The Physiomedical Dispensatory by William Cook, M.D., 1869    



Description:  Natural Order, Malvaceae.  Botanically allied to the mallows and okra.   This plant thrives only in warm latitudes; and though a native of Asia, is much cultivated in the United States south of Virginia.  It is either biennial or triennial, according to locality and cultivation;  stem three to six feet high, with palmate leaves of lanceolate lobes.  Flowers rather large, light- yellow.   “The capsule opens when ripe, and displays a loose white tuft of slender filaments, which surround the seeds and adhere firmly to the outer coating.”  (U. S. D.)  It is this mass of filaments for which the plant is cultivated, as it constitutes the cotton of commerce.

Properties and Uses:  The root, and particularly the outer portion of it, has been much lauded as an emmenagogue; and is said to procure abortion without injury to the general health!  The idea that any article can force premature delivery, and yet be harmless, is absurd; and that one statement should attach suspicion to the powers attributed to this article.  From personal observation, I can not look upon it as in any sense abortive; nor have I found it to exert any particularly powerful influence on the uterus, though its action is rather good.  I would set it down as a relaxant with mild tonic properties, rather antispasmodic, acting mildly and slowly, and useful when the nervous system is irritable and labor pains irregular.   Its action then is good; but it is of little consequence in flagging labor with a cold surface or fatigued nerves.  It slowly and steadily promotes menstruation in nervous persons, and in suppression after exposure;  but is not good for atonic or depressed conditions.   While it is thus useful in its own place, the practitioner would be utterly disappointed in expecting any such powerful action as is generally attributed to it.  If I am wrong in this estimate of the agent, then I have been unfortunate in getting a strong article in all the experiments I have made with it during the last ten years.  It is usually given in decoction, made by boiling four ounces of the root in a quart of water to a pint, and administering two fluid ounces every twenty or thirty minutes–each dose representing half an ounce of the roots!  That would be using about eight times the ordinary quantity of caulophyllum required, without obtaining so good an effect–facts that should long ago have shown to men who make up books in their closets instead of from bedside experience, that cotton root is a feeble medicine.  A preparation called gossypiin, is put upon the market.  It is a reddish-brown powder; and may (if my experience is correct) be given in doses of half a teaspoonful every hour, without producing much effect.  The fluid extract, prepared in the usual way, is a good article.

The seeds contain much fixed oil, which may be obtained by pressure, and may be used for painting and soap-making.  A pint of them boiled in a quart of water to a pint (!) and four ounces of this decoction given to a patient in bed, is said not to fail in breaking a chill.   The manner of its action has not been stated; and probably the story lacks confirmation.  The filaments are used as a local dressing in burns, ulcers, erysipelas, etc. Their only action is to absorb the discharges, for which they are inferior to lint.   They may be used as a diaphragm in the bottom of a percolator.


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