Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 18, 1976 · Page 92
Get access to this page with a Free Trial
Click to view larger version

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 92

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 18, 1976
Page 92
Start Free Trial

Page 92 article text (OCR)

Indian physic (Bowman 's Root) Culver's Root Bowman's Root, and Culver's Root · By Earl L. Core West Virginia University' In June two interesting and very common wild plants of West Virginia start to bloom, both named for early American physicians who used them in treatment of ills of the pioneers, in a day when names were just beginning to be applied to newly discovered species. Bowman's root (Gillenia trifolia- ta), also known as Indian physic, is an attractive herbaceous plant, er- Kt, smooth, reddish, branching, two to four feet high. The leaves are three-foliate, ovate-landceo- late, short-petioled, pointed at the apex, narrowed at the base, two to three inches long, sharply and irregularly serrate. The flowers are terminal, in loose panicles, with five pale rose color or white petals, and the calyx is reddish. The plant grows in rich woods, in every county of West Virginia, often decorating road banks where forests border on highways. It ranges from New York to southern Ontario and Michigan, south to Georgia and Alabama. Because of . its ornamental value and also, per- *'n"aps, for its supposed therapeutic importance, it has been grown in cultivation beyond its^iative range, and tends to escape. · The root is said to be both emetic and cathartic and in its medical properties has been compared to the official ipecac of commerce, although greatly inferior to that re- ""medy. The modern physician, of course, never makes use of it. Bowman's root was named for William Beaumont (1785-1853), a ·Mm CHARLESTON. VI. VA. very f a m o u s pioneer physician, born in Lebanon, Conn. The spelling of family names on the frontier was subject to considerable variation. Presumably this plant, along with several others, was used by Dr. Beaumont in treating illnesses and his widespread fame gave credence to the reported cures. To be exact, Beaumont was not a doctor. In frontier fashion, he had been licensed to practice on the strength of having acted as an apprentice to a doctor and this was enough to get him a post as an army surgeon. One of his early assignments was on Mackinac Island. The traveller driving north across t h e S t r a i t s o f M a c k i n a c bridge, connecting Lower and Upper Michigan, can see the famous M a c k i n a c Island to the right. A popular summer resort, the name is derived from the Algonquin Indian name, Michilimackinac, a word usually defined either as "The Place of the Spirits," or "The Place of the Great Turtle." The island is noted for its climate, beautiful scenery, and strange rock formations. No automobiles are permitted on the island and tourists are transported' : in horse-drawn carriages. One of the tourist objectives is the home-office of Dr. Beaumont. It was in front of the store of the American Fur Co., on Mackinac Island, that a young French-Canadian, Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot in the stomach from a distance of three feet, in the year 1822. Dr. Beaumont, called to the scene, gave, him 20 minutes to live. Not only had clothing and wadding been driven into the w o u n d , but also the lungs and stomach were protruding, and food was pumping out through a hole in the stomach. By a freak of nature, the edges of the hole in the stomach attached themselves to the edges of the wound. This saved St. Martin, for the wound could be dressed and dirt could not enter the body cavity. But it left him with a permanent fistula, or opening, into the stomach. When the county refused to support the young man, Beaumont took him into the house. Beaumont was now the "Post- doctor," at a salary of $40 a month and two to four rations daily, so that the two men did not lead a very fancy life. But a f t e r about three years it occurred to the surgeon that he had in his house an . unusual opportunity for research. As a result of his study, he published, in 1833, a little book entitled Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juices and the Physiology of Digestion. This book, written on the frontier by a, man who did not have an M.D. degree, is regarded as one of the greatest vontributions of its kind in the history of medicine. "St. Martin, a French Canadian half-bred Indian (says Beaumont). 18 years old, was of good constitu- t i o n , robust, and healthy. In the service of the American Fur Co. he was accidentally wounded in the chest by the discharge of a musket on 6.6.1822. I saw him 25 minutes after the accident and found a portion of the lung protruding, lacerated and burned, and immediately below this another protrusion, a portion of the stomach, lacerated through all its coats, and pouring out the food he had taken for breakfast, ttfrough an orifice large enough to admit the forefinger." In 1825, Beaumont began to realize that here was a good opportunity to study the process of digestion, then very poorly understood. He wrote in his notebook: "When he lies on the opposite side I can look directly into into the cavity of the stomach, and almost see the process of digestion . . . I have frequently suspended flesh, raw and wasted, and other substances into the perforation to ascertain the length of time required to digest each . . . This case affords an excellent opportunity for experimenting." In his book (in 1833), Beaumont