HISTORY OF LOMATIUM DISSECTUM
Dr. Krebs Uses Lomatium for Influenza Epidemic
The Following is Verbatim From:
Bulletin of the Nevada State Board of Health, No. 1 , Carson City, Nevada , January, 1920
AN INDIAN REMEDY FOR INFLUENZA
In publishing this paper the State Board of Health does not give its endorsement to the remedy until it has had further trial. We merely present the facts as stated by Dr. Krebs, with the idea of giving the matter publicity and encouraging others to give it a trial.
During the fall of 1918 when the influenza epidemic visited this section of Nevada, the Washoe Indian used a root in the treatment of their sick which was gathered along the foot-hills of this slope of the Sierra. The plant proved to be a rare species of the parsley family (Leptotaemia dissecta*), according to a report from the University of California.
The Indians gather this root in the late fall, November being considered the proper month for gathering. The root is used in the fresh or dry state. It is cut up and a decoction is made by boiling the root in water, skimming off the top and giving large doses of the broth. A pound of root is considered about the proper dose to treat a case of fever for three days, which is the longest time needed to break up a fever due to influenza or a pulmonary disease, although the Washoes used it as a panacea. Whether a coincidence or not, there was not a single death in the Washoe tribe from influenza or its complications, although Indians living in other parts of the State where the root did not grow died in numbers. It was such a remarkable coincidence that the root was investigated by a practicing physician who saw apparently hopeless cases recover without any other medication or care of any kind. A preparation was prepared and employed in a great many cases among the whites, from the mildest to the most virulent types of influenza, and it proved, among other things, that it is the nearest approach we have today to a specific in epidemic influenza and the accompanying pneumonia. Where used early it proved itself to be a reliable agent in preventing pulmonary complications. Other physicians were induced to give it a trial, with the same results. It is beyond the experimental stage, as its therapeutic action in this direction is established and beyond any doubt. The cases in which it has been used run into the hundreds. There is probably no therapeutic agent so valuable in the treatment of influenzal pneumonia and, as far as being tried, in ordinary lobar pneumonia if started early. Its action on coughs is more certain than the opiate expectorants and its benefit is lasting. It acts as a powerful tonic to the respiratory mucous membranes. It is a bronchial, intestinal and urinary antiseptic and is excreted by these organs. It seems to stimulate the pneogastries (sic) and causes a slow pulse with increased volume and reduced tension. It is a pronounced diaphoretic and somewhat diuretic, and it is a stimulating and sedative expectorant. In large doses it is a laxative, and in extreme doses emetic.
To make a therapeutically active preparation, the proper variety of the root must be selected in the late fall and properly cured out of the sun. Its active principles must be extracted with as little as possible of the objectionable constituents. The active principles of the root are decidedly complex. It contains a glucoside (as its solutions precipitate copper from Fehling's solution). It contains one or more alkaloids and an acid analogous to benzoic acid, one or more volatile and fixed oils, a resin and a gum. It can be seen from this that it resembles a balsam from the fact that it contains an oleogumresin and an acid besides alkaloids and glucosides. One can at once appreciate the fact that a reliable pharmaceutical preparation representing the action of the root is not readily made. The volatile oil, which is one of the principal therapeutic agents, is lost in making a decoction.
This particular variety of Leptotaemia* is not as common as believed as some, and it is this particular variety that has medicinal or therapeutic virtues. It grows in dry sandy soil, as a rule, under or between tall sagebrush or greasewood. The plant grows from two to four feet high and has a blossom similar to wild parsnip and leaves like a carrot. It is a perennial, and the older roots frequently weigh from two to six pounds. It sprouts early in April, blooms in May, seeds in June, and withers in July. A number of trials in transplanting the root have been made, but none were successful.
Leptotaemia dissecta * is destined to become one of the most useful if not the most important addition to our vegetable materia medica.
ERNST T. KREBS, M.D. Carson City, Nevada.
*The botanical name was changed in 1942 by Matthias and Constance, from Leptotaenia dissecta to Lomatium dissectum.
