PellitoryBotanical Name: Anacyclus pyrethrum (D.C.)
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonyms: Anthemis Pyrethrum. Pyrethrum officinarum. Pyrethrum. Pyrethri Radix. Roman Pellitory. Pellitory of Spain. Spanish Chamomile. Pyrethre. Matricaria Pyrethrum.
Part Used: Root.
Habitat: Algeria. Cultivated in Mediterranean countries.
Description: This perennial plant, in habit and appearance like the chamomile, has stems that lie on the ground for part of their length, before rising erect. Each bears one large flower, the disk being yellow and the rays white, tinged with purple beneath. The leaves are smooth, alternate, and pinnate, with deeply-cut segments.
The root is almost cylindrical, very slightly twisted and tapering and often crowned with a tuft of grey hairs. Externally it is brown and wrinkled, with bright black spots. The fracture is short, and the transverse section, magnified, presents a beautiful radiate structure and many oleoresin glands. The taste is pungent and odour slight.
Cultivation: Planting may be done in autumn, but the best time is about the end of April. Any ordinary good soil is suitable, but better results are obtained when it is well-drained, and of a stiff loamy character, enriched with good manure. Propagation is done in three ways, by seed, by division of roots and by cuttings. If grown by seed, sow in February or March, thin out to 2 to 3 inches between the plants, and plant out early in June to permanent quarters, allowing a foot or more between the plants and 2 feet between the rows, selecting, if possible, a showery day for the operation. The seedlings will quickly establish themselves. Weeding should be done by hand, the plants when first put out being small, might be injured by hoeing. To propagate by division, lift the plants in March, or whenever the roots are in an active condition, and with a sharp spade, divide them into three or five fairly large pieces. Cuttings should be made from the young shoots that start from the base of the plant, and should be taken with a heel of the old plant attached, which will greatly assist their rooting. They may be inserted at any time from October to May. The foliage should be shortened to about 3 inches, when the cuttings will be ready for insertion in a bed of light, sandy soil. Plant very firmly, surface the bed with sand, and water in well. Shade is necessary while the cuttings are rooting.
Constituents: Analysis has shown a brown, resinous, acrid substance, insoluble in potassium hydroxide and probably containing pelletonin, two oils soluble in potassium hydroxide - one dark brown and acrid, the other yellow - tannin, gum, potassium sulphate and carbonate, potassium chloride, calcium phosphate and carbonate, silica, alumina, lignin, etc.
An alkaloid, Pyrethrine, yielding pyrethric acid, is stated to be the active principle.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Pellitory root is widely used because of its pungent efficacy in relieving toothache and in promoting a free flow of saliva. The British Pharmacopoeia directs that it be used as a masticatory, and in the form of lozenges for its reflex action on the salivary glands in dryness of the mouth and throat. The tincture made from the dried root may be applied to relieve the aching of a decayed tooth, applied on cotton wool, or rubbed on the gums, and for this purpose may with advantage be mixed with camphorated chloroform. It forms an addition to many dentifrices.
A gargle of Pellitory infusion is prescribed for relaxed uvula and for partial paralysis of the tongue and lips. To make a gargle, two or three teaspoonsful of Pellitory should be mixed with a pint of cold water and sweetened with honey if desired. Patients seeking relief from rheumatic or neuralgic affections of the head and face, or for palsy of the tongue, have been advised to chew the root daily for several months.
Being a rubefacient and local irritant, when sliced and applied to the skin, it induces heat, tingling and redness.
The powdered root forms a good snuff to cure chronic catarrh of the head and nostrils and to clear the brain, by exciting a free flow of nasal mucous and tears.
Culpepper tells us that Pellitory 'is one of the best purges of the brain that grows' and is not only 'good for ague and the falling sickness' (epilepsy) but is 'an excellent approved remedy in lethargy.' After stating that 'the powder of the herb or root snuffed up the nostrils procureth sneezing and easeth the headache,' he goes on to say that 'being made into an ointment with hog's lard it taketh away black and blue spots occasioned by blows or falls, and helpeth both the gout and sciatica,' uses which are now obsolete.
In the thirteenth century we read in old records that Pellitory of Spain was 'a proved remedy for the toothache' with the Welsh physicians. It was familiar to the Arabian writers on medicine and is still a favourite remedy in the East, having long been an article of export from Algeria and Spain by way of Egypt to India.
In the East Indies the infusion is used as a cordial.
Dosages: 20 grains. Tincture, B.P. and U.S.P., 20 to 30 drops.
P. umbelliferum is said to be used also, the Pyrethrum of Dioscorides being an Umbellifer.
Though dandelion and other roots, especially Corrigiola littoralis (Illecebraceae), are named as adulterants, it is stated by French authorities that the roots of A. pyrethrum are often old when found in commerce, but are never mixed with others.