Classif. Nat. Order of Gentianea. Pentandria monogynia L.
Genus SPIGELIA. Calyx five parted persistent. Corolla funnel shape, five cleft. Stamens five, inserted near the opening. One style, exert, stigma fusiform. Capsule bilobed bilocular, many seeded.
Sp. Spigelia marilandica. L. Perennial, stem simple, quadrangular, leaves opposite sessile, ovate lanceolate: terminal raceme of unilateral fusiform flowers.
Description. Root perennial, yellow, with many branched fibres in a bunch. Several stems, with four sides, erect, simple, smooth. Leaves all opposite and sessile, oval elongate, very sharp or acuminate, entire and smooth. A raceme, seldom two, with few flowers, five to twelve, one sided, on short peduncles, without calyx, with five subulate serrulate segments. Corolla very handsome, one inch long, of a bright scarlet outside, but yellow above or inside, tube fusiform or swelled, and angular above, border with five acute spreading segments, like a golden star. Stamens five, short, inserted near the mouth, but decurrent, anthers cordate, oblong. Pistil ovate, small, style long filiform, jointed below, with a fusiform pubescent acute stigma. Capsule on the reflexed calyx, with two globular lobes and cells, and many seeds.
History. A beautiful plant, very ornamental by its bright blossoms, although scentless. Found in the Southern and Western States, from Maryland to Kentucky and Florida; very abundant in some peculiar places, such as the glades of Carolina and west Kentucky, where it is collected as an article of trade. It blossoms in June and July. It has the following varieties: 1. Distachya. 2. Pubera, stem, nerves, and margin of leaves pubescent. 3. Pallida, with pale red flowers. 4. Albiflora, very rare. 5. Angustifolia, leaves nearly lanceolate. 6. Parviflora. The genus is dedicated to Spigeli, an Italian botanist. The Cherokees call it Unstitla, the Osages Mekaa or Starflower. It has been extirpated in many places by collectors, and is now very rare in Maryland and Virginia.
Properties. The root is the officinal part, and is an article of trade. It is narcotic, vermifuge, sedative, cathartic, and febrifuge; but the stem and leaves have the same properties. When fresh, they are always narcotic, like Digitalis and Datura; but when dry they lose their strength, the roots even quicker than the leaves, and when the article has long been exposed to the air, it becomes nearly inert, whence the various opinions on its effects. As a narcotic, it is preferable to Digitalis, and milder, never causing sudden prostration, yet it lessens and soothes the morbid irritability of the heart, arteries, and nerves. In large doses, it causes vertigo, dilatation of the pupil, headache, stupor, flushed face, intoxication, and delirium. The chemical analysis gives as constituent, mucus, extractive, gallic acid, and a peculiar volatile substance called Spigeline. Water is the best menstruum. The smell is not nauseous, the taste is mucilaginous and sweetish, and thus it is not disliked by children like many vermifuges. The Cherokees made known the properties of this plant, and they have been confirmed by many physicians. It has chiefly attracted notice as a vermifuge and for diseases of children, convulsions, worm fever, &c. It is generally united to a cathartic, to insure or aid its effects, as its own purgative effect is very mild, and by no means certain; senna and rhubarb are the best adjuncts; the warm infusion is most efficient; dose about a gill, but frequently repeated; dose of the powder 10 to 20 grains, in honey; a good worm syrup is made also with it, united to mild purgatives. Much used in Louisiana, where it is called Serpentine. The Osages use it as a sudorific and sedative in acute diseases. Ives recommends it in the fever of children, called worm fever, (although not always attended with worms) seated in the bowels, and known by flushed cheeks and lips; he also deems it useful in dysentery. A vinous infusion has been found useful in intermittents, the protracted remittent fever of infants, convulsions of children, &c. It appears peculiarly suitable for their diseases. The S. anthelmica of the West Indies, is also vermifuge, as the name implies.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.