Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Arum maculatum
Family: N.O. Araceae

Synonyms: Lords and Ladies. Arum. Starchwort. Adder's Root. Bobbins. Friar's Cowl. Kings and Queens. Parson and Clerk. Ramp. Quaker. Wake Robin.
Part Used: Root.

The Arum family, Aroidae, which numbers nearly 1,000 members, mostly tropical, and many of them marsh or water plants, is represented in this country by a sole species, Arum maculatum (Linn.), familiarly known as Lords and Ladies, or Cuckoo-pint.

Description: The flowering organs are contained in a sheath-like leaf called a spathe, within which rises a long, fleshy stem, or column called the spadix, bearing closely arranged groups of stalkless, primitive flowers. At the base are a number of flowers each consisting of a pistil only. Above these is a belt of sterile flowers, each consisting of only a purplish anther. Above the anther is a ring of glands, terminating in short threads The spadix is then prolonged into a purple; club-like extremity.

The bright leaves, conspicuous by their glossiness and purple blotches, and their halberd-like shape, are some of the first to emerge from the ground on the approach of spring, and may then be noticed under almost every hedge in shady situations; the pale green spathe is a still more striking object when it appears in April and May.

In autumn, the lowest ring of flowers form a cluster of bright scarlet, attractive berries, which remain long after the leaves have withered away, and on their short, thick stem alone mark the situation of the plant. In pite of their very acrid taste, they have sometimes been eaten by children, with most injurious results, being extremely poisonous. One drop of their juice will cause a burning sensation in the mouth and throat for hours. In the case of little children who have died from eating the berries, cramp and convulsions preceded death if no medical aid had been obtained.

The Arum has large tuberous roots, somewhat resembling those of the Potato, oblong in shape, about the size of a pigeon's egg, brownish externally, white within and when fresh, fleshy yielding a milky juice, almost insipid to the taste at first, but soon producing a burning and pricking sensation.The acridity is lost during the process of drying and by application of heat, when the substance of the tuber is left as starch. When baked, the tubers are edible, and from the amount of starch, nutritious. This starch of the root, after repeated washing, makes a kind of arrowroot, formerly much prepared in the Isle of Portland, and sold as an article of food under the name of Portland Sago, or Portland Arrowroot, but now obsolete. For this purpose, it was either roasted or boiled, and then dried and pounded in a mortar, the skin being previously peeled. Arum starch was used for stiffening ruffs in Elizabethan times, when we find the name Starchwort among the many names given to the plant. Gerard says: 'The most pure and white starch is made of the rootes of the Cuckoo-pint, but most hurtful for the hands of the laundresse that have the handling of it, for it chappeth, blistereth, and maketh the hands rough and rugged and withall smarting.' This starch, however, in spite of Gerard's remarks, forms the Cyprus Powder of the Parisians, who used it as a cosmetic for the skin, and Dr. Withering says of this cosmetic formed from the tuber starch, that 'it is undoubtedly a good and innocent cosmetic'; and Hogg (Vegetable Kingdom, 1858) reported its use in Italy to remove freckles from the face and hands.

In parts of France, a custom existed of turning to account the mucilaginous juice of the plant as a substitute for soap, the stalks of the plant when in flower being cut and soaked for three weeks in water, which was daily poured off carefully and the residue collected at the bottom of the pan, then dried and used for laundry work.

Withering quotes Wedelius for the supposition that it was this plant, under the name of Chara, on which the soldiers of Caesar's army subsisted when encamped at Dyrrhachium.

A curious belief is recorded by Gerard as coming from Aristotle, that when bears were half-starved with hibernating and had lain in their dens forty days without any nourishment, but such as they get by 'sucking their paws,' they were completely restored by eating this plant.

The roots, according to Gilbert White, are scratched up and eaten by thrushes in severe snowy seasons, and the berries are devoured by several kinds of birds, particularly by pheasants. Pigs which have eaten the fresh tubers suffered, but none died, though it acts as an irritant and purgative. As the leaves when bruised give out a disagreeable odour, they are not spontaneously eaten by animals, who quickly refuse them.

Constituents: The fresh tuber contains a volatile, acrid principle and starch, albumen, gum, sugar, extractive, lignin and salts of potassium and calcium. Saponin has been separated, also a brownish, oily liquid alkaloid, resembling coniine in its properties, but less active.

Arum leaves give off prussic acid when injured, being a product of certain glucosides contained, called cyanophoric glucosides.

Collection and Uses: The tubers for medicinal use should be dug up in autumn, or in early spring, before the leaves are fully developed. If laid in sand in a cellar, they can be preserved in sound condition for nearly a year.

When not needed for use in the fresh state, they can be dried slowly in very gentle heat and sliced. The dried slices are reduced to powder and kept in the cool, in stoppered bottles.

The fresh root when beaten up with gum, is recommended as a good pill mass, retaining all the medicinal properties.

The Arum had formerly a great reputation as a drug, in common with all other plants containing acrid or poisonous principles.

