Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Lachnanthes tinctoria (ELL.)
Family: N.O. Haemodoraceae

Synonyms: Gyrotheca capitata. Gyrotheca tinctoria. Wool Flower. Red Root. Paint Root. Spirit Weed.
Parts Used: Root, herb.
Habitat: The drug Lachnanthes is prepared from the entire plant, but especially from the rhizome and roots of Lachnanthes tinctoria, a plant indigenous to the United States of America, growing in sandy swamps along the Atlantic coast, from Florida to New Jersey and Rhode Island, and also found in Cuba, blossoming from June to September, according to locality.

It was introduced into England as a greenhouse plant in 1812 and then propagated from seed.

Description: The plant is a perennial herb, 1 1/2 to 2 feet high, the upper portion whitewoolly, hence one of its local names: Woolflower. The rhizome is about 1 inch in length and of nearly equal thickness, and bears a large number of long, coarse, somewhat waxy, deep-red roots, yielding a red dye, to which its popular names of Paintroot and Redroot are due.

The leaves are mostly borne in basal rosettes and are somewhat succulent, 1/5 to 3/5 inch wide and reduced to bracts on the upper part of the stem. The flowers are in a close, woolly cyme, the ovary inferior, the perianth sixparted, the sepals narrower than the petals, the stamens three, alternately with the petals on long filaments; the style is solitary, threadlike, its stigma slightly lobed; the fruit, a three-celled, many seeded, rounded capsule.

Constituents: The root yields a fine red dye and a little resin, but so far no analysis determining the nature of its specific constituents has been made: they are, however, quite active, producing a peculiar form of cerebral stimulation or narcosis.

The drug has a somewhat acrid taste, but no odour.

Medicinal Action and Uses:
'The root,' says Millspaugh, 'was esteemedan invigorating tonic by the American aborigines, especially by the Seminole tribe, who use it, it is said, to cause brilliancy and fluency of speech. A tincture of the root has been recommended in typhus and typhoid fevers, pneumonia, severe forms of brain disease,' rheumatic wry-neck and laryngeal cough.'

Apart from its narcotic uses among the Indians, it has been used in the United States for dyeing purposes.

The drug is employed for various nervous disorders. A homoeopathic tincture is prepared from the whole fresh plant, while flowering. Doses varying from a few drops of the tincture to a drachm, cause mental exhilaration, followed by ill-humour, vertigo and headache.

Fluid extract, 1 to 5 drops.

Although the drug is not related to the Solanaceae, the effects of overdoses are said to resemble those of poisoning by Belladonna and other solanaceous drugs.

In the countries where it grows, there is a legend that the Paintroot plant is fatally poisonous to white pigs, but not injurious to black ones. Darwin, on the authority of Professor I. J. Wyman, cites the strange effect on albino pigs after eating the roots of this plant. In Virginia, where it grows abundantly, Professor Wyman noticed that all the pigs in this district were black, and upon inquiring of the farmers he found that all the white pigs born in a litter were destroyed, because they could not be reared to maturity. The roots of Lachnanthes, when eaten by white pigs, caused their bones to turn to a pink colour and their hoofs to fall off, but the black pigs, it was said, could eat the same plant with impunity. Heusinger has shown that white sheep and pigs are injured by the ingestion of certain plants, while the pigmented species may eat them without harm.