recalled his experiments: "At 12 N. on 1.8.1825 I introduced through the perforation, into the stomach, the following articles of diet, suspended by a silk string, and fastened at proper distances to pass in without paiif a piece of high seasoned beef; a piece of raw, salted, fat pork; one of raw, salted, lean beef; another of boiled salted beef; a piece of stale bread, and a bunch of raw, sliced cabbage; each piece weighing about two drachms. "The lad continued his usual employment about the house. At 1 p.m. withdrew and examined them. Found the cabbage and bread about half digested, the pieces of meat unchanged. Returned them into the stomach. At 2 p.m. withdrew them again. Found the cabbage, bread, pork and boiled beef all cleanly digested and gone from the string, the other pieces of meat but very little affected. Returned them again. At 3 p.m. examined again. The seasoned beef was partly digested; the raw beef was slightly macerated on the surface, but its general texture was firm and entire. The smell and taste of the fluids of the stomach were slightly rancid. The boy complained of some pain. The experiment interrupted . . . Calomel pills dropped into the stomach had the same effect as when administered by the mouth . . . I think, and subsequent experiments have confirmed the opinion, that fat meats are less easily digested than lean. Generally speaking, the looser the texture and the more tender the fibre of animal food, the easier it is of digestion." It is perhaps not surprising that St. Martin, although grateful to Beaumont for having helped to save his life,'did not at all enjoy all the scientific experimentation. Presently he became more and more exasperated by Beaumont's constant poking around in his interior and when the doctor took him to Plattsburg. New York, to show him off to the medical profession, he took the opportunity to slip away into Canada. It took Beaumont four years to locate him again and he found St. Martin married, with two children. A great deal of talk and money was required to gel him back to Fort Crawford, where Beaumont was then stationed. Two years later, he ran away again. Beaumont then managed to get him enrolled in the army and placed under his orders. He lived to be 82, nearly 15 years longer than Beaumont. Beaumont's experiments caused a sensation not only on the American frontier, but also in Europe, where medical men were surprised to learn of scientific discovery in the backwoods. He was America's first great physiologist. Culver's root (Veronicastrum. virginicum) is a tall and stately plant, raising its conspicuous, wand-like spire high above most of its companions. It is a smooth perennial with a simple straight stem two to seven feet high. The leaves are oblong-lanceolate, smooth and finely serrate, noticeably veined, in whorls of three to nine around the stem. The flowers are numerous, white or pale lavender, four-lobed and tubular. They are densely crowded on long slender, pointed, terminal spikes, six to eight inches long- The stamens are prominent, two in each flower. Culver's root grows mostly in rich open meadows and thickets, in every county in West Virginia, often along fence rows. It ranges throughout the eastern United States, from Massachusetts and Vermont to Minnesota, south to North Carolina, western South Car- Dlina, north western Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and eastern Texas. The scientific name is composed Df the word Veronica, with the suffix astrum, false, i.e., false Veronica. It has been placed in the genus Veronica by some botanists. A beautiful legend relates the story of Christ making,.His way along the Via Dolorosa, bearing His cross on the way toCalvary. As He passed the door of a lovely Jewish maiden named Veronica, His face was covered with drops of sweat. Pitying Him. she gently wiped His face with her linen handkerchief, whereupon her h a n d k e r c h i e f received a m i r a c u l o u s true image (vera, true, and eicon. image) of His features. This famous relic of St. Veronica was said for m a n y years to have been preserved in the archieves of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. More than a dozen species of Veronica are found in West Virginia and we may include the Culver's root among them, even though it is only a "false" Veronica. Many of them are native, to Europe and have been introduced here. Their connection with the story of Christ may explain the miraculous qualities and plants have been supposed to possess, having manifold uses, a m o n g w h i c h are a b a l m for wounds, a cure for coughs, and a cordial for liver and intestinal disturbances. T h e e a r l y s e t t l e r s q u i c k l y learned the value of Culver's root from the aborigines. The Senecas made a tea of the root and drank it as a laxative. The Menominees and Meskwakis also used it for this and other m e d i c i n a l purposes. The roots were gathered in the fall and stored for at least a year before being used. The plant was accepted in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia for its laxative effects, but was eventually dropped because it was to drastic and.irregujar in its action. In great contrast to the full information we have on the life of Beaumont, almost nothing is known of Dr. Culver, not even his first name. He is said to have been an American physician of the colonial period, who flourished before 1716, and used the Culver's root in his treatments. Jw/v 7K 7376. Sundav Gazette-Mail

Get full access with a Free Trial

Start Free Trial

What members have found on this page