiful evacuation by stool, urine, and perspiration. It is injurious in consumption and inflammatory disorders. Some compare its action to calomel, and consider it a general alterative. In croup, it often disengages the morbid membrane. It is very beneficial in chronic rheumatism, the asthma of old people, and inveterate dropsy; small and moderate doses prove good sudorifics. The P. sanguinea has the same taste and properties, being a milder equivalent; but the P. rubella or polygama, figured by Bigelow fig. 54, has different properties, being bitter and tonic, although likewise stimulant and expectorant; it appears to resemble much more the P. vulgaris of Europe.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.