This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Paeonia folio nigricante splendido quae mas, & paenia femina flore pleno rubro majore C. B. Paeonia officinalis Linn, Male and Female peony or piony: a plant with large leaves, divided deeply into oblong segments, or rather composed of a number of these segments set on divided pedicles: on the tops of the branches grow large rose-like flowers, followed each by two or more horned pods, internally of a deep red colour, containing roundish shining red or black seeds. The male sort has dark green leaves, pale red single flowers, long thick roots, and the stalks and pedicles streaked with red: the female has longer, narrower, and paler leaves, deep red double flowers, and irregular roots composed of several tuberous pieces hanging by tough filaments from one head. They are both found wild in some parts of Europe, and cultivated with us in gardens: they are perennial, produce their flowers in May, and very soon shed them.
The male peony has been generally preferred for medicinal use: but the female, which is the largest and most elegant, and for this reason the most common, is the species which the shops have been principally supplied with. In quality, there does not appear to be any material difference betwixt the two; and hence the college allow both sorts to be taken indiscri-minately.
The roots and seeds of peony have, when fresh, a faint unpleasant smell, somewhat of the narcotic kind: and a mucilaginous subacrid taste, with a slight degree of bitterishness and astringency. In drying, they lose their smell, and part of their taste. Extracts made from them by water are almost insipid as well as inodorous; but extracts made by rectified spirit are manifestly bitterish and considerably astringent.
The leaves are nearly inodorous. To the taste, the leaves themselves discover a moderate degree of roughness, and their pedicles of sweetness; both which are preserved in great measure in the watery, but more perfectly in the spirituous extracts.
The flowers have rather more smell than any of the other parts of the plant, and a rough sweetish taste, which they impart, together with their colour, both to water and spirit: the watery infusion leaves, on being infpiffated, a blackish red, austere, sweetish, and somewhat bitterish extract: the spirituous tincture yields an extract of a beautiful bright red, of an agreeable though weak smell, a moderate astringency, and an almost saccharine sweetness.
The roots, flowers, and seeds, are looked upon as lightly anodyne and corroborant; to the latter, at least, of which virtues, they appear from the above experiments to have some claim. They have been principally recommended in spasmodic and epileptic complaints; in which, we are afraid, their effects are not very considerable.