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PYROLA UMBELLATA.-UMBEL-FLOWERED WINTER-GREEN.
Class X. DECANDRIA.—Order I. MONOGYNIA.
Fig. (a) the anthers separated; (6) a seed—from Lamarck.
communnann mannannnnnnnnnn Five species of this very natural genus are indigenous to Great Britain. The Pyrola umbellata has received a place in our national pharmacopeias; probably on account of the high eulogiums which have been bestowed upon it as a powerful tonic and diuretic: but although widely diffused throughout the northern hemisphere, this species is not found wild in Britain. It inhabits every part of the United States, and extends across the continent to the Shores of the Pacific Ocean. It is also found in the forests of Şiberia, and in several of the northern parts of Europe and Asia. It delights only in shady woods, particularly of pine and birch, where it is protected from the rays of the sun, and nourished by the soil formed from the decomposition of leaves and other vegetable matter. The common appellations by which it is known in America are Winter Green, Ground Holly, Rheumatism Weed, and Pippissewa. It is the most beautiful of all the genus; producing its elegant umbels of cream-coloured flowers in June and July, and continues a long time in bloom.
Like most others of this genus, the Pyrola umbellata has a long creeping perennial root, sending up woody, somewhat angular, erect, or slightly procumbent stems, at various distances, a span high. The leaves grow in irregular whorls, of which there are generally two or three on each stem. They are lanceolate, wedge-shaped, strongly serrated, smooth, placed on short petioles, and of a deep shining green colour. The flowers, which are usually five, grow in a small corymb, on simple, nodding pedicles: the calyx is inferior, and consists of five roundish, permanent segments, much shorter than the corolla : the petals are five roundish, concave, spreading, cream-coloured, with a tinge of crimson at the base: the filaments are ten, awl-shaped, curved, supporting large, 2-celled purple anthers; each cell opening by a short, round, tubular orifice at the summit: the germen is roundish, depressed, furrowed, obscurely 5-lobed; the style cylindrical, half as long as the germen, and concealed by the stigma, which is large, peltate, covered with a viscid matter, and obscurely 5-rayed. The capsules are orbicular, depressed, with 5 valves, 5 cells, and 5 partitions from the central column. The seeds are very minute, oval, each contained in a membranous tunic, elongated at both ends.
QUALITIES AND CHEMICAL PROPERTIES.—The whole plant, when bruised, has a strong unpleasant odour, and a moderately warm pungent taste, partaking of both sweet and bitter. Alcohol appears to be the best menstruum for extracting the active properties of the plant, although water is capable of separating the greater part of its virtues. The decoction is of a deep brown, and strikes a black colour with the sulphate of iron.
A Dissertation “De Pyrola umbellata,” published at Göttingen, by Dr. Wolf, in 1817, contains an elaborate chemical examination of this plant. As the result of his trials, this author concludes, that 100 parts of Pyrola umbellata contain about 18 of a bitter extractive principle, 2.04 of resin, 1.38 of tannin, a slight portion of gum, and the rest fibrous matter and earthy salts. The resin is adhesive, brownish, readily soluble in ether and alkalis, burning with flame and a resinous odour, leaving a white cinder.
MEDICAL PROPERTIES AND USES.-"As we have no experience ourselves (says Professor Burnett) of the medical properties of this plant, we think that our readers will thank us for furnishing them with the opinions of Dr. Bigelow, Professor of Materia Medica, and Botany, in Harvard University, United States : The Pyrola umbellata though scarcely known as a medicine until within the last few years, has at the present day acquired a reputation of considerable extent in the treatment of various diseases. Its popular celebrity seems to have originated in its application to the treatment of fever and rheumatism ; but the attention of physicians has been chiefly drawn towards its use in other complaints. The instances in which this plant has received favourable testimonies on medical authority, of its successful use, both in America and Europe, are principally the following. 1. As a palliative in strangury and nephritis. 2. As a diuretic in dropsy. 3. As an external stimulant, susceptible of useful application in various diseases.
“In the first of the cases, the Pyrola is entitled to attention and confidence. Some practioners in this country have employed it with advantage in the same cases in which the Arbutus Uva ursi is recommended. Dr. Wolf, the german writer, has reported a number of cases of ischuria and dysuria, arising from various causes in which the Pyrola, given in infusion, produced the most evident relief, and took precedence of a variety of remedies which had been tried. His method of administering it was to give a table spoonful of a strong infusion, with a little syrup, every hour. In all the cases he has detailed, small as the dose was, it gave relief in a very short time. In one case its effect was so distinctly marked, that the disease returned whenever the medicine was omitted, and was removed on resuming its use. A tonic operation attended its other effects, so that the appetite was improved, and digestion promoted during the period of its employment.
