After Dr. Cutler had given his testimony of the virtues of this herb, and the doctors having become convinced of its value, they come forward and say it is good medicine in skillful hands. Who, I would ask, is more skillful than he who discovered it, and taught them how to prepare and use it in curing one of the most distressing complaints known? If it is a good medicine, it is mine, and I am entitled to the credit of introducing it into use, and have paid dear for it; if it is poison, the doctors do not need it, as they have enough of that now. Dr. Thacher undertakes to make it appear that the fatal effects he tells about its producing, were owing to the quantity given; and says I administered a teaspoonful of the powder; and when he comes to give directions for using it, says that from ten to twenty grains may be given with safety. It appears strange that different terms should produce such different effects in the operation of medicine. If a teaspoonful is given by an Empiric, its effects are fatal; but if the same quantity is administered by a so-called learned doctor, and called grains, it is a useful medicine.
This herb is described in Thacher's Dispensatory under the names of Lobelia Inflata, Lobelia Emetica, Emetic Weed, and Indian Tobacco; and several other names have been given it, some by way of ridicule, and others for the purpose of creating a prejudice against it; all of which has so confounded it with other articles that there is a difficulty in ascertaining what they mean to describe. I have been informed that there is a poisonous root grown in the Southern States called Lobelia, which has been used as a medicine ; the calling this herb by that name has probably been one reason of its being thought to be poison. Why it has had the name of Indian Tobacco given it, I do not know; there is a plant that is called by that name, which grows in this country, but it is entirely different from this herb, both in appearance and medical virtues. In the United States Pharmacopaeia, there are directions given for preparing the tincture of Indian Tobacco; whether they mean this herb or the plant that has been always called by that name, does not appear; but it is probable they mean the Emetic Herb, and that all the knowledge they have of it is from Dr. Cutler's description. It is said by Thacher that it was employed by the aborigines and by those who deal in Indian remedies ; and others who are attempting to rob me of the discovery affect to believe the same thing; but this is founded altogether upon conjecture, for they cannot produce a single instance of its having been employed as a medicine till I made use of it. The fact is, it is a new article, wholly unknown to the medical faculty till I introduced it into use, and the best evidence of this is that they are now ignorant of its powers; and all the knowledge they have of it has been obtained from my practice. It would be folly for me to undertake to say but that it may have been used by the natives of this country; but one thing I am certain of, that I never had any knowledge of their using it, nor ever received any information concerning it from them, or anyone else.
The Emetic Herb may be found in the first stages of its growth at all times through the summer, from the size of a six-cent piece to that of a dollar, and larger, lying flat on the ground, in a round form, like a rose pressed flat, in order to bear the weight of snow which lies on it during the winter, and is subject to be winter-killed, like wheat. In the spring it looks yellow and pale, like other things suffering from wet and cold; but when the returning sun spreads forth its enlivening rays upon it, it lifts up its leaves and shoots forth a stalk to the height of from twelve to fifteen inches with a number of branches, carrying up its leaves with its growth. In July it puts forth small, pointed, pale blue blossoms, which are followed by small pods about the size of a white bean, containing numerous very small seeds. This pod is an exact resemblance of the human stomach, having an inlet and outlet higher than the middle, from the inlet it receives nourishment, and by the outlet discharges the seeds. It comes to maturity about the first of September, when the leaves and pods turn a little yellow; this is the best time to gather it. It is what is called by botanists a biennial plant, or of only two years' existence. This plant is common in all parts of this country.
Wherever the land is fertile enough to yield support for its inhabitants it may be found. It is confined to no soil which is fit for cultivation, from the highest mountains to the lowest valleys. In hot and wet seasons it is most plenty on dry and warm lands; in hot and dry seasons on clayey and heavy lands. When the season is cold, either wet or dry, it rarely makes its appearance; and if the summer and fall are very dry the seed does not come up, and there will be very little to be found the next season. I have been in search of this herb from Boston to Canada, and was not able to collect more than two pounds; and in some seasons I have not been able to collect any. I mention this to show the uncertainty of its growth, and to put the herbalist on his guard to be careful and lay up a good stock of it when plenty. In the year 1807, if I had offered a reward of one thousand dollars for a pound of this herb, I should not have been able to have obtained it. I have seen the time that I would have given two dollars for an ounce of the powder, but there was none to be had; which necessity taught me to lay up all I could obtain when it was plenty.
In seasons when this herb is plenty, it may be found growing in highways and pastures; by the side of old turnpikes, and in stubble land, particularly where it has been laid down in grass the year before; when grass is scarce it is eaten by cattle, and is hard to be found when full grown. It is a wild plant, and a native of this country; but there is no doubt of its being common to other countries. It may be transplanted and cultivated in gardens, and will be much larger and more vigorous than when growing wild. If some stalks are left, it will sow itself, and probably may be produced from the seed; but how long the seeds remain in the ground before they come up, I do not know, never having made any experiments to ascertain the fact. It is certain that it is produced from the seed, and there is no good reason to suppose that it may not be cultivated in gardens from the seeds as well as other vegetables. I think it most probable, however, from the nature of the plant, that it will not come up till the seeds have laid at least one winter in the ground.