Traditional Uses of Lomatium dissectum.
Across the Great Basin and through the Northwest, the perennial Lomatium species were referred to as ‘the big medicine’.
A recent publication, American Indian Healing Arts, by Kavasch and Baar (Bantam 1999), includes a discussion of Lomatium use in association with the importance of the breath. They note the traditional use of this herb to treat respiratory problems.
In the ‘40s and ‘50s when Edith Van Allen Murphey and Percy Train were asking the Native Americans of Nevada to report on their use of herbal medicines, Lomatium dissectum was known botanically as Leptotaenia multifida.
Edith Van Allen Murphey’s report entitled Indian Uses of Native Plants is printed by the Mendocino County Historical Society, Ukiah, CA, 1959. The common name for Lomatium dissectum was at that time “Indian Balsam”.
Murphey reports that at her writing, three Indian tribes occupied Nevada with an Indian population of about six thousand: Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone. She says, “Many of these Indians still depend largely upon their ancient sources of supply of native plants for medicinal, ceremonial and subsistence uses. In the course of their travels they draw upon several botanical zones,…which formerly were adequate for Indians who wrested from seemingly barren surroundings something for their every need.”
Murphey states that Indian Balsam was used by all these tribes for colds. Tea was made for coughs and flu from dried root chips. It is under her reference for colds that she tells us this herb is considered ‘Big Medicine’ by these tribes.
Murphey also described treatment for ‘heart and tonic’ conditions where Indian Balsam decoction of dried root is drunk as tea. The patient is instructed to drink only this tea for fluids, together with bed-rest for one week.
Three gentlemen, Percy Train, James R. Henrichs, and W. Andrew Archer compiled a publication in 1941 entitled Medicinal Uses of Plants by Indian Tribes of Nevada. My copy is a facsimile of the revised edition of 1957 from Quarterman Publications Inc., 5 South Union Street, Lawrence, MA 01843.
Train makes this significant statement in reference to Lomatium dissectum, then called Leptotaenia multifida: “Of all the ailments to which the Indian is heir, probably there is none which has not been treated in one way or another by remedies prepared from the root of this plant. Although considered universally as a panacea, the medicines most commonly used are for coughs and colds, and disorders such as hayfever, bronchitis, influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.”
Train describes inhaling the fumes of the root which is burning in a bed of live coals, for asthma or congestion of the lungs. Also common was to chew a piece of raw root for sore throat. The root was also the basis for a number of antiseptics, the decoction as an external wash for smallpox, skin rashes, cuts and sores. The oily sap from sliced fresh roots, when available, was used on cuts and sores.
This significant work on the medicinal plants of the Native American tribes of Nevada was done from 1935 to 1941. The greater part of the actual contact with native peoples was done by Percy Train and his wife, Agnes Train. Although in the first year, Mrs. Edith Van Allen Murphey was among those engaged in this work.
In the Introduction by Mrs. Agnes Train (aka Mrs. J. M. Janssen), she tells of her sources of information, and scope of their field work. "The so-called medicine man of today is simply an individual just two jumps ahead of his fellow tribesmen and alert to the opportunity presented to make money by acquiring medicinal plant knowledge handed down to him from generations past and augmented by his own experiences. Several of the latter, notably, Ike Shaw (Shoshone) of Beatty, Bronco Charlie (Shoshone) of Ruby Valley, and Dan Voorhees (Paiute) of walker River Reservation, had a wide knowledge of medicinal plants and a substantial record of effective cures behind them."
"During these four years (starting in 1937) every Nevada Indian reservation, colony and community, large or small, in the entire State was visited, and a close study of the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe languages, as far as plant names and medicinal usages were concerned, was made in the field."
"During the work of plant collecting a rare opportunity was presented for meeting the older generation in individual families living in remote parts of the desert, as well as in larger Indian settlements and reservations in Nevada. These scattered Indian families were a rich source of medicinal plant information, for they were more dependent upon themselves and their own medicine."