Podophyllum is the officinal name adopted for the root of Podophyllum peltatum, commonly called may-apple, or mandrake, an indigenous perennial herbaceous plant, growing in woods, newly cleared grounds, and low meadowy places, in most parts of the United States. The root or rhizome runs horizontally a little below the surface, and at intervals sends up single stems, which soon divide into two leafstalks, each bearing a broad shield-like, deeply lobed leaf, into the back of which it is inserted. From the fork of the stem springs a short peduncle, bearing a handsome white flower, appearing in spring, and followed by the fruit, which, when ripe early in the autumn, is about the size and shape of a lime. The root is collected after the fall of the leaf in autumn.


As kept in the shops, the root is in pieces of variable length, about two lines thick, swelling into knots at short intervals, wrinkled longitudinally, of a dark reddish-brown colour externally, and whitish within. Lighter-coloured, yellowish radicals usually accompany it, either separate, or connected at the joints. The colour of the powder is yellowish-gray. The smell of the root in powder is sweetish and not disagreeable; its taste bitterish, sub-acrid, and nauseous. it imparts its bitterness to water, and all its virtues to alcohol, which is, therefore, the better menstruum.

Chief Constituents. A bitter principle was extracted from the root by Mr. Wm. Hodgson, Jun., which has been ascertained to be identical with berberina, but cannot be considered as the main active principle of the root. This is resinous; but there are two resins in the root, one soluble in alcohol and ether, the other only in alcohol. There is a difference of opinion as to the relative activity of these resins; some considering them both actively purgative, while others maintain, and not apparently without good reason, that the cathartic virtues of the root reside mainly, if not exclusively, in the principle soluble in ether. To this ethereal resin, in the latter view of the question, the name of podophyllin, which has been applied to the mixed resins, procured by precipitating the tincture, properly belongs. Names of this kind should not be given to mixed proximate principles.

Medical Properties and Uses

Podophyllum is an energetic cathartic, producing, in a full dose, several copious watery stools, without much uneasiness to the patient, though, like most other active cathartics, it occasionally causes nausea and griping. it has been thought to resemble jalap closely in its purgative properties; and this opinion, which was the result of observation, has been confirmed by the discovery of a similar analogy in the nature of its cathartic principle. it may be substituted for jalap in all cases in which that medicine is applicable, though believed to be somewhat slower in its operation. A respectable medical practitioner in the country informed me that, in small doses, insufficient to purge, he uses this medicine habitually in phthisis and other pulmonary affections, having found it to allay cough and diminish the frequency of the pulse. it is said also to be alterative in its action on the liver. The medium dose for full purgative effect is twenty grains.

Extract of May-apple (Extractum Podophylli, U. S.) is directed by our Pharmacopoeia to be prepared from the root, in the same manner as extract of jalap. it has all the virtues of the root, and may be given in the dose of from five to fifteen grains.

Resin of Podophyllum (Resina Podophylli, U. S.; Podophylli Resina, Br.) is directed in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia to be prepared by mixing a concentrated tincture of the root with water, and afterwards separating, washing with water, and drying the precipitate which forms. The British Pharmacopoeia differs somewhat in the process and the result. in its formula the concentrated tincture is poured into water acidulated with muriatic acid. As berberina is soluble in water, it is not thrown down in the U. S. process; while, as it forms an insoluble salt with muriatic acid, it is precipitated, in the British, along with the resins, in the state of the muriate. The U. S. resin, therefore, consists of the two resins exclusively with a little colouring matter; the British, of the same resins with muriate of berberina, which, being yellow, imparts that colour to the preparation. The U. S. resin may be obtained colourless by using animal charcoal in the process. it is this which is commonly known by the name of podophyllin, which, as before stated, belongs properly to that one of the two resins in which the cathartic property resides. The resin of podophyllum is a powerful cathartic, occasionally nauseating and causing griping pains, but if duly modified by combination with other cathartics, acting energetically with sufficient mildness. it has been supposed to be specially Cholagogue; but in the trials which I have made of it I have not found it so. it may be given in pill in the dose of from 1/8 to 1/4 of a grain as a laxative, from 1/4 of a grain to a grain as a purgative. its tendency to griping may be in some degree moderated, if not controlled, by combining it with a little extract of hyoscyamus or belladonna.