This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
China Root: an oblong thick jointed root, full of irregular knobs, of a reddish brown colour on the outside, and a pale reddish within. Two sorts are common in the shops, an oriental and occidental: the first, which is accounted the best, is considerably paler coloured and harder than the other. Of either kind, such should be chosen as is fresh and heavy, and which, when cut, exhibits a close, smooth, glossy surface.
The plant is a climber, with tendrils like those of the vine, producing clutters of small flowers, which are followed by pretty large berries. The oriental species (Smilax China Linn.) has roundish prickly stalks and red berries, and is a native of China and Japan: the occidental (Smilax Pfeudo-China Linn.) has rounder smooth stalks and black berries, grows wild in Jamaica and Virginia, and bears the colds of our own climate.
These roots have scarce any smell or particular taste: when fresh, they are said to be somewhat acrid, but as brought to us they discover, even when long chewed, no other than a slight unctuosity in the mouth. Boiled in water, they impart a reddish colour, and a kind of vapid softness: the decoction, infpiffated, yields an unctuous, sarinaceous, almost insipid mass, amounting to upwards of half the weight of the root. They give a gold yellow tincture to rectified spirit, but make no sensible alteration in its taste: on drawing off the spirit from the filtered liquor, there remains an orange-coloured extract, nearly as insipid as that obtained by water, but scarcely in half its quantity.
China root is generally supposed to promote perspiration and urine, and by its soft unctuous quality, to obtund acrimonious humours. It was first introduced into Europe about the year 1535, with the character of a specific against venereal disorders: the patient was kept warm, a weak decoction of china root used for common drink, and a stronger decoction taken twice a day in bed to promote a sweat. Such a regimen is doubtless a good auxiliary to mercurial alteratives: but whatever may be its effects in the warmer climates, it is found in this to be, of itself, greatly insufficient. At present, the china root is very rarely made use of, having for some time given place to farfaparilla, which is supposed to be more effectual. Prosper A1pinus informs us, that this root is in great esteem among the Egyptian women for procuring fatness and plumpness.