This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Milkwort: a small perennial plant; with the leaves alternate, uncut, and those on the upper parts of the stalks larger than on the lower; the flowers irregular, tubulous, tripeta-lous, labiated, set in loose spikes on the tops; the cup composed of five leaves, the two larger of which continue after the flower has fallen, and embrace, like wings, a flat bicellular seed-vessel.
1. Seneka Lond. & Pharm. Edinb. Polygala (Senega) floribus imberbibus fpicatis, caule erecto herbacco simpliciffimo, foliis lato-lanceolatis Linn, Seneka or Senegaw milkwort, rattlesnake-rooted milkwort: with oblong, somewhat oval, pointed leaves; upright unbranched stalks; white flowers; and a variously bent and divaricated jointed root, about the thickness of the little finger, with a membranous margin running its whole length on each side, externally of a yellowish or pale brownish colour, internally white. It is a native of Virginia, Pensylvania, and Maryland, and cultivated in some of our gardens.
The root of this plant is said to be the specific of the Senegaw Indians against the poison of the bite of the rattlesnake; and to be effectual, when used early, even in the middle of the sum-mer heats, when the poison is in its highest vigour, and when all their other antidotes fail. The powder or a decoction of the root is taken internally; and either the powder, or cataplasms made with it, applied to the wound.
Dr. Tennent, observing that this poison produces symptoms resembling those of pleurisies and peripneumonies (a difficulty of breathing, cough, spitting of coagulated blood, and a strong quick pulse) conjectured that it might be serviceable in those distempers also: and from the trials made by the gentlemen of the French academy, as well as those mentioned by him, its virtues appear to be great. It made the fizy blood fluid, procured a plentiful spitting, in-creased perspration and urine, and sometimes purged or vomited. The usual dose was thirty or thirty-five grains of the powder; or three spoonfuls of a decoction prepared by boiling three ounces of the root in a quart of water till near half the liquor was consumed.
The feneka root has been tried likewise in hydropic cases, and found in some instances to procure a copious evacuation by stool, urine, and perspiration, after the common purgatives and diuretics had failed. Monf. Bouvart ob-serves, that though dropsies were thus removed by the feneka, the cure did not seem complete, a swelling and hardness of the spleen remaining, which sometimes occasioned a fresh extravasa-tion: that the medicine sometimes acts by liquefying the blood and juices, without producing a due discharge; and that in these cases it does harm unless assisted by proper additions, but that so long as it proves cathartic, nothing is to be feared from it. It is said to have been found serviceable also in the rheumatism and gout.
This root, of no remarkable smell, has a peculiar kind of subtile pungent penetrating taste. Its virtue is extracted both by water and spirit, though the powder in substance is supposed to be more effectual than either the decoction or tincture. The watery decoction, on first tailing, seems not unpleasant, but the peculiar pungency of the root quickly discovers itself, spreading through the fauces, or exciting a copious discharge of saliva, and frequently, as Linnaeus observes, a short cough: those to whom I have directed this medicine, have generally found a little Madeira most effectual for removing its taste from the mouth, and making it to fit easy on the stomach.
The Edinburgh college direct a decoction made with one ounce of the root boiled in two pounds of water to sixteen ounces. A tincture of the root in rectified spirit is of a more fiery pungency, extremely durable in the mouth and throat, and apt to promote vomiting or reaching.
2. Polygala: Polygala vulgaris C. B. & Linn. Flos ambarvalis. Common milkwort: with the stalks procumbent; the lower leaves roundish, the upper oblong, narrow, and pointed;
Decoct. fe-nekae Ph. Ed; the flowers blue, purplish or red, some-times white, with a kind of fringed appendix on the lower lip; the roots slender and hard. It grows wild in dry pasture grounds.
The roots of this species are somewhat simi-lar in taste to those of the preceding, but far weaker: they have been found likewise to produce the same effects in pleurisies, in a lower degree. The leaves of the plant are very bitter: Gefner, who from this quality gives it the name of amarella, relates, that an infusion of a handful of them in wine is a safe and gentle purgative.