Race Injuries
Wild Herbs
Dry Herbs
Herb Exchange
About Me
Contact Me

Chapter 1



     In the study of roots the following must be considered: Occurrence, size, type, nature, stem bases and scars, texture, color, surface, fracture, outline, cortex, cambium or endodermis, wood or central cylinder, pith, odor, and taste.

1. Occurence.     This refers to the condition of the root, whether entire , as parsley; or broken, as belladonna; or cut.  If cut, the sections may be transverse, as in bryony; or oblique, as in calumba; or longitudinal , as in spikenard.

2. Size.    The length may vary from a few millimeters, as in the broken pieces of most roots, to a meter or more, as in Mexican sarsaparilla. the diameter may vary from 1 mm., as in Virginia snakeroot, to 9.7 cm., as in phytolacca.

3. Type.     This refers to the position of the root, whether vertical, usual position, as in phyrethrum; or oblique, as in senega; or  horizontal, as in senega.  In most roots with numerous branches, both horizontal and oblique types occur.

4.  Nature .     This refers to the shape of the root, whether simple, as in pyrethrum; or branched as in senega; or straight, as in stillingia; or twisted , as in American burdock; or crooked, as in Rio ipecac.

5.  Stem Bases and Scars.     This refers to the remains of stems, as in Peruvian krameria, and to scars, as in burdock.  The stems may be short, as in scammony; or long, as in ipecac.   The stem scars may be small, as in senega; or large as in pyrethrum.

6.  Texture.     The texture may be non-fibrous, as in parsley; starchy, as in bryony; resinous, as in pyrethrum; waxy , as in cut surface of pareira; granular, as in asclepias; horny, as in European burdock; fibrous, as in phytolacca; waxy and fibrous, as in ipecac; starchy and fibrous , as in sarsaparilla; resinous and fibrous, as in baptisia; granular and fibrous, as in krameria.

7.  Color.    The color refers to the outer surface of the drug. The most common shades are the grays, yellows, browns, and reds.  The color of the different drugs is given under the description, and the variation is fairly uniform.  The color of drugs is important because it is a criterion of quality.  Off-color indicates improper collecting, drying, shipping or storing of drugs.  Experience in handling drugs is necessary in order to acquire a knowledge of color values.

8.  Surface markings.    The surface is furrowed when it has sharply defined, parallel elevations and depressions, as in Mexican sarsaparilla.  Furrows may form straight parallel lines, as in Mexican sarsaparilla, or they may be spirally arranged, as in scammony root.  The surface is wrinkled when it is irregularly contracted into furrows, as in bryony and in pyrethrum.  The surface is fissured when it has narrow openings caused by the separation of the tissues.  The fissures may be shallow, as in stillingia, or deep , as in Savanilla karameria and in Carthagena ipecac.  The surface is sunken when it is depressed because of the shrinking of the inner tissue, as in jalap; cleft when it has irregular openings caused by the separation of the tissues, as in Russian licorice; split when it has longitudinal breaks in the tissue caused by cutting it into pieces, as in berberis and in gelsemium; keeled when it has a longitudinal ridge or elevation of the cortex, beginning at the crown and extending toward the root, as in senega; annulated when it has a transverse parallel elevations or outgrowths of tissue.  It may be incompletely annulate, as in phytolacca; or completely annulate, as in parley root.  The surface is nodulated when it is extended as a rounded, knot-like mass of tissue, as in wild yam; abraded when the outer layers have been removed by the friction resulting from handling and transporting the drug, as in belladonna root; smooth when it has no perceptible projections or depressions, as in cut sections of belladonna root.

