Leptandra virginica syn. Veronicastrum virginicum
Black root (Scrophulariaceae) is a hardy perennial herb having thin stem that grows up to seven feet high. The herb bears clusters of three or even more slender spear-shaped leaves that circle the stem at its nodes. Black root produces tiny white, blue or pinkish flowers between June and September. The flowers appear in clusters of spikes, each measuring about 3 to 8 inches in length, at the stem terminals.
In 1716, when the renowned Puritan leader Cotton Mather searched for a medicine to treat his daughter's tuberculosis, he asked for black root and his request was the first documented use of the plant's name. In effect, majority of the early practitioners of herbal medicine were familiar with black root and considered the herb to be a potent laxative and emetic (any medicine that promotes vomiting). Since black root was definitely an aggressive medicine for treating a lung illness, Mather's daughter died soon after using this remedy.
Native Indians of North America who found out the therapeutic qualities of the herb used black root in their ceremonies also. The Seneca Indians used this herb for ritual purifications to induce vomiting. For this they drank an herbal tea prepared with the dried out root of the herb. Another Native American tribe, Chippewa, employed the root in the form of a blood sanitizer.
The root of this herb also possesses the aptitude to enhance the bile flow from the liver. In effect, herbalists used the dehydrated black root to treat liver ailments as well as to cure persistent indigestion and other medical conditions that were believed to occur owing to the dysfunction of the liver.
Even to this day, practitioners of herbal medicine recommend small doses of black root in the form of a purgative and also as a medication to treat gall bladder and liver ailments. This herb is also used to cure bloating and flatulence, and, at the same time alleviates uneasiness caused by rectal prolapse (a medical condition in which the walls of the rectum overhang through the anus) and hemorrhoids. Sometimes, black root is given to cure skin problems in case the functioning of the patient's liver is poor.
The fresh root of black root is violently laxative and may even be emetic. However, the dried or dehydrated root is gentler and less violent. Leptandrin, a tincture prepared with the root of the herb, mildly stimulates the liver and, at the same time, encourages bile secretion with no irritation of the bowels or purging. In addition, black root also serves as a tonic for the stomach and is effective in treating diarrhea, persistent dysentery, torpidity of the liver (lethargic functioning of the liver) and cholera infantum (a deadly type of gastroenteritis usually occurring in infants).
It may be noted that descriptions regarding the use of black root are sometimes contradictory, possibly because of the disparity in the action of the root in its fresh and dehydrated forms. It seems that taking herbal formulations prepared with the fresh roots of the herb may result in bloody stools and even forcible abortions when taken by pregnant women. However, a decoction prepared with the dried root of black root may perhaps be effective in treating sporadic fevers. It is said that the dehydrated root of the herb has been successfully used in treating leprosy as well as cachetic (common ill health with thinness, generally occurring together with cancer or a unceasing infectious ailment) diseases as well as in conjugation with cream of tartar in treating dropsy (earlier known as edema).
Black root is known to be a useful natural remedy for malaise or anxiety, pain when pressure is applied and chubbiness around the liver. It is also recommended to treat loss of appetite, lethargic functioning of the liver, indolence of the gastrointestinal organs, cold skin and extremities, dull headaches, intense stupor and mental depression. All these symptoms are an indication of the lack of proper functioning of the liver as well as the gastrointestinal tract. Black root helps to strengthen these organs and enhances their functioning. It also fortifies the gastrointestinal tract, improves the actions of the glandular organs and, hence, is recommended for curing all types of indolence or torpidity of the organs mentioned here.
Habitat and cultivation
Black root is native to North America and is found growing naturally in pastures and forests across the continent. The root of this herb is dug up in autumn, dried up and stored for a year before use.
The root of this herb also encloses tannic acid, resin, gum, a saccharine principle akin to mannite, a crystalline principle and a glucoside having resemblance to senegin. The impure resin as well as the crystalline principle enclosed by the herb's root are obtained by means of precipitating with water. A tincture prepared with the root of black root plant is known as Leptandrin and it is known to be the active principle. These properties are obtained by using water and alcohol.
Herbal formulations prepared with black root are taken in forms of decoction as well as tincture.
Decoction: To prepare the decoction add one to two teaspoonfuls of the dehydrated herb to a cup (250 ml) of cold water and boil the mixture. Subsequently, allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes and filter the liquid. For best results, drink one cup of the decoction thrice every day.
Side effects and cautions
Therapeutically, only the dried out root of black root is used. Since the fresh root is aggressively laxative (cathartic) and emetic (inducing vomiting), its use may result in bloody stools and also forced abortion when taken by pregnant women. Hence, this herb should never be given during pregnancy, as it may harm the fetus or result in forced abortion.
Black root should also be avoided by nursing mothers, as its elements may pass onto the breast milk and prove to be detrimental for the health of the new born. In addition, black root should not be used by people enduring problems of the gall bladder or having gall stones. People having inflammation of the stomach or intestines, for instance Crohn's disease or colitis, should also avoid using black root. Women should not take this herb during their menstrual period.
Collection and harvesting
The root of black root herb, which was established in European herbal medicine through the Seneca Indians of North America, ought to be dug up during autumn and stored for about a year prior to use.
Black root blends excellently with other herbs like dandelion and barberry. In effect, black root may be combined with barberry, dandelion and cayenne pepper in the form of a cathartic (laxative) and hepatic (any medication that has a beneficial effect on the liver) agent. In addition, this herb may also be combined with calamus and goldenseal to treat constipation related to flatulent swollenness.