The dried root was recommended as a diuretic and stimulant, but is no longer employed. The British Domestic Herbal describes a case of alarming dropsy with great constitutional exhaustion treated most successfully with a medicine composed of Arum and Angelica, which cured in about three weeks.

The juice of the fresh tuber is purgative, but too violently so to be safely administered, and its use for this purpose has now been abandoned. Other uses of the tuber are, however, advocated in herbal medicine. Preparations were once official in the Dublin Pharmacopceia, and are also recommended by Homoeopathy. A homoeopathic tincture is prepared from the plant, and its root, which proves curative in diluted doses for a chronic sore throat with swollen mucous membranes and hoarseness, and likewise for a feverish sore throat.

An ointment made by stewing the fresh sliced tuber with lard is stated to be an efficient cure for ringworm, though the fresh sliced tuber applied to the skin produces a blister. The juice of the fresh plant when incorporated with lard has also been applied locally in the treatment of ringworm.

Other Species:
The AMERICAN ARUM (Arum triphyllum, Limn), Dragon Root, has similar characters and properties to the above.

Synonym: Wild Turnip. Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

It is very common in eastern North America, in moist places, where it is known as Indian Turnip, Wild Turnip, Jack-in-thePulpit, Devil's Ear, Pepper Turnip, Wake Robin, etc.

It grows 1 to 3 feet high; a green spathe, broadly striped with brown purple, arches over and encloses the spadix. The corm is smaller than the English species, 1/2 to 2 inches broad and about half as high. It is very acrid when fresh, but loses this property when cooked, or partially when dried.

For the drug market it is collected in the early spring, transversely sliced and dried, and is employed in both herbal and homoeopathic treatment.

It has acrid, stimulant, diaphoretic and expectorant properties, and is said to be useful when taken immediately after eating, to assist digestion and promote assimilation. It is considered a stimulant to the lungs in consumption, asthma and chronic forms of lung complaints, and to be of great value in hoarseness, coughs, asthma, rheumatism and lung diseases.

Owing to its acrimony, it is usually given in powder in honey or syrup, or mixed with fine sugar.

In the absolutely fresh state, both English and American Arums are violent irritants to the mucous membrane, producing when chewed, intense burning to the mouth and throat, and if taken internally, causing violent gastro-enteritis, which may end in death.

Dose: Powdered root 10 to 30 grains.

The ITALIAN ARUM drug of Southern Europe is derived from the Mediterranean A. Italicum (Mill.), which is found also in the Isle of Wight. It has the same poisonous properties.

That of Asia Minor, with similar properties, is A. dioscorides, Sib.

In A. Italicum and some of the other species, the spadix which supports the flowers disengages a quantity of heat, sufficient to be felt by the hand that touches it. Lamarck mentions an extraordinary degree of heat evolved by A. maculatum about the time when the sheath is about to open.

The DRAGON ARUM of the ancients was probably Amorphophallus campanulatus (Pol.) of the East Indies, whose corm-like rhizome gives rise yearly to one enormous leaf and an equally gigantic inflorescence. Its dirty red and yellow colour and foetid smell attract numbers of carrion flies, by which it is fertilized; they are often so deceived as to lay their eggs on the spadix.

The Arrow poison, Maschi, of Guiana, is supposed to come from a species of Arum.

On account of their starch, the rhizomes and tubers of many other species of this family are used as foods, or the starches are extracted. Even those which are poisonous may be thus employed, since cooking usually destroys their toxicity.

The most important, edible product is the corm of Calocasia antiquorum (Schott) (syn. Caladium, or A. esculentum, Linn.), Taro, which is one of the most largely used of tropical foods. Other species are similarly used. It abounds in starch and is much used as an article of food by the natives of Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. In the natural state, both the foliage and roots of Taro have all the pungent acrid qualities that mark the genus to which the plant belongs, but these are so dissipated by cooking that they become mild and palatable with no peculiar flavour more than belongs to good bread. The islanders bake the root in ovens in the same way as Bread Fruit, then beat it into a mass like dough, called Poe.

In India, a liniment is made of the root of Calocasia macrorhiza and Gingilie oil, and used by the native practitioners for frictions to cure intermittent fevers.

In South America, A. Indicum, the Mankuchoo and Manguri of Brazil, is much cultivated about the huts of the natives for its esculent stem and pendulous tubers.

Arum Arrowroot is derived from A. Dracunculus (Linn.), being something like Tapioca.

The root of A. montanum is used in India to poison tigers. The roots of A. lyratum furnish an article of diet to the natives of the Circar mountains. They require, however, to be carefully boiled several times, and dressed in a particular manner, to divest them of a somewhat disagreeable taste.

A. Dracunculus is sometimes cultivated in gardens for the sake of its large pedate leaves, its spotted stem and handsome purple spadix. It is well, however, to advise those intending to add this plant to their gardens that though its lurid and striking spadix forms a handsome feature in a border yet its odour is decidedly strong and unpleasant resembling that of putrid meat, a fact which is evidently perceived by insects who swarm to it, especially in hot weather.