“The diuretic properties of the Pyrola umbellata, seem to have been fully illustrated by Dr. W. Somerville in a paper on this vegetable, published in the 5th volume of the London Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. The facts presented by this physician afford satisfactory evidence of the power of this medi
cine to promote the renal excretion, and to afford relief to patients afflicted with dropsy in its various forms The most distinguished case presented by him, is that of Sir James Craig, the British governor in Canada, who was labouring under a general dropsy, which in its progress had assumed the forms of hydrothorax, anasarca and ascites, and which was combined with different organic diseases, especially of the liver. After having tried with little or temporary success, almost every variety of diuretic and cathartic medicines, and submitted twice to the operation of tapping, the patient had recourse to a strong infusion of the Pyrola, in the quantity of a pint every twenty-four hours. Although the case was altogether an unpromising one, yet the plant gave relief, not only in the first, but in the subsequent instances of its use. It produced an augmentation of strength, and an invigorated appetite.
“Several other cases of dropsy are detailed in Dr. Somerville's paper, in which the Pyrola was administered by himself and by other practitioners with decided advantage. Dr. Satterly and Dr. Marcet are among those who have added their observations to the testimonies in its favour. Dr. Somerville found his patients to remark, that an agreeable sensation was perceived in the stomach soon after taking the Pyrola, and that this was followed in some instances by an extraordinary increase of appetite. He considers it as having in this respect a great advantage over other diuretics, none of which are agreeable to the stomach, and most of them very offensive to it. He further states, that no circumstance had occurred within his own experience or information, to forbid its use in any form, or to limit the dose.
“Such are the most important facts which to my knowledge have been published respecting the internal use of the Pyrola umbellata. I have administered this plant on various occasions, and attended to its mode of operation. In a number of dropsical cases, when first given, it made a distinct and evident impression on the disease, communicating an increased activity to the absorbents, followed by a great augmentation of the excretion from the kidnies. The benefit, however, with me, has been in most instances temporary, and it was found better to omit the medicine for a time, and to resume it afresh, than to continue it until the system had become insensible to its stimulus. After suspending it for a week or two, the same distinct operation took place on returning to its use, as had been manifested on the first trial. It proved in almost every instance, a very acceptable medicine to the patient, and was preferred both for its sensible qualities and its effects on the stomach, to other diuretics and alteratives which had been prescribed.
“The Pyrola has been considerably employed as an external application in tumours and ulcers of various descriptions. It first acquired notice in consequence of some newspaper attestations of its efficacy in the cure of cancer. Those persons who know how seldom genuine cancers occur in comparison with reputed ones, will be more ready to allow it the character of curing ulcerous, than really cancerous affections. There are undoubtedly many ulcers, and those frequently of a malignant kind, which are benefited by antiseptic stimulants; and to such the Pyrola may be useful. But of its efficacy in real cancer we require more evidence than is at present possessed, before we ascribe to it the power of controlling so formidable a malady.
"Dr. Millar, of Franklin, informs us that he has used a decoction and cataplasm of this plant, with apparent success in various chronic indurated swellings. It acts as a topical stimulant, and when long continued, not unfrequently vesicates. Tumours of long standing have in several instances disappeared under its use.”
Sir Walter Farquhar, it appears from Dr. Somerville's papers, had also used the Pyrola umbellata in the case of a lady labouring under ascites, in which case the diuretic effects were very striking. The same gentleman likewise states that“ the extract was prescribed in three hopeless cases of ascites, accompanied with unequivocal marks of organic derangement: the patients were stimulated powerfully, but in the third the individual complained of sickness at the stomach, and did not persevere in taking the medicine.” Dr. Barton, author of "the Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States," also corroborates the accounts of the diuretic effects of this vegetable, by four cases which came under his care at the Marines' Hospital, Philadelphia, in which a strong infusion was given with the most decided advantage. It is said to be a practice in many parts of America to give a bucketful of the decoction to horses that are unable to stale, with the view and uniformly with the effect of relieving them.
As a tonic, the Pyrola umbellata has been employed in intermittents, scrofula, and other diseases, where this class of remedies are indicated. Dr. Mitchell, an American physician, relates some cases of its success in these fevers. The Indians use a strong and warm decoction of this plant in rheumatism and fever. They employ the whole vegetable, and the decoction is taken in large quantities. Professor Barton says, he has been assured on good authority, that it was very extensively employed, and with excellent effect, in many cases of typhus fever, which under the appellation of “ camp-fever,” prevailed among the American troops and carried off great numbers of them during the time of the revolutionary war.
Another species of the genus to which this plant belongs, the Pyrola rotundifolia, is said to be used by the Indians as a topical stimulant and vesicant.
The Dublin College directs the following method of preparing the decoction of Pyrola, as recommended by Dr. Somerville:
Pyrolæ umbellatæ zj.
Aquæ, mensura tbij. Macerate for six hours, then bruise and return the Pyrola to the liquor, and reduce the mixture by evaporation, when strained and pressed to tj. by measure.-Dose zj. to žij. three times a day.