American Valerian, or Ladies' Slipper; sometimes called Umbil, or Male and Female Nervine.
There are four species of this valuable vegetable, one male and three female. The male is called Yellow Umbil, and grows in swamps and wet land; has a large cluster of fibrous roots matted together, joined to a solid root, which puts forth several stalks that grow about two feet high; it has leaves something resembling the poke leaf. The female kinds are distinguished by the color of the blossoms, which are red, red and white, and white. The red has but two leaves, which grow out of the ground, and lean over to the right and left, between which a single stalk shoots up to the height of from eight to ten inches, bearing on its top a red blossom of a very singular form, that gives it the name of Female Umbil. This kind is found on high ledges and in swamps. The red and white and white Umbil grows only in swamps, and is in larger clusters of roots than the yellow, but in a similar form; its top is similar to the red, except the color of the blossom. The yellow and red are the best for medicine; the roots should be dug in the fall when done growing, or in the spring, before the tops put forth. If dug when growing, the roots will nearly all dry up. When the roots are dug, they should be washed clean, carefully dried, and pounded or ground to a fine powder, sifted through a fine sieve, and preserved from the air for use.
This powder is the best nervine known. I have made great use of it and have always found it to produce the most beneficial effects in all cases of nervous affections, and in hysterical symptoms; in fact, it would be difficult to get along without it in my practice. It is perfectly harmless, and may be used in all cases of disease with safety, and is much better than opium, which only deadens the feelings, and relieves pain only by destroying sensibility without doing any good. It has been supposed by the doctors of the old school to be of a narcotic nature, but this is a mistake. They have drawn this conclusion, I suppose, from its tendency to promote sleep, but this is altogether owing to its quieting the nerves, and leaving the patient at ease when nature requires sleep to recover the natural tone of the system. Half a teaspoonful may be given in hot water, sweetened, and the dose repeated if necessary; or the same quantity may be mixed with a dose of either the other numbers, when given, and put into the injections, and where there are nervous symptoms it should never be dispensed with.