This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Arum Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. Arum ma-culatum maculis nigris C. B. Arum maculatum Linn, Wake-robin or cuckowpint: a low perennial plant, growing wild under hedges and by the sides of banks. It sends forth, in March, three or four smooth leaves, triangular, or shaped like the head of a spear: these are suc-ceeded by a naked stalk, bearing a purplish pistil inclosed in a long sheath, which is followed, in July, by a bunch or red berries: the root is irregularly roundish, about an inch thick, brownish on the outside and white within. In some plants the leaves are spotted with black, in others with white spots, and in others not spotted at all: the black spotted sort is supposed to be the mod efficacious, and hence is ex-pressly directed by the London college. All the sorts are said to be stronger, when produced in moist shady foils, than in dry open exposures.
The fresh roots of arum have an extremely pungent acrimonious taste: slightly chewed, they continue to vellicate and burn the tongue, the part which they principally affect, for many hours, producing at the same time a consider-able third: these uneasy sensations are somewhat alleviated by milk, butter, or oily liquors. The other parts of the plant are likewise highly acrid, though rather less so than the roots. No part has any smell, except the pistil, which has a faint fetid one.
This root lofes greatest part of its acrimony on being dried sufficiently to become pulverable.
Kept dry for some time, it seems, on first chewing, to be an insipid farinaceous substance: it still, however, retains a kind of latent pungency, so as when chewed long, in any con-siderable quantity, to produce a sensation as of a flight excoriation of the tongue. Parkinson observes, that the white farinaceous starch-like powder has been used in washing, and that it has sometimes blistered the hands.
The fresh root, dug up in autumn, yielded upon expression about one sixth its weight of a milky juice; which, on standing, deposited a white fecula and became clear: the clear liquor was insipid: the fecula was considerably pungent, but, like the root in substance, loses its pungency on being dried. The fresh and the moderately dried roots were digested in water, in wine, in proof spirit, and in rectified spirit, with and without heat: the liquors received no colour, and little or no taste. In distillation, neither spirit nor water brought over any sen-sible impregnation from the arum: the watery and spirituous extracts also were nearly insipid. The root, nevertheless, loses in these operations almost the whole of its pungency.
The root may be preserved fresh in sand for several months; and if the sand is somewhat moist, so as to suffer it to vegetate, it will be the better secured both from rotting and from losing of its virtue. It appears to be of equal vigour, or at least of sufficient vigour for medicinal use, at all periods of its growth, and in all seasons of the year. As it has hitherto been used only in a dry state, it has been generally taken up about the time of the plant beginning to die, as the root is then least juicy, and shrinks least in drying.
Arum root, newly dried and powdered, is given in doses of a scruple and upwards; for Simulating the solids, attenuating viscid juices, and promoting the natural secretions; in cold, languid, phlegmatic habits; against weakness and relaxations of the stomach, and catarrhous and rheumatic disorders. It has been generally given in conjunction with other materials, and to some of these the effects of the compound have been in great part ascribed. The London college have discarded their compound powder of arum, and in its stead have directed a con-serve of the fresh root, in the proportion of three parts of sugar to one of the root, as the best method of preserving it in an active state.
The vinous and spirituous tinctures of this root, by some recommended, appear, from the experiments above related, to be insignificant: but though spirituous liquors are incapable of dissolving or extracting the active matter of the arum, they seem nevertheless, when given along with the dried root as a vehicle, to promote its action: Juncker observes, that a dram of the powder, taken with a spoonful of brandy, procures a very copious sweat, even in persons little disposed to that evacuation; while the powder, by itself, has no such effect (a).
The insupportable pungency on the tongue, which has hitherto prevented this root from being used in a fresh state so as to exert its full virtues, I have found to be effectually covered by unctuous and gummy materials. The fresh root, beaten into a smooth mass, with the addition of a little testaceous powder which promotes the division of it, may either be mixed with about an equal quantity of powdered gumarabic, and three or four times as much con-serve, so as to make them into an electary; or rubbed with a thick mixture of mucilage of gum-arabic and spermaceti, gradually adding any suitable watery liquors and a little syrup, so as to form an emulsion: two parts of the root, two of gum, and one of spermaceti, make an emulsion which scarcely impresses any degree of pungency though kept long in the mouth. In these forms I have given the fresh root from ten grains to upwards of a scruple, three or four times a day: it generally occasioned a sensation of flight warmth, first about the stomach and afterwards in the remoter parts, manifestly promoted perspiration, and frequently produced a plentiful sweat. Several obstinate rheumatic pains were removed by this medicine, which is therefore recommended to further trial.
(a) Conspectus therapeiae, tab. de diaphoresi, p. 99.
Conserva Ari Ph. Lond.