Unicorn Root, True

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Unicorn Root, True

Botanical Name: Aletris farinosa (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Haemodoraceae

Synonyms: Colic-root. Stargrass. Starwort. Star-root. Blazing Star. Ague-root. Aloeroot. Ague Grass. Black-root. Bitter Grass. Crow Corn. Bettie Grass. Devil's Bit.
(French) Aletris Farinseu.
(German) Mehlige Aletria.
Parts Used: Root, dried rhizome.
Habitat: North America. Found at edges of swampy or wet sandy woods, from Florida northward, specially on seashore.

Description: A low-growing, spreading perennial herb, with tuberous cylindrical, somewhat horizontal root, having many fibres from its lower surface. No stem, leaves lanceolate, acute, ribbed, sessile, or slightly sheathing at base, smooth and flat, pale coloured, thin and coriaceous. Flower-stem simple with remote scales, 1 to 3 feet high, topped with a spiked raceme of short-stalked, white, bell-shaped oblong flowers blooming May to August; the outer surface of these has a mealy frosted appearance. Fruit is an ovate, tapering, coriaceous capsule, enclosed in a persistent envelope. Seeds numerous, ovate, ribbed, albuminous, fleshy, and oily.

In commerce the rhizome is found dried in pieces about 2 inches long and 2/5 inch thick, light brown colour, flattish on upper surface and densely tufted with the remains of the leaves, fracture yellow and slightly fibrous; the roots from the rhizome are wiry about 3 inches long and of a glossy black colour, but when first dried brownish. Taste intensely bitter, peculiar; it loses a great part of its nauseous bitterness with age. Odour very faint.

Constituents: The bitter principle in the root has not yet been determined. Its best solvent is alcohol. It contains a large percentage of bitter extractive, colouring matter and resin, and a quantity of starch.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The fresh root in large doses is somewhat narcotic, emetic and cathartic; when dried, these properties are lost. In smaller doses it gives colic in hypogastrium, and a sense of stupefaction and vertigo. When dried it becomes a valuable bitter tonic and its tincture or decoction has been used in flatulence, colic, hysteria, and to tone up the stomach; of value in dyspepsia and where there is an absence of urinary phosphates. Its most valuable property is its tonic influence on the female generative organs, proving of great use in cases of habitual miscarriage and as a general tonic. Extraction Aletridis alcoholicum is the official preparation.

Dosages: The dried powdered root, 5 to 10 grains. Saturated tincture, 5 to 15 drops in water. Fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm.