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Bulletin No. 14
DR. C. H. JOHNSON, Professor
Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology
College of Pharmacy
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
STATE OF FLORIDA
Department of Agriculture
NATHAN MAYO COMMISSIONER
DR. C. H. JOHNSON, Professor
Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology
College of Pharmacy
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
STATE OF FLORIDA
Department of Agriculture
NATHAN MAYO COMMISSION ER
Important Medicinal Plants of Florida
replaces the bulletin Collection and Culti-
vation of Medicinal Plants of Florida writ-
ten by Dr. B. V. Christensen, formerly of
the College of Pharmacy of the University
of Florida. Credit is due this publication
and similar booklets from other states in
the writing of the present bulletin.
The cover picture shows the flowering
Ricinus or castor bean plant.
Figures 2, 3, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 17 are used
through the courtesy of the United States
Department of Agriculture. Figures 7, 10
and 16 are from the Agricultural Experi-
ment Station of the University of Florida.
Figure 1 is courtesy of Aloe Creme Labora-
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES
Alder ---. .- --.-
Bitter Orange Peel -
Butterfly Root -
Iris Versicolor _
Passion Flower -
Pine Tar --
Poke Root ----------
Saw Palmetto Berries
MINOR MEDICINAL PLANTS
LIST OF FIGURES
Castor Bean (Ricinus communis) _........._______.... ___ ..._.
1. Aloe (Aloe barbadensis) ._ ._-------.--- .... .... ......_..
2. American Wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosioides
var. anthelminticum) --.-------............_______......
3. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) __......_...______
4. Cajuput (Melaleuca leucadendron) .....-----.----..
5. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)_ ------_________ _--...... ....
6. Chionanthus (Chionanthus virginica) ---..._....
7. Deertongue (Trilisa odoratissima) -..........
8. Dill (Anethum graveolens) ----.. ..--------...._____.
9. Eupatorium (Eupatorium perfoliatum) .....
10. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) -------. ------- -..._ .._...
11. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) -............
12. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) --------
13. Poke Weed (Phytolacca americana) ----.............-- ....
14. Sanguinaria (Sanguinaria canadensis) ----.----.._.....
15. Sassafras (Sassafras variifolium) ------ ------..........
16. Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) ..- -----..._.....
17. Sesame (Sesamum indicum) ........-- ...
18. Stramonium (Datura stramonium) .....-.-...._........
19. Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina) ----.......- --.............-
..---. ...-- 10
...---- ... 19
-.----- ----... 24
. .------. -- 26
.- ------ 31
-.-. ..--..- 40
- -.-- 43
-.-.-.-.. ... 46
Important Medicinal Plants of Florida was written in response to
the continued interest of Floridians in growing or collecting medicinal
plants for possible profit, an interest that is due in part to an awareness
of the advantages of Florida's climate. The scope is limited to those
plants that are used in medicine in commercial quantities or have
potentialities as such, not those used in restricted areas or as home
remedies. Two important drugs, Digitalis and Belladonna, are not
considered since they do not grow well under Florida conditions.
The intent is to furnish sufficient information to enable one to rec-
ognize, collect, and prepare plant parts as crude drugs or botanicals.
No recommendation can be made that any drug plant is a certain
source of profit.
Some Peculiarities of Florida
Important factors in the production of crude drugs in Florida
are climate and geography. In West Florida, northern plants often
occur in small numbers along rivers that wash down materials from
the hills where these streams rise. Most plants of this area and North
Florida, however, are those of the South and especially of the Coastal
Plain. Here altitudes are low, much of the land consisting of poorly
drained flatwoods spotted with numerous ponds. Away from the
coasts in the peninsula is the central ridge of rolling sandy hills
interspersed with many lakes.
Summer weather is constantly warm and wet, much like the
southern part of the state, with the result that plant diseases are
persistent and limit the growth of many northern plants. Often con-
siderable physical damage results from the heavy rains of this season.
Winters are relatively mild although North Florida has several
light frosts each season and occasional heavy killing freezes. Under
Such conditions many early spring plants of the North are planted
in the fall, including such vegetables as potatoes, onions, carrots, and
radishes, and ornamentals like calendulas and sweet peas. Coriander
and dill are drugs and spices treated the same way. Winters are too
mild for apples and nearly so for roses.
In South Florida are found only southern and subtropical plants.
SThe land is flat with much of the inland area either covered with
water or difficult to drain. Along the coasts is considerable rockland
that is porous and usable. Drained parts of the Everglades and some
other areas consist of excellent black muck that is fertile when cer-
tain deficiencies are remedied.
Summer temperatures of South Florida are moderately high with
no extremes. In the winter there are occasional light frosts in the
2 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
interior which make the growing of beans sometimes hazardous but
still a good gamble. Close to the coasts and in the keys frosts are
unusual. Agriculturally, fall and winter are the busy seasons with
summer the time for preparation.
Collection of Wild Plants
Before gathering botanicals it is necessary to know what to collect.
Information on this can be obtained from buyers who will usually
quote the prices they are willing to pay. Since there are only a few
buyers of specialties in Florida, such as at DeLand, Cocoa, etc.,
general information must be obtained from larger concerns like S. B.
Penick & Co., of Asheville, North Carolina.
To the beginning collector identification of the wanted drug plant
is a problem. The local common name is often misleading. Obviously
the best help can be obtained from someone who has had experience
in this field. If this is not feasible, often a local high school or college
has a botanist who can identify a plant. Otherwise, the flowers and
leaves, and fruits if possible, may be sent to the College of Pharmacy
Only good quality material should be gathered. Leaves should
not be broken up, roots should not be torn, and barks should be
uniform in appearance. There must be no dirt, rocks, insects, other
portions of the plant, or unsightly parts, such as broken, discolored,
or diseased plant material.
As soon as sufficient material has been accumulated arrangements
should be made for its shipment. Storage is often a problem because
of moisture and, eventually, insects. Drugs should be kept dry, and
in a well-ventilated room.
When ready to ship, crude drugs are usually packed in bales,
wrapped with burlap. A waste paper baler is quite useful; the drugs
are laid as flatly and neatly as possible in layers to reduce crushing.
Excessive dryness or brittleness is to be avoided. Smaller quantities
of drugs may be shipped in paper cartons, whereas seeds are usually
placed in cloth bags.
Gathering and Drying Parts of Plants
Roots are usually collected at the end of the season's growth when
they are mature and firm since they do not dry well when in the stage
of active growth. The manner of digging will vary with the kind
of root in order to avoid breakage; the loose dirt is carefully shaken
off and the remainder washed off. The thicker roots are either sliced
or cut according to custom, and all are then dried by spreading out
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 3
in a thin layer in a shady place, such as a porch or a ventilated attic
or shed. The shade prevents the outer parts of each root from be-
coming too hard. Sometimes, in humid weather, it may be necessary
to use artificial heat or forced air circulation, especially if the roots
are placed in wire-bottomed trays in racks in a small room. Drying
of most drugs is considered complete when they break easily with a
snap. In this stage roots still contain moisture but not enough to
encourage spoilage. Further drying is useless because plant material
will take up moisture from the air, a problem in damp weather.
Leaves are picked at or just before flowering when they are most
abundant and in the best condition. Only good quality, full-sized
leaves, free from trash, are wanted by the trade. Leaves must be
dried in the shade to retain their green color; fermentation or heating
is avoided by turning them frequently with a fork. With some drugs
the entire plant may be dried and the leaves shaken off later.
The leaves and tops, often called herbs, are sometimes collected
instead of the leaves alone. These include the upper parts of the
plants only; leafless stems are not wanted and limits have been set
on the maximum sizes of stems permitted.
Most barks are gathered when the tree or shrub is dormant; some
are collected in early spring when they slip easily. The term bark
refers only to that of the stem; when root bark is used it is specified
as such. Some barks are sold in large pieces while others are only in
smaller fragments. Old rough bark is kept separate from young thin
material since the prices often differ.
Seeds are usually collected when mature or nearly so and must be
free of undeveloped seeds and trash. They are usually cleaned with
a fanning mill and sieves or suitable modifications of them. Seeds
must be thoroughly dry before putting in bags since they may heat
up when in close quarters.
Fruits must be dried to the proper state, sometimes with artificial
heat or even with sulfur fumes. They are quite susceptible to attack
Culture of Drug Plants
The growing of drug plants for the market does not yield high
profits except only occasionally. Most of the plants can be grown
more cheaply in other parts of the world. It is only when a drug can
be produced with special desirable qualities that are affected by local
conditions, that it may be grown satisfactorily in the United States;
peppermint in the northern states is an example.
Medicinal plants require at least as much care as the usual cul-
4 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
tivated crops and, since there is only a small amount of information
available, careful study and considerable ingenuity often are needed.
Thus it is useful to have some experience with plants before under-
taking a project in which no one can give much help. A useful source
of information is Farmers' Bulletin N. 1999, Production of Drug and
Condiment Plants, sold for 30 cents by the Superintendent of Docu-
ments, Washington 25, D. C.
The habitat of a plant must be considered since many plants grow
well only under specific conditions of climate and soil while other
species are more adaptable. For local plants these factors can be
learned by observation whereas for others various books and publi-
cations must be consulted.
The proper soil type is not too well known for most medicinal
plants. Most do well on high sandy land if it is not too dry and is
somewhat acid although a few may withstand or even require slightly
alkaline conditions. Water is a problem in Florida since there may
be a deficiency of rain in the winter and a surplus in the summer that
drowns or beats down tender plants. Partial shade is often necessary
and can be supplied by a slat house or by hanging Spanish moss on
chicken wire. Our winter temperatures fortunately are suitable for
many northern annuals that may be planted in the fall or winter so as
to mature before summer diseases carry them off.
The land must be prepared as usual, allowing for adequate drain-
age. For slow-starting seeds it is often advisable to allow the crop of
weed seeds to germinate and be killed off before planting, especially
in the fall and winter. Chemical weed killers should not be used
unless they have been tested against the particular crop. As with
plants in general it is not advisable to use one plot continuously for
the same crop because of the increase of disease and the exhaustion
of the humus of the soil, the latter condition often being remedied
by a cover crop.
For fertilizer it is customary to use whatever is generally recom-
mended for the area. In North Florida a 4-7-5 mixture is commonly
used on sandy land. Some soils may be deficient in certain elements
that affect some plants and this is learned by experience. In row
crops, the fertilizer is usually applied in two small trenches adjacent
to the row.
Seeds and planting stock for medicinal plants are not easily ob-
tained because of the small demand for them. Seeds of common
kitchen herbs are available at most seed dealers; other seeds and
plants must come from specialists. Propagation by cuttings and di-
vision is often necessary to increase a small initial supply of planting
IMPORTANT MEICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 5
Planting times in Florida are not the same as in other states. Hot
weather plants are put out in North Florida in March when danger
of frost is over. Cool weather plants are started from seed in the
fall after summer rains and heat have ended so plants may be estab-
lished before frosts can damage the seedlings. Moving of trees and
shrubs is done in December and January when they are dormant in
North Florida. In South Florida this is done in rainy weather. Roots
should be pruned several weeks in advance and the tops cut back
in proportion at moving time.
Cultivation is necessary to keep weeds down, especially when
plants are intended for distillation of their essential oil. Cultivation is
an expensive operation often involving considerable hand weeding;
it is usually advisable to follow local practices. Some weeds, such
as Bermuda grass and nutgrass, are difficult to control. Because of
the rapid growth of weeds some seeds that germinate slowly must
be started in flats and transplanted to the field.
When plants are grown as a source of their essential oil, it is
necessary to make an appreciable investment in distilling equipment,
which includes a steam boiler, a vat or still, and a condenser. Also,
a supply of fuel and water is necessary. Since climate seems to affect
the quality of an essential oil, this must be investigated before making
any large investment. Distilling equipment is described very well in
Technical Bulletin No. 16, entitled Methods of Extracting Volatile
Oils From Plant Material and the Production of Such Oils in the
United States, sold for ten cents by the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington 25, D. C.
Information on insect control can be obtained from local seed
dealers, who often can help with identification. Spray residues should
be avoided on leafy drugs because of the danger to the patient using
Diseases of plants are often serious enough to determine whether
a plant can be grown in a given area. Some of the more important
diseases are those borne in the soil which can be eliminated only by
sterilization, a process that is too expensive except for seed beds. Cer-
tain chemicals will sterilize the soil; steam and heat are also useful;
sometimes a fire on the surface of the ground will kill the disease
organisms, which, however, eventually may be tracked in again by
man or animals. Planting other non-susceptible crops temporarily
reduces the amount of disease in the soil.
Records of the cost of production of drug plant crops are not
readily available. Some information has been published for a few
plants but much of it is too old to be of value except as a guide to
what factors must be considered. The costs for another agricultural
6 DEPARTMY EN OF AGBICULTUBE
crop can be of help. The best means of determining the costs is a
field trial or planting a pilot crop of the drug, without overlooking
overhead expenses, interest, depreciation, etc. Costs must be low
enough, through mechanization, to compete with cheap foreign labor;
occasionally the increased value of a superior product neutralizes
The amount of a crude drug to cultivate is important since the
limited market is easily saturated, and an excess can not be sold at
any price. With some drugs as little as ten acres will yield enough
to fill all the needs of the United States.
The production of any drug must be started on an experimental
basis, not only from the standpoint of costs but also of methods.
Some of the latter have been studied at the Medicinal Plant Garden
of the College of Pharmacy at Gainesville, as well as at the Florida
Agricultural Experiment Station, the United States Department of
Agriculture, and by individuals.
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 7
Alder, often called Tag Alder, is obtained from Alnus rugosa, of
the family Betulaceae.
This is a shrubby tree of the eastern half of the United States
and is common in North Florida along streams where it grows in
clumps of several stems about two to three inches in diameter. The
flowers are inconspicuous. The fruits occur as catkins, much as in
The bark is used because of the astringent effect of its tannin con-
tent. It is not in great demand, with most of the material being
collected in North Carolina.
The aloe commonly grown in South Florida is the species Aloe
barbadensis, formerly named Aloe vera, of the Liliaceae family. In
the West Indies this yields the pharmaceutical Curacao Aloe. Other
similar products are Socotrine Aloe from Aloe perryi, and Cape Aloe
from Aloe ferox and some of its hybrids.
Aloe bears some resemblance to the century plant but differs in
its smaller size, its less rigid spines, and its much shorter stalk of
flowers that are yellow to red in color. The leaves differ in structure
from typical leaves in that the internal part is succulent, consisting of
thin-walled cells filled with a watery mucilaginous material that can
be scooped out with a spoon. The outer part of the leaf is its rigid
framework that includes a number of ducts or tubes filled with a
bitter yellow juice having laxative properties because of various
anthraquinone constituents. It is this yellow juice that is collected
and dried in the West Indies and elsewhere for use in laxative prepa-
rations sold in pharmacies.
In South Florida, the part used by the layman is the watery central
part of the leaf that is seen when it is sliced open. It has a number
of reputed uses. The mucilage may be applied directly to a skin
injury or burn with the intention of promoting healing. In scientific
papers its value for this purpose has been both confirmed and denied.
The central part of the leaf is used internally for a variety of ail-
ments. It may be prepared by scooping out the central jelly with a
spoon, placing it in a quart jar, filling with water, and allowing to stand
at least one hour. A glass of this water may be taken four times a day.
The water in the jar may be replaced twice before discarding the jelly.
8 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Figure 1.-Aloe (Aloe barbadensis)
Modifications of this method have been suggested in order to produce
specific desired results. It must be emphasized that there is no
scientific proof of the value of the water, despite verbal claims. Some
laxative effect may occur.
In the cultivation of aloe in South Florida, the young plants
occurring as suckers are planted about one foot apart under partial
shade, as in a slat house. After becoming established they may be
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 9
transferred to the open and set two feet apart in conveniently spaced
rows. They seem to do well in most types of soil, even in rock land,
if it is well-drained. In North Florida, aloe will freeze in the winter
unless well protected.
In the past most of the leaves have been marketed by special
arrangements in food stores. Some have been sold to concerns that
make up the aloe into ointments. In most cases the grower must find
his own market.
American Wormseed is obtained from Chenopodium anmbrosioides
var. anthelminticum, family Chenopodiaceae. This plant is sometimes
called Jerusalem oak.
