WHEN we have found a use for anything not before fully known, or developed that which was but partly understood, some investigators would be tempted to make further search for other more hidden beauties of features that may prove of greater service in the cause of humanity. Thoughts such as these have led me to the study of this very valuable plant, as well as a desire to see its history and usefulness properly enrolled in our World’s Congress meeting.
It will doubtless prove true that all I may write will not be new, but if I repeat known facts concerning the plant it will be only because they are necessarily inseparably connected with the new data which I hope to present, and I will begin as I would the examination of a patient, with its history, and follow with its value by provings and its curative power as evidenced by clinical facts.
Shok root, Poke root, or Garget root; Phytolacca, redix et bacca, U.S. Ph.
Botanical History.-This plant is a large, succulent, perennial herb, with a very thick, light-colored green leaf almost oval in shape, a deep channel down the centre of leaf, and twelve or more deep veins branching from and running to the edges; but before they quite reach the edge they turn again towards the point of the leaf, as if nature designed the water to be held on the leaf as long as possible for some wise purpose. At night they shine like phosphorous, though not quite so bright.
Upon close inspection there may be seen the beautiful cellular texture throughout the leaf, together with a number of irregular- seized white spots, but which latter, on being examined through a magnifying-glass, prove to be diseased spots of an irregular shape and size, reminding one of tuberculous lung tissue. Only the outer edge of the spots, however, are white-at that point where it comes in contract with the green leaf-while towards the centre of the spot we have a deepening in color and depth. I am inclined to think that a closer and more persistent proving of what is here mentioned merely as a suggestion may prove of great curative power in tuberculosis of the lung. So much for the leaf.
Fruit.-The cylindrical racemes of white flower (which ought to have a place in our gardens for their beauty), then the dark purple juicy berry. These latter are sweet and pleasant to the taste when first taken into the mouth, but presently it change to a tannic acid taste, and, if the seems be broken by the teeth, they emit a pungent, bitter taste. The flower is pretty, but the fruit is more beautiful. The whole plant increases in size and beauty until fully matured; then the stems, in a measure, partake of the purple color of the fruit. The plant, however, is not done with when flower, fruit, and stem are gone.
The thick, light- colored fleshy root, somewhat like a parsnip in color and shape, but very much larger, is the oldest known medicinal part of the plant, and is full of clinical value. This, when fully grown, will measure, across the crown, many inches, dividing itself into two or three large branches. Externally, the root is brown, and light-colored within.
When dry, it is gray, hard, wrinkled, an inodorous. Taste, sweetish acrid. Mr. Edward Preston, Jr., found starch, tannin, gum, sugar, resin, flexed oil, a volatile acid, and an alkaloid, which latter he calls Phytolaccine. Claussen obtained from Phytolacca seed a neutral principle, and for this the name last given was also proposed. From medicinal sources we learn that all parts of the mature plant we active, and in sufficient doses cause vomiting and purging. It has also some narcotic power or stupefying influence, and in poisonous doses, in addition to the intestinal symptoms, convulsions, coma and death may follow. Its action is slow and protracted. .
The clinical uses made of this plant are us follows: emetic; rheumatism; scrofula; inflamed breasts, ovaries and testicles; cancer and indolent ulcers; tonsillitis; diphtheria.
On chewing the matured leaf at different times a smarting and burning is produced throughout the whole of the mouth and throat, hard to bear; no swelling; dry cough and hiccough; belching of wind and inclination to vomit; a feeling as if the occiput were grasped or compressed. It leaves in the mouth a greasy, smooth feeling; but the intense feeling of distress is in the stomach which is very full, and the contents swell upwards from a cramp like, spasmodic feeling like a wave passing from the bottom upward; the hiccough is very distressing, a pain extends through to the back under the scapula-more to the right than to the left.
The pain which is deep-seated begins in the neck and renders it difficult to hold up the head, with an inclination to drive the head deep into the pillow for rest. This cerebro-spinal action makes one very weak, causing a dragging of the feet which catch and stumble in walking.
There is difficulty in breathing as if the lungs were swollen and had not room to properly expand, and the effort to do so causes a cough-or a hiccough and belching of wind-which jay continue for several hours after eating; during this time the salivary glands discharge freely, but the secretion, if held in the mouth, will work itself into a thick foam; the smarting in the fauces produces a swelling of the uvula, a lumpy feeling in the throat, but which does not interfere with swallowing, except that the frothy saliva does not go down readily, being apparently held in the upper part of the throat; the voice is thick and weak, and there is no desire to make any effort to be head; prover is very weak, retired early and slept well. When awake there is a soreness in the throat and an inclination to clear the husky voice by hawking up phlegm, which comes up freely. Urine is free.
Phytolacca Berries-During my proving of this fruit-the suggestion for which proving I found in Hale’s New Remedies, first edition, some years ago, I was much annoyed at my bodily shape, and was rather overjoyed as I remembered the reputed powers of these berries over adipose tissue.
