1.4.1 Origin of the Name
The specific name of this plant derives from an observation that its root can penetrate into the cracks in stones, which led to the belief that it was able to break down carbonates (Latin: saxafrago, "I break stones"). As a result, it has been used in the past as a lithontriptic (Chiej, 1988).
P. saxifraga is known as burnet saxifrage, which is confusing as it is neither a burnet (family Rosaceae) nor a saxifrage (family Saxifragaceae). P. major is the greater burnet saxifrage and is so closely related that the two plants are considered together in this chapter.
The Romans employed P. major in the treatment of heart disease and male infertility (Lanska, 1992). William Turner (1520-1568) described it in A New Herball in 1551, "for the propertye that it hath in breaking of the stone in a mannis bodye." Culpeper (1616-1654) discussed the burnet saxifrage in the Complete Herbal of 1653 and mentioned the lesser and the greater varieties of English burnet saxifrage:
They are both of them herbs of the moon. The saxifrages are hot as pepper; and Tragus saith, by his experience, that they are wholesome. They have the same properties the parsleys have, but in provoking urine, and causing the pains thereof, and of the wind and colic, are much more effectual, the roots or seed being used either in powder, or in decoctions, or any other way; and likewise helps the windy pains of the mother, and to precure their courses, and to break and void the stone in the kidneys, to digest cold, viscous, and tough phlegm in the stomach, and is an especial remedy against all kinds of venom. Castoreum being boiled in the distilled water thereof, is singularly good to be giveth to those that are troubled with cramps and convulsions. Some do use to make the seeds into comfits (as they do caraway seeds) which is effectual to all the purposes aforesaid. The juice of the herb dropped into the most grievous wounds of the head, dries up their moisture, and heals them quickly. Some women use the distilled water to take away freckles or spots in the skin or face; and to drink the same sweetened with sugar for all the purposes aforesaid.
During the Middle Ages, P. major (the greater burnet saxifrage) was considered to be effective for the treatment of plague and cholera, and it was also used as a spice in beer (Lanska, 1992).
1.4.3 Traditional Uses
There are a number of descriptions that relate to the taste of this herb, which is described by one author as sweet and astringent (Tsarong, 1994), but by another as cucumber-like, though odorless (Potter, 1994). Yet another describes the taste of the leaves as having a slightly sweet, hot, and mildly astringent taste with a hint of cucumber flavor (Lanska, 1992). The root is very hot and acrid to one author, burning the mouth like pepper (Grieve, 1998); another says that it is only the fresh root that has this property (Culpeper, 1983). On drying or on being kept for a long time, the pungency of the root is considerably diminished (Grieve, 1998).
Small bunches of the leaves and shoots are tied together and suspended in a cask of beer to impart an agreeable aromatic flavor to the drink (Grieve, 1998); Lanska (1992) said that P. major was used to spice the beer. In addition, it is believed that the herbs will correct sharp-tasting or spoiled wine (Grieve, 1998). The oil is used as a commercial flavoring for liqueurs (Ody, 1996).
In Tibet, the entire plant is used as a tonic to promote vigor and to treat loss of clarity of senses caused by the lack of essential blood and the imbalance of the three primary processes (Tsarong, 1994).
The fresh root can be chewed for toothache and paralysis of the tongue (Grieve, 1998) and is used to prepare a tincture which is administered for sore throats, pharyngitis, laryngitis, and bronchitis (Schauenberg and Paris, 1990). Infusions or tinctures of the drug are employed as a gargle for inflammation of the mouth and throat (Wichtl, 1994). The rootstock (used fresh or dried) has antiinflammatory and mildly astringent properties (Launert, 1989).
P. major is said to dissolve mucus, and on this account is used as a gargle in hoarseness and some cases of throat infection (Grieve, 1998); Fluck (1988) said that the drug stimulates the secretion of certain mucosa, especially in the bronchi. It is used as an antispasmodic (Schauenberg and Paris, 1990), an antitussive, and a mild expectorant in bronchitis (Wichtl, 1994), and it is sometimes included in catarrh remedies (Ody, 1996). The roots are also used (in folk medicine) to treat coughs as well as inflammations (Lanska, 1992) and infections of the upper respiratory tract, such as pharyngitis, tracheitis, as well as angina (Wichtl, 1994).