Chenopodium is characterized by the unpleasant odor of the oil
in the stems and leaves of this weed. It has coarsely toothed, light
green leaves about three inches long and a half inch wide. The
numerous tiny flowers are inconspicuous on a five foot stalk which at
the same time bears the small fruits popularly called seeds. The fruits
can be stripped off by hand or by machine where the plant is abun-
dant. When cultivated, it is mostly for the purpose of steam distilling
the oil from the leaves and tops. The fruits, or seeds, have a very low
market value as such.
Most of the American Wormseed oil has been produced for many
years in one area in Maryland, although it will grow in most of the
eastern half of the United States. Oil produced in North Florida is
not quite the same as the Maryland oil and thus it is not wanted by
those accustomed to the latter. Also, the distillation must be con-
ducted carefully because the rate of distillation and the temperature
of the condenser water have an important effect on the quality of
the oil obtained.
The oil, which contains ascaridol, is well-known as a treatment for
worms ,especially roundworms. The seeds have been used as a home
remedy against worms in the form of candy made by boiling down
the seeds in a syrup to a solid mass.
Plants are usually started from seed when cultivated.
10 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Figure 2.-American Wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosioides
Ammi visnaga, of the family Umbelliferae, is sometimes called
khella although it is little known in English-speaking lands.
This plant bears considerable resemblance to the common wild
carrot, both in foliage and fruit. It is two to three feet tall and
branches out so as to appear bushy. The leaves are divided into small
segments. The small whitish flowers are borne in umbels which close
together when the fruits are mature. The fruits, which compose the
drug, are commonly called seeds and resemble those of caraway
although much smaller.
Ammi visnaga is most abundant in the countries around the
Mediterranean, where the fruits have been used for centuries. Inter-
est in this drug for coronary diseases developed in this country about
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 11
1950. Since it has not proven too successful research workers have
been attempting to synthesize new compounds that are better than
the khellin and visnagin found in this plant.
Ammi visnaga can be easily grown in North Florida. Seeds are
planted in sandy soil in October so that they will germinate and the
seedlings become established before cold weather. Weeds are some-
times a problem because the Ammi visnaga is slow in starting. Water
is necessary, of course, but the site should be well-drained. The fruits
are usually harvested in May by clipping off the clusters and allowing
them to dry before the individual fruits are separated and cleaned.
Usually three or four pickings are necessary since the flowers on the
side branches appear later than those at the top of the main stem.
The fruits should not be left on the plant after maturity since they
tend to fall on the ground. It may be possible to reduce costs by
sowing the seeds thickly enough so that no branches develop on the
plants and the fruits then can be harvested by a machine passing
through the field only once.
BITTER ORANGE PEEL
Bitter Orange Peel is a product of the sour orange, Citrus auran-
tium, of the family Rutaceae.
The sour orange tree is best known in Florida for its use as a
rootstock upon which the sweet orange often is grafted. It is not
grown here for the Bitter Orange Peel, which is imported from some
of the Mediterranean lands. The Peel is usually cut from the imma-
ture fruit in quarters and dried.
Bitter Orange Peel is used for its flavor, which is similar to that
of Sweet Orange Peel. This product also contains a volatile oil that
is expressed for flavoring purposes.
Although the tree is grown in the state there are probably not
enough in any one locality to yield commercial quantities of the peel.
Since this fruit must be picked and processed by hand, the labor costs
would be excessive when compared to those of the imported peel.
Another product of the sour orange that is exported from Europe
is Neroli Oil, obtained by steam distillation of the flowers. Labor is
a big item in the cost of this oil, but the price is unusually high for
the top quality.
Black Haw is obtained from two botanical sources, Viburnum
prunifolium in the more northerly states, and Viburnum rufidulum
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
further south, the only one in Florida. These belong to the family
Viburnum rufidulum has the habit of a shrub or small tree bearing
broad clusters of small white flowers in the spring that develop into
bluish black berries. It is abundant in North Florida, where it is
mixed with hardwood trees, and is most evident at the edges of
The bark is the valuable part and is collected in the fall. It is
used for some kinds of cramps and is reputed to have sedative value
also. It is mostly given in combinations with other drugs for these
purposes. The identity of the active chemical constituent has not
Since the wild plant is common enough to furnish all the bark
wanted by the market, there is no need to cultivate this shrub.
The blessed thistle, Cnicus benedictus, is a member of the family
The plant has flowering heads very similar to other thistles but
they occur on short stalks that do not project much above the leaves.
The leaf prickles are soft enough that they do not usually puncture
the skin as do the stiff prickles of the flower head. The plant is short
and broad, with attractive foliage. It does well in low ground in
North Florida from seeds planted in the fall.
The therapeutic value of Blessed Thistle has been questioned al-
though it contains a bitter principle; it sees very little use except in
patent medicines as a tonic. The leafy tops of the plants are harvested
and sold for further processing. One or two growers in another state
now produce sufficient Blessed Thistle to meet all needs not taken
care of by European imports.
Borage, from Borago officinalis, of the family Boraginaceae, is an
attractive herb in the winter and early spring.
This plant has dark green leaves borne on thick stems about two
feet tall. In the spring it bears clusters of blue and pink star-shaped
flowers which are nodding and thus conceal their full beauty.
Because of the mucilage in the leaves, Borage is used as a sooth-
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 13
Seeds of Borage, along with those of a few other herbs, are avail-
able in most seed stores in the state. They should be planted in
October in North Florida where the plants do well in fairly wet
soil. Sometimes disease causes them to wilt in the spring.
Borage is not common in the crude drug trade, much of it being
used by families who have small patches in their own garden. The
commercial supplies are imported from Europe.
Butterfly Root, or Pleurisy Root, is obtained from the orange
milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, family Asclepiadaceae.
The orange milkweed is a plant up to two feet tall, with an in-
clined stem, narrow two-ranked leaves, and a large cluster of small
orange flowers of a peculiar appearance. Unlike other milkweeds it
does not have a milky juice.
This milkweed is found scattered in dry soil in most of the eastern
United States, including North and Central Florida, on high sandy
Butterfly Root consists of the perennial root of this plant. It is
used for a variety of purposes, including coughs, colds, bronchitis,
14 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Figure 3.-Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 15
Cajuput Oil is distilled from a common ornamental tree of
Florida, Melaleuca leucadendron, family Myrtaceae, which is often
called punk tree, or merely melaleuca.
This small tree has narrow leaves about two inches long with the
odor of eucalyptus, to which it is kin. The cream-colored flowers are
Figure 4.-Cajuput (Melaleuca leucadendron)
small but attractive. The bark is a conspicuous light ivory in color,
and thick and spongy to the touch. The branches are small so that
the tree is columnar in general outline when the trunk is straight.
Cajuput, through its seeds, tends to escape from cultivation in
South Florida, and small patches of such trees are often seen. It
is easily grown except that it freezes to the ground in North Florida
but comes up again. Some investigation has been carried on as to
the possibility of distilling and marketing the volatile oil from the
leaves. However, the content of cineol is less than that of the im-
ported oil from the East Indies. Also, the demand for this oil is
SCajuput Oil has a number of uses based on its irritant properties,
both internal and external.
16 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
The calendula, or pot marigold, is an attractive European plant of
the family Compositae, named Calendula officinalis.
This is commonly planted in North Florida for the showy orange
or yellow flowers produced in midwinter and spring. The general
appearance of the flower is much like that of the ordinary marigold
or the aster.
Calendula is started from seed in September or October. The part
used in medicine consists of the ligulate florets of the flower heads
which must be picked off tediously by hand. They are extracted with
alcohol to make a tincture which is applied to bruises and sprains
much as is Arnica Tincture, which is very similar in many respects.
When used externally it gives a certain measure of relief from various
pains. Water extracts are sometimes taken internally for various pur-
poses but with little effect.
Demand for Calendula as a drug is very slight.
Natural Camphor is obtained from the tree, Cinnamomum cam-
phora, family Lauraceae. Considerable quantities of synthetic Cam-
phor are also manufactured and used.
The camphor tree is a common ornamental of the Southeast. It
has glossy light green leaves, inconspicuous flowers, and blue-black,
Camphor is distilled in Formosa with crude equipment from the
wood of the felled trees. Since they are so easily grown from seed,
two attempts were made in Florida, near Palatka and Green Cove
Springs, to produce Camphor on a commercial scale. Instead of wait-
ing for the trees to mature as in Formosa, the leaves and twigs were
clipped from camphor hedges and distilled. In this way an annual
production of many tons was achieved. Neither venture was a finan-
cial success and production ceased in the early twenties.
Camphor has a variety of medicinal uses based on its irritant
properties, both internal and external.
Capsicum, or Cayenne Pepper, is obtained from certain varieties
of Capsicum annum and Capsicum frutescens, family Solanaceae.
The varieties differ in their pungency and only the hotter types are
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 17
The plant varies in size but is generally considerably smaller than
the sweet or bell pepper. The fruit of the smaller types is about one
inch long and one-quarter inch thick at the large end. One such
variety is very showy when covered with its bright red fruits in the
fall. Several other types of hot peppers are grown in home gardens
In medicine Capsicum is used as an irritant in liniments and plas-
ters because of its content of capsaicin. The latter substance is very
irritating to the skin and harmful to the eyes.
Seeds of the plant are started in flats in the spring in a warm
place. Later the seedlings are set out in the open field about two
feet apart in convenient rows. The soil can be sandy but it must be
well-drained. Often the plants seem to do better if planted late in
the spring so that the fruits do not develop until fall. After picking,
the fruits should be dried in a place where ants cannot eat them.
Some of the larger types are threaded on strings and air-dried. Oven-
heating may accelerate the drying process and avoid spoilage.
Despite the apparent ease of growing peppers in the home garden,
large scale cultivation involves diseases and insects like those which
afflict the sweet pepper. Only a small amount of Capsicum is used
in pharmacy, much of the crop being used in food products. South-
ern Louisiana is a major source of Capsicum, with considerable addi-
tional quantities being imported from Africa and sometimes from
other tropical sources.
Cassia Fistula, or Purging Cassia, is obtained from a tree with
the same scientific name, which is synonymous with Cathartocarpus
fistula, family Leguminosae. It is one of several trees called golden
shower in South Florida.
The tree has large pinnate leaves and produces a beautiful display
of color when the numerous yellow flowers burst into bloom in the
spring. A number of long cylindrical fruits develop, each one to
two feet in length and up to one inch in diameter. The interior of
the fruit is divided into segments filled with a dark brown pulp and
The useful part is this fruit, whose pulp is sweet and acts as a
laxative. If the seeds rattle in the pod, the drug is considered to be
of poor quality.
The cassia fistula tree is grown easily in frost-free areas as an
ornamental with no thought of its possible laxative use. Most of the
18 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
drug is imported from its native India, as well as from other tropical
regions. It is a very minor item in commerce since it is subject to
very little demand.
Castor beans or seed, the source of Castor Oil, are obtained from
the many varieties of Ricinus communis, family Euphorbiaceae. Some
forms of this plant are sometimes called palma christi.
The plant is vigorous, reaching a height of ten feet in a single
season, and may live for several years in a frost-free area. The leaves
are large, on long stalks. The flowers are not attractive, although
large and odd in general appearance. Pistillate and staminate flowers
occur on the same axis, on which an elongated cluster of fruits de-
velops. Each fruit is covered with soft spines and eventually opens
to liberate three seeds that fall to the ground.
The castor plant grows well in all parts of Florida but in the
southern part of the state has become a weed along roadsides and on
refuse heaps. It freezes in most of the state.
Much of our Castor Oil is from seeds imported from various
warmer regions such as Brazil. Some oil has been produced in recent
years by Texas, Arkansas, and other states where strains have been
developed that can be harvested by machine without serious losses.
Florida and other humid states are not satisfactory for cultivation of
castor beans since a fungus attacks large plantings with the conse-
quent losses. It was a failure in Florida in World War I.
Castor Oil is a well-known laxative. It has a number of non-
pharmaceutical uses, such as lubricant and even as an ingredient of
paints when suitably modified. The beans are poisonous when eaten.
Catnip, or Catmint, is from Nepeta cataria, one of the mints of
the family Labiatae.
The catnip plant is of a grayish green color and has leaves with
deeply scalloped margins, stems that are quadrangular, and small
pale lavender flowers in clusters.
This plant is native to Europe and has become naturalized in
the northern and some southern states. It is a perennial but can be
grown as an annual from seed. In Florida, catnip may be started in
the fall and the leaves picked in the early summer before rainy
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 19
Figure 5.-Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
weather begins. Sometimes the entire tops of the plants are gathered
but they are of considerably less value than the separated leaves.
Catnip contains a volatile oil that makes the plant useful as a
carminative in certain kinds of digestive troubles.
20 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Chionanthus, or Fringe Tree Bark, is obtained from Chionanthus
virginica, family Oleaceae. The tree has other names suggested by
its flowers, such as grandfather's beard, granddaddy graybeard, etc.
Figure 6.-Chionanthus (Chionanthus virginica)
This attractive small tree of the South is planted as an ornamental
and remains a shrub for a long time since it is slow-growing. The
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 21
leaves are dark, about six inches long and one and a half inches wide,
and appear when the flowering stage is nearly over. The blossoms
have linear petals almost white in color when grown in the open,
but greenish and inconspicuous in the shade. The large number of
flowers with their drooping narrow petals have given rise to some
of the common synonyms. In the late summer the quarter inch fruits
darken and fall off. From the seeds new plants can be grown easily.
The bark of the root, collected in the fall, is used as a tonic be-
cause of its bitter constituents and is in some demand although of
Coriander is obtained from Coriandrum sativum, a member of the
The flowers and seed-like fruits grow in umbels, an arrangement
in which blossoms occur on short stalks of equal lengths attached to
one common point on the stem. The flowers are small and numerous,
of a pinkish tint. The plant is about two feet tall, and has finely
divided leaves. The odor is unpleasant, like carrot tops and also
said to resemble that of bedbugs, but when the plant is mature and
begins to dry, the characteristic pleasant odor predominates.
Both the fruits, which are the so-called seeds, and the volatile
oil from them are very useful as a flavor in many products and also
as aids to digestion as a carminative.
The round fruits, about one eighth inch in diameter, are normally
grown in Europe. In Florida, coriander grows well in sandy soil
from fruits planted in the fall. The fruits may be harvested by
machine in the spring. The imported material is sold at a low price
since European labor receives lower pay than American workmen.
Cotton in the United States is picked mostly from Gossypium
hirsutum, of the family Malvaceae.
In the popular sense, Absorbent or Purified Cotton is not consid-
ered a drug, as it is in the legal sense. Also, only a small proportion
of the total crop of cotton is used in pharmacy and medicine. How-
ever, it is an important item in medical care and thus it should be
Purified Cotton is prepared by removing the waxy coating of the
fibers, bleaching, and sterilizing. The fibers must meet official re-
22 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
quirements as to length, maturity, etc. The cheaper Hospital Cotton
is less uniform in appearance and consists of shorter, poor-quality
Very little cotton is produced in Florida, largely because of the
boll weevil. Unsuccessful attempts have been made to introduce
another resistant variety in the northern parts of the state.
Another product from cotton used in pharmacy as an oily solvent
is Cottonseed Oil. The amount used is a very minute proportion of
the total production.
Other parts of the cotton plant, such as the roots, are occasionally
used and have a market.
Deertongue Leaves, sometimes called Vanilla Leaves, are obtained
from Trilisa odoratissima, of the family Compositae.
Figure 7.-Deertongue (Trilisa odoratissima)
This plant has a rosette of leaves, each about two inches by ten
inches in size, surmounted in summer by a purplish flowering stalk
three feet tall. The tiny purple flowers, like those of other composites,
are collected into tight heads which are numerous and arranged in
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 23
broad groups called corymbs. The dried leaves give off the odor of
vanilla when crushed. This plant is quite abundant in open, low-
ground pine forests from Florida to North Carolina.
The leaves of deertongue have only little medicinal value but are
in great demand by the tobacco industry for flavoring because of
the coumarin content. About two million pounds are collected an-
Gatherers pick the leaves of the rosette and lower stem, drying
them in any suitable place that furnishes protection against sun and
rain during the summer. They must be turned frequently to avoid
heating and spoiling. The loss in weight during drying is about 80%.
Buyers are located in DeLand, Palatka, and Lake City, with oc-
casional agencies in other localities in North Florida. In recent years
the prices paid by dealers have been attractive.
The abundance of the plant in its natural situations obviates any
need for cultural experiments. However, preliminary trials indicate
that cultivation is not without its difficulties.
Dill, not normally considered as a medicinal plant, is Anethum
graveolens, of the family Umbelliferae.
Dill is a vigorous herb about five feet tall with large but finely
divided leaves. The large clusters of tiny yellow flowers are succeeded
by the small fruits or seeds so characteristic of this family. The entire
plant, as well as the separated fruits, have the typical odor and taste
exhibited by dill pickles.
The common use of this plant is as a pickling spice. The whole
plant is sometimes distilled for the dill oil that is used to aid digestion
as are the small fruits or seeds. Some oil is also used in pickle
Dill grows easily from seed in most parts of the United States.
In Florida it may be planted in the late fall or winter for use in
making pickles in the late spring. Small amounts of the fresh herb
are sold in local stores at the appropriate season.
24 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Figure 8.-Dill (Anethum graveolens)
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 25
The drug Dioscorea, or Wild Yam Root, is obtained from Dioscorea
villosa, of the family Dioscoreaceae.
The plant is a vine of damp hammocks in the eastern United
States. The leaves are cordate, or heart-shaped. The flowers are in-
conspicuous but the clusters of three-winged capsular fruits are ready
aids to identification in the fall.
The useful part of the plant is the thick rhizome or rootstalk from
which the aerial stems and the roots arise. It is collected late in
Dioscorea contains an acrid resin and has been used to increase
the urine flow; it is inferior to a number of other drugs for this
Most of the drug is collected in North Carolina although the
quantity used is small. Dioscorea is said to be easily cultivated but
the supply of wild plants satisfies all the needs of the market.
Eupatorium, also called Boneset and Thoroughwort, consists of
the leaves of Eupatorium perfoliatum, family Compositae.
The plant is a tall vigorous weed found in wet meadows where
it forms colonies. The leaves are somewhat narrowed and arranged
in such a fashion that the bases of two opposite leaves grow together
with the effect that the stem appears to pierce the center of a leaf.
The individual flowers are white and arranged in broad flat-topped
Boneset is very common in the northern states and occurs occa-
sionally in the cooler parts of Florida. The leaves and flowering tops
are stripped from the stems when in full bloom in late summer or
fall and dried. Because of a bitter constituent most of it is used in
home remedies as a tea to break up colds and fevers.
This plant can easily be propagated by division of the clumps
and setting out in a place that does not dry out. Plants may also be
grown from seed if started in a bed. Usually the wild plants are abun-
dant enough so that there is little need for cultivation.
26 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Figure 9.-Eupatorium (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA
Galanga, sometimes spelled Galangal, is from one of the Zingiber-
aceae, Alpinia officinarum. It has also been called Chinese Ginger
since it is sometimes boiled like the true ginger with syrup to make
a candy in the Orient.
The plant, as do most gingers, sends up stalks bearing leaves about
eight inches by two inches. These stalks arise from spreading rhizomes
or horizontal rootstalks which grow near the surface of the ground.
The drug consists of these rhizomes which have the typical taste of
ginger in a milder form. The plant produces a few flowers during
the spring on the end of the leaf stalk if it has not been nipped by
frost. Galanga is only rarely used in medicine for its volatile oil con-
tent to aid digestion and is usually imported from the island of Hainan
off the coast of China.
Galanga grows easily in Florida, tending to become established
in large clumps or colonies like the iris. It is propagated by sections
of the rhizomes. It does well among pine trees which furnish a
measure of protection from the cold. It is sometimes used in land-
scaping. For medicinal purposes the rhizomes are dug up, washed,
and dried. The harvest of the rhizomes requires considerable hand
labor which probably could be eased by mechanization if there were
sufficient demand for galanga.
Gelsemium, or Yellow Jasmine Root, is collected from Gelsemium
sempervirens, of the Loganiaceae.
Yellow jasmine is an attractive southern plant of moist woods that
is sometimes planted for the sweet-smelling yellow flowers produced
in abundance in early spring. The plant is an evergreen vine climbing
over shrubbery and small trees. The flowers are about one and a
half inches long and tubular in shape. The plant spreads by means
of lengthy rhizomes or rootstocks near the surface of the ground.
These are collected in the fall.
The rhizomes and roots have depressant properties due to their
alkaloidal content but are rarely used at the present time. Wild plants
are' very abundant and there is little danger of exhausting the supply
and thus requiring its cultivation.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Ginger is obtained from the plant Zingiber officinale, of the family
This plant sends up stems about two feet high bearing several
long leaves with parallel veins. The small blossoms occur in an elon-
gated head on a stalk arising from the underground rhizome or root-
The part used is this rhizome, which contains an aromatic volatile
oil, and also a resinous substance that is very pungent and "hot" to
the taste. It is used to some extent in medicine.
Most of our Ginger comes from Jamaica and has been carefully
peeled with knives. Ginger from other regions is not so well prepared
and is less frequently used in the United States. Ginger usually occurs
in the dried form-but some is sold fresh and unpeeled in retail mar-
kets in Florida and elsewhere. Candied or preserved ginger is pre-
pared by boiling the peeled, immature rhizomes in several portions
of syrup until thoroughly soaked; these are then drained until dry
and rolled in sugar.
Ginger can be grown in the home garden in most of Florida,
although the commercial production of dried Ginger would not be
practicable since cheap skilled labor is necessary for the peeling. A
number of related gingers are commonly planted as ornamentals and
thus care must be taken to obtain the true ginger for planting stock.
Pieces of the rhizome one to one and a half inches long, each
containing at least one eye, should be planted two inches deep and
at least fifteen inches apart in rich soil with abundant moisture and
partial shade. Fertilizer should be applied about three times during
the summer. The rhizomes are harvested in the fall, after the tops
die down, and are allowed to dry in the shade if fresh ginger is
desired. These are usually stored in dry sand. In Jamaica, the rhi-
zomes are peeled, washed in water for several hours, and dried in
the sun. If not dug up, they may be left in the ground until spring
and separated then for increased planting.
Ginseng, or Sang, is obtained from Panax quinquefolium, of the
The ginseng plant usually has three or more palmately compound
leaves at the top of a stalk about eighteen inches tall. The incon-
spicuous flowers on a similar stem develop into a cluster of crimson
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 29
10.-Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
30 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
The part used is the large fleshy root. Ginseng is cultivated in
the shade in the northern states and is also gathered from wild plants
in the East and Middle West. The plants are propagated from seeds
in beds and when two years old are set about eight inches apart under
natural or artificial shade. When six years old they are dug up very
carefully and dried. Complete details are found in Farmers' Bulletin
No. 1184, entitled "Ginseng Culture," sold for ten cents by the Super-
intendent of Documents, Washington 25, D. C.
The foregoing bulletin states that cultivation of the plant is not
recommended in most of the South. In Florida the roots often decay
during the wet summer. Perhaps some modification of the methods
of cultivation could make possible its growth in Florida.
Most Ginseng is exported to China where it is a favorite remedy.
It is used as a stimulant, apparently because of its glycosidal con-
stituent. The value of the root among the Chinese depends to a
great extent upon its shape and markings.
Iris Versicolor, or Blue Flag, is a drug from two species of the
Iridaceae, at one time collected from Iris virginica in Florida.
The blue flag plant, sometimes known as flag lily, is about two
feet high with erect, sword-shaped leaves arising from the rootstock
which grows horizontally just below the surface of the ground and
branches to form dense colonies. The flower consists of bluish sepals
and petals so arranged as to give a peculiar appearance. The stamens
and pistils are also unusual in structure. This and other species of
Iris bloom in early spring in shallow ditches and wet meadows in
areas near Jacksonville.
The part used in medicine is the rhizome or rootstock, which is
usually dug in the fall and sliced lengthwise before drying. It has
a laxative effect due to resins; it is rarely used now.
The lemongrass plants are of two species, Cymbopogon citratus
and Cymbopogon flexuosus, of the grass family, Gramineae.