Having determined to make a proving of the berries, I secured them from my garden, prepared and took them, and in a few months reduced my proportions and again became shapely, having lost my protuberant abdomen. (Report of this will be found in the Homoeopathic Recorder of January, 1893.) The juice of these berries when first pressed is of a deep and bright reddish color and dyes of the same color; but when long kept it becomes darker in appearance; and if alcohol he used to preserve its color (which it does) it loses its power to stain, or else the stain soon fades away; the power to reduce adipose tissue is not destroyed though somewhat decreased. This latter fact caused me to inquire further into the properties of this berry, and my conclusion is that alcohol is not the best preservative vehicle.
I became convinced the birds could digest the whole berry, hull, seed and juice, and so their fat is rapidly consumed; but in which part of the fruit this great virtue resided I had no means of saying without first making proving. In consequence I have been reproving them, taking the leaf and stalk first, and the hard seed next, chewing them after having had them well- washed and dried, and free from the juice, and the following is the result:.
I began by chewing the seed, putting a pinch of the seed in my mouth, as they were drying them, and chewed them vigorously, but their bitterness was not pleasant. I found they had power to affect the muscles of the abdomen. So I sent a quantity of the seeds to Messrs. Boericke & Tafel for pulverization and trituration to the first; of this I have taken a powder two or three times daily on an empty stomach, and in the month of experiment I have reduced my girth measure three inches. This led me to think that the principal virtue over adiposis lies in the acid of the berry and seed, and that Phytolacca semen, 1 x trit., has a peculiar power of its own, the taste being still slightly bitter.
On proving, the first effect is felt in the head, pin or dull feeling, right side over the temporal region, and is most from within, as if there was a fullness under the temporal bone; it then passes across the head to the left side and presses under what is usually spoken of as the “bump of veneration;” there is a slight feeling of fullness in the cars, and an aching in the atlas, at the base of the skull. It then is felt in the stomach, producing a severe pain (such as I have heard described as arising from a perforating ulcer) going through to the back, but no feeling of fullness of belching, of gas, only pain. One fat lady to whom I gave it had to decrease the dose and take it less frequently because of this pain in the stomach and abdomen.
The pains in the abdomen seem to being the muscles or between them and the peritoneum. The pains are of a drawing character, and they draw inward as if there was a contraction or a shortening of the broad ligaments, and the seat of this drawing is below the umbilicus.
It has power to contract the prostatic gland or expand the bladder, for large quantities of urine can be held in my own case. I can hold a good four ounces and have only to pass it four times in a day. The water is light colored and leaves a lime deposit. All express themselves as passing more water and of holding it longer. Many of my own women patients have large pouches of fat below the umbilicus that rest upon the thighs when sitting; this presses up the bladder and contracts it so that it in some cases it is difficult to say whether the bladder is enlarged or only relieved from the pressure as the fat is reduced.
But there is a dull feeling amounting to a soreness in the region of the kidney and making one believe it will have power over the enlarged kidney. The aching is similar to that described by the sufferers from Bright’s disease. It never amounts to a pain, only to an aching and tired feeling, that makes a chair with a good back to it feel comfortable.
I have fancied that my hips were somewhat stiff and sore during the time I was taking it, but have not been any less able to do my duty or play my favorite game of cricket.
The proving of the Phytolacca root has been so well made by so many and is so well known, that I cannot say anything new about it, but only this, that my provings have confirmed the symptoms as described in our Materia Medica, and especially in the Encyclopaedia of Allen.
I could give you many cases that have been greatly reduced in flesh and made to feel comfortable in their actions and breathing, but as it is too early in some cases, perhaps I had better not.
I have been seen it stated that the Phytolacca tincture of Dr. Howe is made from the whole plant. Well, perhaps, that may be the better way-and yet I am somewhat inclined to believe that there is some truth in what is called the law of signatures-so far as to believe that the breathing organs of a plant may possess more affinity to or for the breathing organs of the suffers. And the instinct of the lower animals leads them to eat the leaves in most cases of medicinal plant, and only rarely the branch or bark; seldom if ever the root.
I am sure that in the Phytolacca leaf we have a very valuable cough remedy. In those dry throats with much tickling in the throat that nothing seems to reach-which produces such distressing coughs, dry bronchial coughs with sensation of roughness and increases of heat in trachea and difficult or no expectoration. A few cases of this kind of cough have been greatly and promptly relieved.
How shall we make our tinctures, seeing that alcohol has some detrimental influence over some parts of the plant or fruit and leaf or color, and thus to a certain extent will mar or interfere with its usefulness in some of its finer shades? Fully believing that the bountiful benefactor who has created all things to satisfy the perfection in Himself, would not put even the coloring matter to the fruit or flower if there was nothing to serve thereby-so that in my judgment everything should betaken as nature has prepared it.
Glycerine is the most pleasant way, but it cannot be accepted or made to apply to all the modes of usefulness.
The acetic acid or vinegar keeps it best and clearest in all its ways, but this makes a combination and cannot be used unless we make a proving of it as such, that I propose to do during the next two weeks.
September 8, 1892, measurement is thirty-one and one-half inches, tight, abdomen.