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Tormentil

Botanical: Potentilla Tormentilla (NECK.)
Family: N.O. Rosaceae

---Synonyms---Septfoil. Thormantle. Biscuits. Bloodroot. Earthbank. Ewe Daisy. Five Fingers. Flesh and Blood. Shepherd's Knapperty. Shepherd's Knot. English Sarsaparilla.
---Parts Used---Root, herb.


In Potentilla Tormentilla the flowers are yellow as in P. reptans, but smaller, and have four petals instead of five, and eight sepals, not ten so separated as to form a Maltese cross when regarded from above.

From the root-stock come leaves on long stalks, divided into three or five oval leaflets (occasionally, but rarely, seven, hence the names Septfoil and Seven Leaves), toothed towards their tips. The stem-leaves, in this species, are stalkless with three leaflets.

A small-flowered form is very frequent on heaths and in dry pastures, a larger-flowered, in which the slender stems do not rise, but trail on the ground, is more general in woods, and on hedge-banks. From the ascending form, 6 to 12 inches high, this species has been called P. erecta, but even in this case the long stems are more often creeping and ascending rather than actually erect.

The name Tormentil is said to be derived from the Latin tormentum, which signifies such gripings of the intestines as the herb will serve to relieve, likewise the twinges of toothache.

The plant is very astringent, and has been used in some places for tanning.

It has been official in various Pharmacopoeias and was formerly in the Secondary List of the United States Pharmacopoeia.

It is considered one of the safest and most powerful of our native aromatic astringents, and for its tonic properties has been termed 'English Sarsaparilla.'

All parts of the plant are astringent, especially the red, woody rhizome.

The rhizome is 1 to 2 inches long, as thick as the finger, or smaller, tapering to one end, usually with one to three short branches near the larger end, ridged, with several strong, longitudinal wrinkles between them, bearing numerous blunt indentations. It is brown or blackish externally; internally, light brownish red; the fracture short and somewhat resinous, showing a thin bark, one or two circles of small, yellowish wood-wedges, broad medullary rays and a large pith. It has a peculiar faint, slightly aromatic odour and a strongly astringent taste.

---Chemical Constituents---It contains 18 to 30 per cent of tannin, 18 per cent of a red colouring principle - Tormentil Red, a product of the tannin and yielding with potassium hydroxide, protocatechuic acid and phloroglucin. It is soluble in alcohol, but insoluble in water. Also some resin and ellagic and kinovic acids have been reported.

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---Medicinal Action and Uses---There is a great demand for the rhizome, which in modern herbal medicine is used extensively as an astringent in diarrhoea and other discharges, operating without producing any stimulant effects. It also imparts nourishment and support to the bowels.

It is employed as a gargle in sore, relaxed and ulcerated throat and also as an injection in leucorrhoea.

It may be given in substance, decoction or extract. The dose of the powdered root or fluid extract is 1/2 to 1 drachm.

The fluid extract acts as a styptic to cuts, wounds, etc.

A strongly-made decoction is recommended as a good wash for piles and inflamed eyes. The decoction is made by boiling 2 OZ. of the bruised root in 50 OZ. of water till it is reduced one-third. It is then strained and taken in doses of 1 1/2 OZ. It may be used as an astringent gargle.

If a piece of lint be soaked in the decoction and kept applied to warts, they will disappear.

The decoction for internal use should be made with 4 drachms to 1/2 pint of water, boiled for 10 minutes, adding 1/2 drachm of cinnamon stick at the end of boiling. Dose, 1 or 2 tablespoonsful.

Compound Powder of Tormentil. (A very reliable medicine in diarrhoea and dysentery.) Powdered Tormentil, 1 OZ; Powdered Galangal, 1 OZ.; Powdered Marshmallow root, 1 OZ.; Powdered Ginger, 4 drachms.

An infusion is made of the powdered ingredients by pouring 1 pint of boiling water upon them, allowing to cool and then straining the liquid. Dose, 1 or 2 fluid drachms, every 15 minutes, till the pain is relieved - then take three or four times a day.

A simple infusion is made by scalding 1 OZ. of the powdered Tormentil with 1 pint of water and taking as required in wineglassful doses for chronic diarrhcea, fluxes, etc.

A continental recipe for an astringent decoction is equal parts of Tormentilla, Bistort and Pomegranate.

Dr. Thornton declared that in fluxes of blood, 1 drachm of Tormentil given four times a day in an infusion of Hops did wonders.

Thornton tells of a poor old man who made wonderful cures of ague, smallpox, whooping cough, etc., from an infusion of this herb and became so celebrated locally that Lord William Russell gave him a piece of ground in which to cultivate it, which he did, keeping it a secret for long.

It was much given for cholera, and also sometimes in intermittent fevers, and used in a lotion for ulcers and long-standing sores. The juice of the fresh root, or the powder of the dried, was used in compounding ointments and plasters for application to wounds and sores.

The fresh root, bruised, and applied to the throat and jaws was held to heal the King's Evil.

Culpepper says:
'Tormentil is most excellent to stay all fluxes of blood or humours, whether at nose, mouth or belly. The juice of the herb and root, or the decoction thereof, taken with some Venice treacle and the person laid to sweat, expels any venom or poison, or the plague, fever or other contagious disease, as the pox, measles, etc., for it is an ingredient in all antidotes or counterpoisons.'. . . 'It resisteth putrefaction.' . . . 'The root taken inwardly is most effectual to help any flux of the belly, stomach, spleen or blood and the juice wonderfully opens obstructions of the spleen and lungs and cureth yellow jaundice. Tormentil is no less effectual and powerful a remedy against outward wounds, sores and hurts than for inward and is therefore a special ingredient to be used in wound drinks, lotions and injections. . . . It is also effectual for the piles. . . . The juice or powder of the root, put into ointments, plasters and such things that are applied to wounds or sores is very effectual.'
In the Western Isles of Scotland and in the Orkneys the roots were used for tanning leather and considered superior even to oak bark, being first boiled in water and the leather steeped in the cold liquor. The Laplanders employed the thickened red juice of the root for staining leather red.

The Americans use the name Tormentil for Geranium maculatum, the Spotted Cranesbill, which has similar properties.

Many other of the 150 species of Potentilla have been similarly used in medicine.

See:
FIVE-LEAF GRASS
SILVERWEED
CINQUEFOILS

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Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.

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