This is a large tropical perennial growing in tufts about four feet
tall and composed of blades over one half inch broad. The incon-
spicuous flowering stalk develops in winter if there is no frost, which
usually kills both leaves and flowers. The crushed leaves have a
lemon odor, which may be attractive at first but soon shows its close
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 81
resemblance to that of citronella oil, distilled from a very similar
The important product from lemongrass is the volatile or essential
oil distilled from the leaves with steam. The oil occurs in distinct
cells within the leaf and is easily volatilized and carried over by
steam through the condenser to the receiving vessel.
Lemongrass oil is usually shipped in from tropical regions. It can
be produced in Florida although the only large scale operation in
Figure 11.-Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
the state was halted because it was unprofitable. The plants are started
by dividing old plants and setting them out about three feet apart in
convenient rows in well-watered soil. The leaves are harvested by
machine and loaded into special racks that can be placed in the
still with a crane. After passing the steam through, the spent grass is
32 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
lifted out and may be used as a cattle food when mixed with molasses.
The growing plants may be left in place for several years with
usually several cuttings per year. In the Medicinal Plant Garden at
Gainesville only one or two cuttings are possible, since the tops
freeze and growth does not resume until the warmer weather of
spring. In late winter the dead tops are burned off without damage
to the plants.
Lemongrass Oil is sometimes used for its odor. From it can be
synthesized a violet perfume also. For several years its major con-
stituent, citral, has been converted by various chemical reactions on
an industrial scale into Vitamin A.
Mullein has the scientific name of Verbascum thapsus and belongs
to the family Scrophulariaceae.
The plant is tall when in the flowering and fruiting stage. During
its early growth it appears as a large clump or rosette of leaves, each
up to about twelve inches long and three inches wide. The leaves
seem to be very thick since the surfaces are covered with a dense
wooly mat of hairs. In the second year, usually, the tall flowering
stalk appears and is covered with flowers and fruits. Only a few of
the yellow blossoms are open at any one time so that the plant is
Since the leaves contain a mucilage, a water extract is made up
and used as a soothing preparation for an irritated skin.
Mullein grows as a conspicuous weed in well-drained places in
North Florida and much of the United States and Europe. When
cultivated in damp spots the thick clump of leaves begins to decom-
pose and the plant eventually dies. Mullein is easily started from
seed. The leaves are usually picked when the plant sends up its
flowering stalk and is readily seen from a distance.
Orange Oil is a product of the common sweet orange, Citrus
sinensis, of the family Rutaceae.
The sweet orange fruit is used in making orange juice or concen-
trate, leaving the peel as a by-product. In some kinds of juice ma-
chines most of the oil remains in the undamaged peel and can be
separated by pressure, followed by purification. Since Florida grows
several varieties of oranges with differing characteristics, the oils
from these varieties are blended in order to meet legal requirements.
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 33
Orange Oil is mostly employed as a flavor although other uses
have been found.
Other citrus oils also, especially Lime Oil, are produced in Florida
for use as flavors.
Passion Flower, or Maypop, is from the plant Passiflora incarnata,
family Passifloraceae. The name, passion, is associated with the
This plant grows as a vine climbing over roadside weeds in the
southern states. The large leaves are cleft into three to five lobes.
The flowers are about two inches broad and are unusual in having a
pink and purple crown or fringe surmounting the corolla. The fruit
is about the size and shape of a pullet egg.
Maypop is collected in sufficient supply from wild plants. The
tops, fruits, and roots are gathered and sold separately. When the
name is spelled in the plural, Maypops, the fruit is meant. It is
found scattered in most of Florida, usually not at all abundantly.
Passion Flower does not have any important medicinal use al-
though it is said to have a sedative effect. There seems to be a steady
demand for it.
The peppermint plant occurs in several varieties of Mentha piper-
ita of the mint family, Labiatae. Both the so-called "black mint" and
"white mint" are cultivated in various parts of the world.
Peppermint sends up several stalks about two feet tall and spreads
by sending out underground runners that tenkto rise upwards. Often,
but not always, the stems are purplish. The flowers occur as groups
of tiny florets of a lavender color. The odor is characteristic, as is
the taste with its cooling sensation due to the menthol content. Most
peppermint is grown for its oil but some leaves and flowering tops
Peppermint is usually propagated by planting the underground
runners; sometimes the surface runners or the new shoots in the
spring are used instead. In the northern states peppermint may re-
main in the field for two years before replanting is necessary, but in
Florida it should be reset every year since the weeds tend to choke it
out almost completely. In North Florida the planting time is early
March with the plants maturing in late May or early June. Later the
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
plants deteriorate in our warm summer weather. Peppermint seems
to do best on well-drained, but not too dry, muck. On other soils
the flavor of the oil changes.
The oil distilled from peppermint grown in Florida is of an in-
ferior quality when compared with that from the Middle West or
the Pacific Northwest. Presumably climatic differences are the cause
of this variation.
Figure 12.-Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 35
A related mint called Japanese peppermint, Mentha piperascens,
competes more successfully with weeds in Florida. This plant is
useful because the oil has a relatively high content of menthol and
is grown principally in Japan as the commercial source of this sub-
stance. Cultivation trials of this type of mint have not been entirely
successful in Florida.
Much of what has been said about Peppermint applies also to
Spearmint, from Mentha spicata and Mentha cardiac. It is usually
grown under the same conditions as Peppermint but in smaller quan-
titles. The two plants are so similar in appearance that they are con-
fusing to the layman. Most of the Spearmint is distilled for the essen-
tial oil, so useful in flavoring chewing gum and tooth paste. The
leaves of both Spearmint and Peppermint bring a better price when
no stems are included.
Pine Oil is a product of the same varieties of pine that furnish
Turpentine. It is obtained from old pine stumps by extraction or by
distillation, processes which at the same time yield so-called wood
turpentine and numerous other products, sometimes including me-
dicinal charcoal in certain procedures.
This volatile oil with its agreeable odor has considerable value
as an antiseptic and deodorant, properties which make it useful in
Most Pine Oil is produced by larger concerns who buy the pitchy
stumps that have remained in the ground for several years after old
growth timber has been cut.
Pine Tar, like Pine Oil, is produced in Florida from the same
species of pine that furnish Turpentine Oil. In other areas, different
pines are used, but Florida remains as one of the more important
In Florida, a large proportion of the Pine Tar and the related
pine tar oils are produced in a plant in Gainesville which heats the
stumps in an oven until charred, during which time the tarry products
are driven out of the wood and collected.
A crude method, formerly used when little capital was available,
consisted of piling wood on a hard surface, covering nearly completely
with dirt, and igniting a partly exposed end of the pile. This slowly
36 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
burning portion heated the remainder of the wood to charcoal;
meanwhile, the tar ran down in channels to metal cans for collection.
Pine Tar, because of its phenolic constituents, is used as an anti-
septic in some skin disorders and is a component of cough syrups
although usually the pine tar oil is used instead in the latter.
Poke Root is obtained from Phytolacca americana, family Phyto-
laccaceae, a plant sometimes called Poke Weed.
This is a vigorous weed of trash heaps, growing about five feet
tall and branching widely. The stem is purplish-red in color. The
leaves are about eight inches long and two inches wide, tapering at
each end. The greenish-white flowers grow in clusters, succeeded
by the purple berries about one-fourth inch in diameter. These fruits
will stain the clothing. The roots are large and fleshy, and must be
cut in order to dry to a good color.
Poke Root occurs in Florida and much of the United States. It
is found on rich soil that has been disturbed recently, such as along
roadsides and at refuse dumps.
Small doses of this poisonous root are used sometimes to produce
vomiting and other effects, although it is uncommon in medicine.
The young shoots in the spring are sometimes eaten as greens.
The pomegranate plant has the scientific name of Punica grana-
tum, and belongs to the family Punicaceae.
This plant is a tall shrub with comparatively small and narrow
leaves and bears conspicuous orange-red flowers that develop into
edible apple-like fruits containing many seeds. The shrub is grown
as an ornamental in warm temperate regions like Florida.
The part used in medicine as a remedy for tapeworm is the bark
of the stem and root. Other drugs have superseded Pomegranate at
the present time. The active constituent is called pelletierine and
consists of a mixture of closely related alkaloids.
