Classif. Natural Order of Bicornes. Decandria monogynia. L.
Genus PYROLA. Calyx five cleft. Five petals, slightly united at the base. Ten stamina, anthers opening by two pores. One pistil. Stigma capitate. Capsule five celled, five valved. Many arillate seeds.
Sp. Pyrola maculata. L. Leaves ovate lanceolate acute, base rounded, remotely serrate, variegated with white: flowers two or three, style very short.
Description. Root perennial, creeping, contorted, yellow. One to three perennial stems, three to six inches high, simple, erect. Leaves evergreen, but few, subverticillate, on short petioles, the lower subovate, the upper ovate lanceolate, sharply serrate, very acute, variegated above by a broad longitudinal glaucous stripe, with lateral branches. Flowers white, two or three subumbellate, pedicellated, drooping, at the end of a long terminal naked peduncle. Calyx five toothed. Five ovate concave petals, often red at the base. Ten stamens, with villose filaments. Pistil globular, umbilicated. Style short and thick, almost concealed. Stigma large, depressed, urceolate, viscose. green.
History. This species belongs to the genus Chimaphila of Pursh, which Bigelow has shown to be based on mistaken characters. The genus, however, must be divided into several subgenera; such as,
1. Streptylia. Raf. Calyx five parted, style crooked, declinate, stigma annulate. P. rotundifolia, P. asarifolia, P. elliptica, has calyx five toothed.
2. Orthylia. Raf. Calyx five parted, style straight, stigma peltate. P. minor. P. secunda. P. uniflore.
3. Psiseva. Raf. 1808. Calyx five leaved, style thick and short, stigma annular. P. umbellata.
4. Chimaphila. Calyx five toothed, style immersed, stigma urceolate. P. maculata.
All these species are common to both continents, except the P. maculata, which is spread in woods from Canada to Florida and Missouri. It blossoms in July, and has very fragrant blossoms, which, with the painted leaves, renders it the prettiest species of the genus. The P. umbellata has also sweet scented flowers; it is easily known by its green cuneate leaves. Both species have the same properties, and will be included here.
Properties. The whole plants, but chiefly the leaves, have a pungent bitter-sweet taste. Chemical components, bitter extractive, resin, tannin, gum, fibrine, &c.; the resin is brown, adhesive, and odoriferous. Water and alcohol dissolve the active properties; the last still better. They are diuretic, sudorific, stimulant, and tonic. Dr. Wolf, in Germany, has drawn the attention to the P. umbellata, as an equivalent to Arbutus uva ursi, in Ischuria and Dysuria, a table spoonful of a strong infusion, given hourly with some syrup, gave immediate relief. Many physicians in Europe and America have investigated and confirmed the valuable properties of these plants, and the P. maculata has been found almost equal to P. umbellata. They have been used in dropsy, nephritis, hepatitis, hydrothorax, ascites, anasarca, strangury, hysteria, rheumatism, and low fevers. They have availed more or less in all these disorders, and have the decided advantage of being grateful to the stomach, while almost all other diuretics disagree with it; they invigorate the appetite, and strengthen the body, increase the flow of urine and all secretions. Schoepf states that the P. maculata is used in intermittents in Pennsylvania, and that the P. umbellata is styptic, astringent, corroborant; useful in ischias. It was also used in typhus, and as a popular remedy for rheumatism in the United States. The decoction is generally used, and often in large doses; but the extract is equally good; doses about fifteen grains. They have even been deemed antilithic; but this property has not been confirmed, although they alleviate the symptoms of gravel. Also very useful in hematuria. Externally decidedly useful in tumors, malignant ulcers, and chronic indurated swellings, acting as a topical stimulant, and sometimes they vesicate; but utterly useless in cancer and scrofula, for which some empirics have employed them. Both a cataplasm and the decoction must be used for these external diseases. An obstinate cure of tinea capitis was cured by an ointment of an unguent made with the leaves. The Indian tribes of Canada and Missouri esteem highly these plants; they are called Paigne and herbe a pisser in Canada. They are used chiefly for gravel and retention of urine, rheumatism and fevers. They die urine of a greenish black color. The external application commonly produces redness, vesication, and desquamation of the skin. A drench of the leaves is used in veterinary, for the disease of horses unable to stale.
The P. rotundifolia, P. elliptica, and P. uniflora, are called vulgarly Wild Lettuce, Roundleaf, and Consumption Weed. They possess some of the above properties, but in a much less degree. The Indians and empirics employ them as sudorific, astringent, anodyne, and nervine, in diseases of the breast, colds, wounds, ophthalmia, bad humours, weak nerves, and externally as blisters.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.