9.  Fracture.     The term fracture refers to the manner in which a root breaks when it is subjected to sufficient pressure.  In determining the fracture, place the drug between the thumbs and the two adjacent fingers.  Press the thumbs outward until they come together.  If the drug breaks clear across it as a complete fracture.  Belladonna root, and most roots, in fact, have a complete fracture.  If the drug breaks only part way, it has an incomplete fracture.  All the sarsaparillas and spikenard have an incomplete fracture.  When the root is too tenacious to be fracture, the broken surface is spoken of.  Pareira is so tenacious that it requires a sharp blow of a hammer or a hatchet to break the surface.  If the root bends instead of breaking when subjected to pressure, it has no fracture or is fractureless, as the roots of the convallaria, caulophyllum, aletris and helonias.  Drugs with a complete fracture or an incomplete fracture or a broken surface are divided into seven groups:    (1)   Those having a very weak, brittle fracture, as the roots of American angelica, senega, spigelia, and serpentaria;     (2)   Those having a weak, brittle fracture, as parsley root;     (3)   Those having a brittle fracture, as the roots of burdock, rumex and belladonna;     (4)   Those having a tough fracture , as pyrethrum;     (5)   Those having a strong, tough fracture, as licorice, stillingia and echinacea;     (6)   Those having a very strong, tough fracture, as phytolacca;     (7)   Those which are too tough to be fractured, but are breakable as pareira, aselepias, hydrangea, krameria, and scammony.  In a few drugs the cortex is brittle and the wood is tough, as in Rio ipecac, Carthagena ipecac, the kramerias and baptisia.  When a fracture is made, the nature of the fractured surface should be observed.  It is concordal, if the surface is curved; even, if the surface is plain; uneven, if the surface is rough; and hackly, if the surface is sharp and jagged.  These terms are combined with the classifications of brittle and tough fractures to denote fractures.  Calumba has a brittle, concordal fracture; senega has a very weak, brittle, even fracture ; burdock has a brittle, uneven fracture; hydrangea has a very strong, tough hackly fracture.  Fracture is an aid to the identification of drugs; therefore it should be kept in mind when drugs are selected.  Many drugs when exposed to moisture will absorb water and become pliable.  This is caused by the softening of the tissue by the absorbed water.  Parsley root is an example of such a drug.  When parley root is pliable it contains an excess of moisture; it is, therefore, deficient in strength and is likely to become moldy.  Fracture, or lack of fracture, is in most cases a criterion of the quality of the drug.

10.  Outline.     The outline of roots refers to the form of the oblique, or longitudinal, or cross sections of the root.  In most roots the outlines are, –cylindrical, as in krameria; in others it is nearly circular, as in stillingia; or oval, as in calumba; or rectangular, as in Phytolacca; or irregular, as in rumex; or as in cross sections of most cut roots, as in belladonna root..  The outline may also be wavy, as in scammony root.

11.  Cortex.     The cortex includes everything outside the cambium or endodermis.  When the cortex is studied, the diameter, the color and the markings must be considered.  The diameter varies from 1 mm., as in senega, to 6 mm.,. as in calumba.  For every drug there is a fairly uniform maximum diameter–i.e., the cortex of roots growing under normal conditions does not exceed a certain diameter.  The ratio of the diameter of the cortex to that of the central cylinder should also be kept in mind.  In the majority of roots the central cylinder or wood is thicker than the cortex.  This point is well illustrated in krameria and in Carthagena ipecac.  In other roots, the cortex is thicker than the central cylinder.  The color of the cortex, which is given under the description of each drug varies in different roots.  Frequently the cortex is of one color and the wood of another, as in krameria.  The markings or macroscopic structures, of the cortex must be kept in mind.  The cortex of European angelica has prominent round resin cavities with resin; parsley has less distinct resin cavities; the cortex of stillingia root also has small resin cells; the cortex of calumba is radiate; the cortex of althaea has concentric lines composed of mucilage cells.  Many roots have no characteristic markings in the cortex.

12.  Cambium.     The cambium increases the growth (diameter) of the root by the addition of new cells to the wood and to the cortex.  The cambium zone occurs between the cortex and the wood.  It is usually very distinct, as in belladonna; or indistinct, as in baptisia.  In the latter case the cortex appears to come directly in contact with the wood.  It should be remembered, however, that a cambium zone is present even if not distinguishable.