This plant may be started from cuttings and transplanted. Har-
vesting the bark is a slow task reserved for areas like India, which
has cheap labor and consequently is our main source of this botanical
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 37
Figure 1.-Poke Weed (Phtolcca a icna
Figure 13.-Poke Weed (Phytolacca umericana)
38 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
The southern prickly ash is also called toothache tree and hercules
club. The scientific name is Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, of the family
This small tree is characterized by warty outgrowths on the trunk,
sometimes surmounted by spines. The smaller limbs, twigs, and
leaves have numerous prickles. The pinnate leaves are divided into
narrow leaflets. When the leaves or bark are chewed, a stinging
sensation is noticeable, followed by a numbness of the tongue and
mouth. The tree is attractive with its large clusters of berries but
its appearance is often spoiled from defoliation by worms in mid-
The prickly ash is found in most of the southern states in culti-
vated areas. The bark is the part commonly used, although formerly
the berries were well known in medicine. Because of its content of
resin the bark has value as a diaphoretic to break up a fever. When
chewed, the numbness produced is useful in treating a toothache.
Psyllium Seed, or Plantain Seed, is collected from Plantago Psyl-
lium, Plantago indica, and Plantago ovata, of the family Plantagin-
aceae. Some of these species have other scientific names also.
Most of the Psyllium Seed of commerce is collected from the first
two species, which are grayish plants with slender leaves and in-
conspicuous flowers that form a tangled mass about one foot high.
Plantago ovata has an entirely different habit of growth in that its
flowering stalks arise directly from the ground level like the English
plantain that is a common weed in northern lawns.
The seed is used as a laxative since it contains a mucilage which
swells to several times its volume in the presence of the intestinal
moisture and acts through its increased bulk. The mucilage occurs
in the outer layers of the seed and thus the separated psyllium seed
husk is an item of commerce and enters into some laxative prepa-
In Florida, Plantago Psyllium can be grown as a winter crop and
may be harvested in the spring by drying the mature plants, followed
by shaking out the seeds from the heads.
Imported seed is relatively cheap and probably American compe-
tition would not be possible.
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 39
One of the newer plant drugs is Rauwolfia, or Indian Snakeroot,
from Rauwolfia serpentina, of the family Apocynaceae. Other species
are being investigated as possible replacements.
Rauwolfia occurs as a small shrub in the forests of India and
southeastern Asia whence it is imported. It has leaves about eight
inches long with a cluster of pink tubular flowers at the top of
the stalk. The roots are quite long and crooked. After digging they
are cut into short segments that are surprisingly light in weight.
Because of the great demand for Rauwolfia there have been
scarcities of this product. This has led to studies of closely related
species in other tropical regions. Some of these are being cultivated
in warmer countries of the Western Hemisphere. Most will not with-
stand frost in Florida but may send up new growth the following
season. Very little has been done with the various Rauwolfias in the
state because of the labor costs, although future studies may alter
A number of alkaloids are present in this plant; of these reserpine
seems the most valuable. This alkaloid does occur in some of the
other species of Rauwolfia.
Both the alkaloid and the crude drug are quite useful for lowering
blood pressure and as tranquilizers for emotionally disturbed patients.
It has been used in India for centuries but was not known in the
United States until about 1950.
Sanguinaria, called Blood Root from the red juice of the rhizome,
is from Sanguinaria canadensis, family Papaveraceae.
This is a northern plant, abundant in the Appalachians, and said
to occur occasionally in West Florida, where it may have been
carried down from higher lands by rivers.
Sanguinaria has an attractive white flower which shows up well
against the dark debris of winter before the usual spring vegetation
appears. It is about one and a half inches in diameter. The foot-tall
stalk bearing a few large lobed leaves appears later in the shady
woods. The underground rhizome, or rootstalk, is about a half an
inch in diameter and several inches long, and is red internally. Upon
drying the color turns to an orange and eventually fades out. It is
dug in early summer wherever it is abundant; it is dried after remov-
ing leaves and roots.
40 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Sanguinaria has some repute as a cough remedy because of its
alkaloids and so is in steady demand. As stated above, there is very
little in Florida; it is rarely cultivated.
Figure 14.-Sanguinaria (Sanguinaria canadensis)
The sassafras tree has a number of synonymous scientific names,
including Sassafras variifolium, of the Lauraceae, a family that in-
cludes a variety of pleasantly odorous trees.
The tree is characterized by variously lobed leaves, even on a
single twig, some leaves being entire, some having an extra small
lobe, some having two extra lobes. The leaves, stem bark, and root
bark contain differing volatile oils and odors. Sassafras spreads rap-
idly over abandoned fields by means of suckers from the roots in
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 41
many southern states. In Florida it occurs mostly north and west of
The bark of the root, largely because of its flavor and odor, is
used in water as a tea for its tonic properties and also to break up
a cold. The oil distilled from the roots is popular as a flavor.
Sassafras is a weed tree that is so abundant that there is no
need to cultivate it. If necessary, very young trees can be transplanted
from the wild if care is taken with the roots.
Figure 15.-Sassafras (Sassafras variifolium/
42 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
SAW PALMETTO BERRIES
Saw Palmetto Berries, or Serenoa, are obtained from the shrub,
Serenoa repens (Serenoa serrulata), of the family Palmae.
This palm does not develop to a tree since its stem is horizontal
and partly buried. It is very abundant, sometimes extending for mile
after mile as a solid cover with few breaks. The leafstalks bear sharp
prickles that help to distinguish this species from closely related palms.
Figure 16.-Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repels)
Figure 16.-Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)
The flower- and fruit-stalks are shorter than the leaves. The rounded
fruits are nearly one inch in diameter and are black in color. When
dried they are similar to a prune in appearance but internally have
The collection of saw palmetto fruits was formerly localized at
Cape Canaveral but is now more widespread although Cocoa is still
an important center. The leaves were also collected in this area for
use on Palm Sunday. The fruits are picked late in the year and dried
for market. Some are also preserved in alcohol and shipped in this
The fruits have been used by Indians for a variety of purposes,
even as a food in times of starvation, although they are not usually
considered edible. When used as a drug, its effect is to increase slightly
the flow of urine.
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 43
Sesame, or Benne, Seed and Oil are obtained from Sesamum indi-
cum, family Pedaliaceae.
The plant is an annual, reaching a height of five feet. The num-
erous tubular white flowers, about one inch long and one quarter inch
broad, are borne in succession on the tall stalk while the earlier blos-
Figure 17.-Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
soms have been replaced by the fruits, some of them already mature.
The capsule, about the same size as the flower, quickly splits open
on maturity and gradually sheds its numerous seeds. This habit of
losing its seeds, or shattering, has postponed large-scale production
of the seed in the United States. If the seeds would remain on the
plant until the cessation of flowering, then they might readily be
harvested at one time by a machine traversing the field once. Varieties
with such a seeding habit are being developed and planted in the
Sesame is cultivated commercially in Texas by the use of ma-
chinery. It will grow well in Florida when planted in rows although
summer rains have a tendency to beat down the plants so as to make
harvesting difficult. It remains to be seen what other difficulties may
arise to beset the growers of sesame in Florida.
The seed is often used on baker's rolls as an ornament and to
contribute a sweet nutty taste. Some is used in candy. In tropical
regions much of the seed is expressed to obtain the fixed oil for food
and other home uses. Sesame oil is used to a certain extent in the
United States as a solvent or vehicle for certain water-insoluble
medicinal agents that are given by injection for slow liberation in
Squaw Vine, sometimes called Hive Vine or Partridge Berry, is
Mitchella repens, one of the Rubiaceae.
This is a small vine in low areas that are shaded but free from
brush. The plant hugs the ground, and bears small rounded leaves
and sweet-smelling little white flowers in pairs that are succeeded
by persisting red berries.
Squaw Vine occurs throughout most of the eastern United States,
including North Florida. Because of its small size the entire plant
is collected. The demand for this drug is limited.
Squaw Vine has been used for a variety of purposes, such as
tonic, diuretic, and astringent.
Stillingia, or Queen's Root, is obtained from Stillingia sylvatica,
of the family Euphorbiaceae.
Stillingia is an inconspicuous plant of dry sandy land in North
Florida and other parts of the Southeast. It grows about a foot high
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 45
with greenish flowers and rather small but unusual triangular fruits
about one quarter inch in diameter at the top of the plant. The
root is long and must be dug carefully in late summer to avoid
breaking it. However, it is usually cut up into segments.
Stillingia is used as a tonic in combination with other drugs in
proprietary medicines. Very little has been gathered in Florida since
World War II.
