This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Scurvygrass: a low plant; with thick juicy leaves, somewhat hollowed so as to re-semble a spoon, those from the root standing on long pedicles, those on the stalk joined close to it without pedicles; producing, towards the upper part of the stalks, small white tetrapetalous flowers, followed by roundish seed-vessels. It is annual; grows wild in several parts of England, particularly about the sea coasts and salt marshes; and flowers in May or sooner.
1. Cochlearia hortensis Pharm. Lond. Cochlearia Pharm. Edinb. Cochlearia folio subro-tundo C. B. Cochlearia officinalis Linn. Garden or Dutch fcurvygrass: with the radical leaves unevenly roundish, and those on the stalks oblong. It is commonly cultivated, for the use of the shops, in gardens; and does not appear, like many other maritime plants, to change its qualities with the foil.
2. Cochlearia marina seu britannica. Cochlearia folio sinuato C. B. Cochlearia anglica Linn. English or sea scurvygrass: with all the leaves alike, oblong, pointed, deeply and irregularly indented or sinuated.
The fresh leaves of these plants have an ungrateful kind of smell, and a penetrating acrid taste: the first sort is considerably the strongest, and hence has long superseded the use of the other. The flowers and seeds also are pungent, but less so than the leaves.
Scurvygrass is a powerful antiseptic, attenu-ant, and aperient: it manifestly promotes the sensible excretions, particularly urine, without heating or irritating so much as might be expected from its great pungency. It is one of the capital antiscorbutic herbs, and in this intention has been principally made use of, in conjunction, generally, with mild vegetable acids, or substances of less acrimony, as orange juice, sorrel, becabunga, etc. It is of service also in paralytic and cachectic indispositions; and in the wandering rheumatic pains, of long continuance, unaccompanied with a fever, called by Sydenham the scorbutic rheumatism. I have had frequent experience of the efficacy of the composition which he prescribes in this commonly obstinate distemper, and which, he says, if the public had not outweighed private advantage, he should have concealed; to wit, sixteen parts of fresh made conserve of garden fcurvygrass, eight of conserve of wood sorrel, and six of the compound powder of arum root, made up with syrup of orange peel into an electuary, of which two drams are to be taken thrice a day for a month, along with some ounces of a distilled water impregnated with scurvygrass, mint, nutmegs, etc. Among different aromatic materials made trial of for covering the ill flavour of scurvygrass, nutmegs seemed to answer the best. Instead of the compound powder of arum in the above composition, an equal quantity or more of fresh arum root, mixed with as much powdered gum-arabic, may be advan-tageously substituted; and probably the virtues of the medicine depend as much upon this root as on the scurvygrass.
The active matter of this plant is extracted by maceration both in watery and in spirituous menstrua, and accompanies the juice obtained by expression. The most considerable part of it is of a very volatile kind; the peculiar penetrating pungency totally exhaling, in the ex-siccation of the herb, and in the evaporation of the liquors; and only a slight biting bitterish-ness remaining in the dried leaves, in the infpif-fated juice, and in the spirituous as well as in the watery extracts. The fresh leaves, beaten into a conserve with thrice their weight of fine sugar, may be kept in a close vessel, without much diminution of their virtue, for years. The juice also, purified from its feculencies by fettling and straining, may be preserved for a considerable time, though by no means equally with the conserve, by setting it in a cool place, and covering the surface with a little oil to prevent the access of air. The orange or sorrel juice, commonly added to that of the scurvygrass, seem to promote the depuration; for if the juices, separately, are made moderately fine, they soon deposite, on being mixed together, a fresh feculence.
The principal virtue of this plant resides in an essential oil; separable, in very small quantity, by distillation with water. The oil is so ponderous, as to fink in the aqueous fluid; but of great volatility, subtility, and penetration. One drop, dissolved in spirit, or received on sugar, communicates to a quart of wine or other liquors the smell and taste of scurvygrass. It rises in distillation with rectified spirit as well as with water: a pint of rectified sprrif, drawn off, in the heat of a water bath, from two pounds of the fresh herb bruised, brings over nearly all the oil, and proves exceeding strongly impregnated with the volatile pungency of the scurvygrass. Both the oil and the spirit, particularly the former, require the bottles they are kept in to be very carefully secu-red; the subtile matter of the plant, when thus disengaged by distillation from the groffer parts, being extremely disposed to escape.