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BALMONY. Class XIV. DIDYNAMIA. Order II. Angiospermia. Gen. Char. Calyx, five-parted, with three bracts. Corolla, ringent,
ventricose, sterile. Filament, shorter than the rest. Anthers, woolly. Capsules, two-celled, two-valved, Seeds, membrana
ceously margined. Spe. Char. Stem, smooth. Leaves, opposite, lanceolate, oblong,
accuminate, serrate. Flowers, in dense spikes.
The root of this plant is perennial and fibrous; the stems are numerous, erect, branched near the top, smooth, bluntly four cornered, and rise from three to five feet in height; the leaves are opposite, tapering, from five to six inches long, pointed, edged with acute teeth, of a dark green color when fresh, almost black when dry, and intensely bitter; the flowers are terminal, of different colors in different varieties, white, spotted, tinged in some instances with a delicate shade of red, and of a most singular shape, resembling the head of a snake with its open mouth; they are disposed in a cluster, as may be seen in the drawing. It does not bloom until late in the autumn.
This valuable plant was cultivated and extensively employed as a medicine in the sixteenth, and beginning of the seventeenth century. Salmond, in his English Herbal, published in 1710, describes this plant and several of its varieties, as possessing highly valuable medical properties; since which time it appears to have fallen into disuse, or forgotten; but has recently been revived, and now enters largely into various compounds prepared as a tonic or strengthening syrup. Matterson says the herb should be collected in clear, dry weather, and as soon as it is in bloom, as the leaves frequently become mildewed after that time. It should be dried in the sun, or in a warm chamber or loft, and carefully guarded from a moist or damp atmosphere, or it will acquire a dark and black color.
Medical Properties and Uses. Balmony possesses both tonic and laxative properties, and, without exception, is one of the best articles to promote an appetite that can be found. It can be administered by itself, or in combination with other articles. Thomson says, “ the balmony is a bitter of the first order, for correcting the morbid secretions of the bile, removing the torpidity of the liver, and creating an appetite. A tea made of the leaves is well calculated to restore the digestive powers.” Matterson describes this plant as having long been known in New England as a tonic and laxative. “It is employed in costiveness, dyspepsia, loss of appetite, and general languor or debility. Given to children afflicted with worms, it will generally afford relief. It is a valuable medicine in disorders of the liver; and in jaundice, it tends to remove the yellow tinge from the skin and eyes." Rafinesque says it is an active and powerful cathartic, as well as tonic; but of this I am inclined to think he may be mistaken, as I have administered it in many cases, and never found it to act as a cathartic, unless frequently taken, and in extreme large doses; in which cases it sometimes caused a gentle movement of the bowels. As a vermifuge, combined with the chenopodium anthelminthicum, I think it has no superior, rarely failing to expel the worms; it should be administered in infusions, continued for a time, and followed by a suitable purge. It is said that the Indians made use of a strong decoction of the whole plant in eruptive diseases, biles, sores, scrofula, piles, &c. An even tea-spoonful of the powdered leaves is a dose, and may be given in fevers, jaundice, &c.
Class V. PENTANDRIA. Order I. MONOGYNIA.
ens, seated around a five-toothed glandulous disk. Capsule,
one-seeded. Seeds, covered with a four-cleft colored arillus. Spe. Char. Stem, climbing, unarmed. Leaves, oblong, acuminate,
serrate. Racemes, terminal. Flowers, arillus.
The root is creeping, of a bright orange color, from threeeights to three-fourths of an inch in diameter, and sometimes extends several rods in length; the stem is covered with a reddish brown bark, and seldom exceeds an inch in diameter; the leaves are tapering near the base, with minute teeth along the margins, and a sharp and extended point; the blossoms are of a greenish yellow color, and very fragrant; the berries grow in clusters, and remain upon the vines during winter. Early in the autumn, they are of an orange color, but after the first or second frost, the external covering divides into three valves, which turn backward, and disclose a beautiful scarlet berry in the centre. It flowers in the first or second week in June.
A very beautiful description of this species of Bitter Sweet may be found in Matterson's Vegetable Practice, from which we copy. “The Bitter Sweet is a woody vine, attaining, in favorable situations, the height of thirty or forty feet. It twines around the branches of trees similar to the grape-vine, and creeps upon hedges,
fences, and rocks. It has various names—as staff tree, red root, fever twig, and wax work. It is common throughout the northern and southern States, thriving the most luxuriantly in a rich, damp soil.”
“ The solanum dulcamara, or woody night-shade, is sometimes confounded with this plant, probably on account of the name bitter sweet being common to them both. The dulcamara possesses poisonous properties, and hence the necessity of this caution. It has a slender, vine-like stem, seldom exceeding seven or eight feet in length, with leaves of a dull green color, and clustres of elegant purple blossoms, which remain in blossom from June till August.”
Medical Properties and Uses. The Bitter Sweet, says Dr. Smith, is both a powerful and useful medicine, although like most of the invaluable medicinal plants of our country, which nature has so profusely furnished to our hands, its virtues are but little appreciated, and that but by a few. It increases all the secretions and excretions, particularly perspiration, acts gently as a diuretic, and excites the heart and arteries. It is an excellent discutient, deter gent, and resolvent medicine, and may be employed both internally and externally. It is peculiarly beneficial in liver complaints, and in all cutaneous affections; also in rheumatism, scirrous swellings, ulcers, scrofula, jaundice, weakness and obstructions. The expressed juice of this plant has been applied to cancers of the breast and scrofulous tumors: the juice is rubbed on the cancer or the swelling, and the green leaves are applied over the breast. For internal use, it is recommended to boil half a pound of the bark in one gallon of water; the dose is a gill three or four times a day. It is also very highly valued in the treatment of fevers and dropsical swellings.
To make Bitter-sweet Ointment, put equal parts of the berries and lard in a close kettle, over a gentle fire, for several hours; strain it, and add half a pound of pulverized lobelia seed; heat the whole gently for a few hours, and strain again for use. A cure for piles.