Storax is an exudation produced by the sweet gum tree, Liquid-
ambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae.
The sweet gum grows to a large size in low ground in the South.
The leaves bear some resemblance to the maple but the five con-
spicuous lobes radiate in different directions like the points of a star.
The fruit is a globular head about one inch in diameter with num-
erous openings for the seeds, and is borne on a stalk like the sycamore
fruit. The wood is useful in cabinet work.
The exudation is called a balsam, and is produced in response to
an injury such as that caused by removing some of the bark. The
balsam is a semi-solid gray to brown mass or a thick liquid with a
Storax contains benzoic and cinnamic acids and their compounds
as well as resin alcohols, which give this product its value as a per-
fume for soaps and toilet preparations. Also, it is used in various
products intended for the treatment of colds.
Considerable quantities of storax are collected in Alabama near
Mobile and there is no reason why this cannot be done in Florida
To produce this gum, a patch of bark is removed from the tree,
barely cutting into the sapwood with a hatchet or turpentine hack.
This is done on the sunny side of the tree, being careful to make a
scar less than half the circumference of the tree. Tapping of the
tree should be done when the leaves are well out. The gum oozes
out slowly upon the streak or face and hardens. Every ten days or
two weeks the gum is scraped from the tree with a dull knife and
a new streak is cut to enlarge the face. The storax can be cleaned
and strained after thinning in a double boiler without excessive heat
until it will slowly filter through cloth into a friction top can. Then
it may be taken to a local buyer in Alabama or shipped to a larger
concern in Virginia.
46 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Stramonium, also known as Jimson Weed and Jamestown Weed,
consists of the leaves and tops of Datura stramonium or its variety
Figure 18.-Stramonium (Datura stramonium)
This poisonous plant grows two or three feet tall, has an unpleas-
ant odor, and bears leaves with very irregular edges. The large tubu-
lar flowers do not open completely; they are white or lavender in
color and are located at each fork of the stem. From each flower
develops a very prickly fruit about one inch in diameter that splits
open to expose the numerous grayish-black seeds.
Stramonium is naturalized in rich soil in open areas in North
Florida and most of the United States as well as throughout the world.
It is also cultivated in Europe and elsewhere. This drug, like the
closely related Belladonna, has a variety of well-known uses due
to its content of the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine.
Since large stems decrease the value of the drug, only the tips of
the branches with their leaves are picked. After drying, the leaves
are compressed into bales for ease of handling.
When the plants are grown in cultivated areas the leaves are
subject to rapid destruction by the tomato hornworm. They are
easily started from seed and the plants grow rapidly in warm weather.
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 47
Tamarind Pulp is obtained from Tamarindus indica, family Legu-
This is an ornamental tropical tree planted along the lower East
Coast that grows to a considerable size in favorable locations and
produces dense shade. The leaves are pinnate, like those of many
members of this family, and the leaflets fold up at night. The indi-
vidual blossoms are quite attractive but the flowering tree as a whole
is not particularly showy. The numerous fruits occur as flattened,
often curved, pods about five inches long and one inch wide. These
have a tart, sour taste due to organic acids which are responsible
for its value.
The part used is the partially dried ripe fruit, deprived of its
brittle outer portion, and preserved with sugar or hot syrup. Usually
it occurs as a dark pulpy mass with a distinct odor and a sweet,
pleasantly acid taste. It is sometimes used to make a cooling drink
but it also has a laxative effect.
Tamarind is prepared by different methods in the East and the
West Indies, which are the principal commercial sources. It is prob-
ably not an economic possibility in Florida.
Turpentine, or more specifically Turpentine Oil or Gum Turpen-
tine, is obtained from two common species of pine, Pinns palustris,
the longleaf yellow pine, and Pinus elliotti, the slash pine, of the
Turpentine Oil is important medicinally, although most of it is
used in other fields and thus the layman often does not consider this
product a drug.
When the bark of the pine tree is cut through, an oleo-resin called
pine gum exudes on the exposed face to run down into a suitable
receptacle in which it accumulates. Periodically the gum is collected
and hauled to a still, which separates the gum into turpentine and
Turpentine has an irritant action due to its terpene components
and hence it is used for treating a variety of ailments by local action.
The rosin is sometimes used as a milder irritant and also to stif-
Most of the turpentine is produced in Georgia, with Florida being
the next state in the production. The pine trees are usually seeded
48 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
naturally although some are planted. The trees may be turpentined
for a number of years after they have reached a diameter of nine
Another type of turpentine, called wood turpentine, is produced
in the Southeast from stumps but it is not used in medicine. Still
another non-medical kind is produced by pulp mills.
Vetiver, or cus-cus, is a tropical member of the grass family,
Gramineae, whose scientific name is Vetiveria zizanoides.
Vetiver grows in large clumps that resemble those of its near
relative, lemongrass. It rarely flowers in the United States. The use-
ful part of the plant consists of the mass of tangled roots which con-
tain a volatile oil that is distilled in the Orient for use in perfumery.
The plant is propagated by breaking up the clumps into small
tufts which are set out about three feet apart. Vetiver is commonly
grown in Louisiana for sale in New Orleans and will also do well in
Florida in low sandy ground. Harvesting of the roots for the slow
distillation involves so much hand labor as to be considered imprac-
tical in Florida. The dried roots sometimes are used to scent linen
in the same way that lavender is used.
Wild Cherry Bark is obtained from Prunus serotina, Rosaceae, a
common tree in the eastern half of the United States.
This tree is frequent along fence rows and in abandoned fields.
The young trees usually have a gray bark marked with horizontal
lenticels on the trunks, but as the tree ages the bark becomes rough
and is less valuable for medicinal purposes. The small flowers are
in racemes that are succeeded by clusters of cherries that gradually
The best quality Wild Cherry Bark is the thin material from
younger trees. The older bark is of little value unless the outer part
has been removed, or rossed. Much of the commercial supply is
gathered in the fall in western North Carolina and adjacent areas.
This drug is used extensively in cough syrups and as a flavor. It
also has some value as a tonic.
The characteristic odor and taste of Wild Cherry Bark is not
apparent at first since these properties are due largely to benzalde-
hyde formed from another substance in the bark in the presence of
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA
an enzyme and moisture. This reaction also causes the leaves and
twigs to become toxic to livestock.
Figure 19.-Wild Cherry (Pruinis scrotila)
50 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
MINOR MEDICINAL PLANTS
The following is a list of drugs of little importance now, but
formerly obtained from plants that are native to Florida:
Aletris Root (Star Grass)
Bamboo Brier Root ----
Bayberry Bark (Wax Myrtle) -
Black Indian Hemp Root (Dogbane)
Black Willow Bark----
Calamus Root (Sweet Flag)
Canella Bark (White Cinnamon)
Chicory Root -------
Cleavers Herb (Bedstraw)
Devil's Shoe Strings
Jamaica Dogwood Bark (Fish Poison)
Fumitory Herb ---
Goldenrod Tops .---..------------------.-
Gravel Plant (Trailing Arbutus) -----.--
Guaiac Gum (Lignum Vitae)
Helonias Root (False Unicorn)
Horehound Herb -
Horse Nettle Berries (Bull Nettle)
Hydrangea Root (Seven Barks)
Jersey Tea Bark (Red Root)
Knot Grass - -----
Lemon Balm Herb (Sweet Balm)--
Life Root Plant ----------------
Magnolia Bark- -----
Melilot Herb (Yellow Sweet Clover)
Mistletoe Herb ----------
Mustard Seed, Black -----
Pennyroyal Herb -------
Poplar Bark (Tulip-tree)
Red Clover Tops ---------------------
Red Oak Bark --------
Scullcap Herb (Mad Weed)
Serpentaria Root (Virginia Snake Root)
Sourwood Leaves -----
Stone Root- --
Sumach Bark (Scarlet Sumac) ----
Sundew Herb---- ----
Verbena Herb (European Vervain) -
_ Hedeoma pulegioides
IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANTS OF FLORIDA 51
Water Eryngo Root (Rattlesnake's Master)
White Ash Bark
White Oak Bark
White Pond Lily Root
Wild Turnip Root (Jack in the Pulpit)
Yarrow Flowers (Milfoil)
CAPITAL PRINrING CO 7.-...