13.  Endodermis.   Endodermis is a term applied to a layer of cells surrounding the central conducting strand (stele) or roots and rhizomes of plants having one seed leaf (monoeotyledonous plants).  Such an endodermis is faintly seen in the cross-section of Mexican sarsaparilla root.

14.  Wood.     The wood includes everything within the cambium zone, as in calumba.  When the wood is studied, its diameter, its color and its markings should be considered.  The diameter varies from less than 2 mm., as in Rio ipecac, to 10.5 cm., as in sections of a large bryony root.  The color of the wood, which is given under the description, varies in different roots.  An odd case of coloring occurs in krameria, the central portion of which is darker than the outer; and in pyrethrum, the radiate portion of which is yellow.  It differs in many cases from the color of the cortex, as in calumba.  The markings of the wood are frequently diagnostic.  The wood of belladonna and rumex is finely radiate; pyrethrum is prominently radiate; calumba is interruptedly radiate.  The wood of phytolacca is divided into concentric zones.  The wood of senega has a V-shaped, undeveloped portion.  The wood of scammony has a mottled surface caused by alternating masses of yellowish conducting tissue and light-colored parenchymatic tissue.  Longitudinal sections of the wood of phytolacca have parallel ridges.  In krameria and other roots the wood has no characteristic markings.  The pith may be of small diameter, as in pareira; or of large diameter, as in calumba.  In European burdock it is hollow or cleft.

15.  Central Cylinder.     The central, cylinder is everything within the endodermis.  In the sarsaparillas it is porous.

16. Odor.     In order to judge of the genuineness of many drugs a knowledge of odors is necessary.  This knowledge is acquired only by considerable practice in smelling drugs.  It is impossible to describe an odor so minutely that one unfamiliar with a drug can recognize it from a description of is odor, or to distinguish between two odorous drugs by the description alone.  Most drugs with characteristic odors give off aromatic or volatile constituents.  Drugs giving off such volatile constituents are called aromatic drugs.  The odors of aromatic drugs differ in kind as well as in degree.  When one has learned to associate a particular odor with a certain drug, odors become as it were, diagnostic.  Odors are qualified as faint or strong, pleasing or displeasing, and pungent.  There are several roots with characteristic odors.  These are parsley, inula, belladonna.  There are many roots, such as belladonna, phytolacca, the sarsaparilas, the kramerias, wild yam and pleurisy, which have no characteristic or pronounced odor.  These are classed as odorless roots.

17.  Taste.     The taste of many drugs is characteristic; and since many drugs have similar tastes,  it is possible to classify them according to taste.  Taste may be simple–i.e. one taste only; or complex–i.e. two or more tastes.  (A) Simple Tastes.  The important simple tastes are mucilaginous, starchy, sweet, bitter, astringent, pungent, acrid, tingling and aromatic.  Of the official roots, lappa has a mucilaginous taste; stillingia, a starchy taste; licorice, a sweet taste; calumba, a bitter taste; krameria, an astringent taste; wild indigo, a pungent taste; pyrethrum, senega, and stillingia, acrid tastes; echinacea, a tingling taste; inula, an aromatic taste.  (B) Complex Tastes.  Several roots have complex tastes.  In each case the first taste experienced is placed first, the second taste placed second, etc.  Parsley has a sweet, pleasingly aromatic taste; althaea, a starchy, sweet, mucilaginous taste; sarsaparilla, a starchy, mucilaginous, sweet and acrid taste.  Both the simple and complex tastes may be qualified–i.e. weakly or strongly acrid, etc; and the aromatic taste may be classed as pleasingly or disagreeably aromatic, as well as weakly and strongly aromatic.  It should be remembered, however, that taste is an aid to, and not a positive means of identifying the average drug.

Listing of Roots

(Sarsaparilla to Bryonia)