This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Asarum Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. C. B. Nardus rustica; Vulgago. A/arum europaeum Linn. Asarabacca: a low plant without stalks: the leaves are stiff, roundish, with two little ears at the bottom, somewhat resembling a kidney, of a dark shining green colour, somewhat hairy, set on pedicles three or four inches long: the flowers, which rife among the leaves on shorter pedicles, consist of purplish stamina standing in a darker coloured cup, and are followed, each, by a capsule containing six seeds. It is perennial and evergreen, a native of the southern parts of Europe and the warmer climates, and raised with us in gardens. The dried roots have been generally brought from the Levant; those of our own growth being supposd of weaker virtue.
† Tinctura afae foetidae Ph. Lond.
‡ Tinct. foeti-da Ph. Ed.
The roots and leaves of afarum have a moderately strong, not very unpleasant smell, some-what resembling that of valerian or nard; and a nauseous bitterish, acrid taste. The roots given in substance, in doses of a scruple or more, prove strongly emetic and cathartic. The leaves have the same operation, but their dose or degree of force has not been precisely determined: according to some, they are of more activity than the roots.
It is said, that this emetic plant has been of service in serous disorders, and hurtful in melancholic cases: that in small doles, it promotes perspiration, urine, and the uterine flux: that tinctures made in spirituous liquors possess both the emetic and cathartic virtues of the afarum: but that the extracts, obtained by infpiffating these tinctures, act only, and with sufficient mildness, by vomit; requiring to be given in as large doses as the plant in substance, to produce as plentiful evacuations: that infusions in water operate mildly both upwards and downwards: that by coction in water, the emetic power is first destroyed, and afterwards the purgative; the decoction long boiled, or an extract prepared with a large quantity of water not acting at all by stool or vomit, but proving powerfully deobstruent, diuretic, etc. It is obvious, however, as the activity of the afarum is diminished more and more by boiling, that both the decoction and the extract must be accompanied with one capital inconvenience, pre-cariousness in point of strength.
The principal use of afarum among us is as an errhine. The root is one of the strongest of the vegetable substances commonly employed in this intention: a grain or two, snuffed up the nose, procure a large evacuation of mucus both from the nose and mouth, without provoking freezing like the white hellebore root, or discovering any remarkable irritation. The leaves, though supposed to be stronger than the roots as emetics and cathartics, appear to be milder as er-rhines. Geoffroy relates, that after snuffing a dose of this errhine, he has observed the salutary discharge to continue for three days together, and that he has known a paralysis of the mouth and tongue cured by one dose: he recommends this medicine in stubborn disorders of the head proceeding from viscid matters, in palsies, and in soporific distempers. During its operation, the patient must carefully avoid cold; which is apt to produce pustules, inflammations, and swellings of the face, and sometimes more alarming symptoms. This herb is a principal ingredient in the cephalic or sternutatory powders of the shops: some take three parts of dried afarum and one of marjoram leaves †, others equal parts of the dried leaves of afarum, marjoram, and marum fyriacum, and dried lavender flowers ‡. The empyrical herb snuffs have likewise the leaves of afarum for their bafis, but often mixed with ingredients of a more dangerous nature.