This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
Indian sarsaparilla or hemidesmus root is obtained from Hemidesmus indicus, Robert Brown (N.O. Asclepiadeoe), a climbing shrub indigenous to India and Ceylon.
Hemidesmus root usually occurs in long, slender, rigid pieces, often more than 30 cm. in length, but seldom exceeding 6 mm. in thickness, which branch occasionally and bear a few fibrous rootlets. Portions of the slender aerial stems with opposite leaf-scars are attached to the upper extremity. The root varies in colour from brick-red to dark brown or nearly black; it is rather tortuous, nearly cylindrical in shape, and marked with longitudinal wrinkles, and, at rather distant intervals, with conspicuous transverse cracks. The thin cork with which the root is covered shows a disposition to separate from the cortex, and on one side may often be observed to be distinctly raised above it. The transverse section exhibits a large, porous, but not distinctly radiate yellowish wood surrounded by a thin greyish or sometimes dark grey bark. The drug has an agreeable odour, distinctly recalling tonco beans; the taste is slightly aromatic and sweetish, but not otherwise characteristic.
Fig. 178. - Hemidesmus root. Reduced.
The student should observe
(a) The rigid, tortuous character of the root,
(b) The transverse cracks,
(c) The easily separable cork,
(d) The large yellowish wood; and should compare the root with sarsaparilla, which is destitute of transverse cracks, has a firmly adherent cork, and a small wood.
The agreeable odour is due to a crystalline odorous substance resembling, but not identical with, coumarin. Of other constituents little is known.
It has been used as an alterative, but is now practically obsolete.