The root is an emmenagogue and a cholagogue (releases bile from the gall bladder). It is used in the forms of decoction, powder, tincture, fluid extract, and syrup and is still employed in cases of hepatic insufficiency (Chiej, 1988). The tincture, when taken consistently, helps to restore the appetite (Chiej, 1988) and improve the digestion and may be used to assist in the treatment of certain digestive disorders (Lanska, 1992). In folk medicine, the drug is also sometimes taken as a stomachic (Wichtl, 1994). The oil and resin are also useful to help relieve flatulent indigestion (Grieve, 1998).
The roots have mild diuretic effects (Lanska, 1992) and may be used in cases of cystitis (Ody, 1996). The root is also prescribed in asthma and dropsy (Grieve, 1998). The fresh root is antidi-arrheic (Schauenberg and Paris, 1990). In homoeopathy, the tincture is prescribed for headaches and nosebleeds (Schauenberg and Paris, 1990).
Externally, P. major is used in lotions to help regenerate the skin of older people, and the distilled water is used as an eye lotion (Chiej, 1988). Alcoholic extracts are a component of some mouthwashes (Wichtl, 1994). A decoction has been known to remove freckles (Grieve, 1984).
One author states that the young leaves can be mixed into salads to add an aromatic, parsley-like taste (Chiej, 1988); another author says that the leaves give a cucumber taste (Ody, 1996). The fresh young leaves may be finely chopped and added to soups, sauces, mayonnaise, spreads, stuffings, herb butters, salads, cream, and yogurt, and can be used with grilled poultry, fish, and salads and to season vegetables. Its leaves are not usually dried for use, but are cut up finely (about 1 tablespoon of cut leaves per person is normally used) (Lanska, 1992). Burnet saxifrage is used in Italian, French, Spanish, German, and English cuisines.
Cows that feed on this plant have their flow of milk increased (Grieve, 1998).
Boiling water is poured over 3 to 10 g of very finely cut drug; alternatively, cold water can be added and the mixture brought briefly to the boil. As a cough remedy, 1 cup is taken three or four times a day, sweetened with honey (1 teaspoon = 2.5 g) (Wichtl, 1994).
The plant may be taken internally as an infusion for expectorant for catarrh (of the respiratory tract). Externally, this infusion may be used as an application to aid wound healing. Half a liter (1 pint) of cold water is added to 1 tablespoon of root (as coarse powder) and raised to the boil (Fluck, 1988).
The drug can be used for soothing coughs or to counter the effects of bronchitis and laryngitis. An infusion is prepared by adding boiling water to the root (2 teaspoons per cup) and allowing it to stand for 15 minutes; this drink should be taken hot two to three times daily. It can also be used as a mouthwash; for gargling in cases of tonsillitis, ulcers, infected gums, etc. (Launert, 1989).
1.4.5 Combinations with Burnet Saxifrage
An infusion of the leaves is generally used in combination with other stomach remedies like meadowsweet and centaury (Culpeper, 1983).
1.4.6 Legal Category (Licensed Products)
The legal category for burnet saxifrage is General Sales List (Potter, 1994).
The use of burnet saxifrage in herbal medicine is not widespread, but a few examples are found (Ody, 1996), such as Bioforce Bronchosan and Ricola Swiss Herb Lozenges. Burnet saxifrage root or extracts made from it are components of bronchial remedies, such as Melrosum; arthritis remedies; and remedies such as Befelka Tinctur for the circulation (Wichtl, 1994).
Burnet saxifrage should not be eaten in large quantities, as it irritates the kidneys (Lanska, 1992).
The roots of burnet saxifrage are often mistaken for the roots of common parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), which are straight and have a parsnip-like smell (Lanska, 1992). The roots can also be mistaken for the roots of cow parsnip (Heracleum sphondylium), which have an unpleasant smell and a sharp burning taste (Lanska, 1992). It should not be confused with Sanguisorba minor Scop., or the greater burnet (Rosaceae), which is used as a spice in salads (Wichtl, 1994).
Adulteration is extremely frequent, and on some occasions the genuine drug is unobtainable. Most often it is adulterated with hogweed or cow parsnip root (from Heracleum sphondylium L.), which is known in commerce as Radix P. franconiae; with wild parsnip root (from Pastinaca sativa L.); and with the roots of other Pimpinella species. In recent years, P. peregrina L. has been increasingly cultivated in southern Germany and is being offered as Radix Pimpinellae DAB 6. The composition of the essential oil and coumarins in P. peregrina, P. saxifraga, and P. major is extremely similar, so they may be worth considering as alternatives to burnet saxifrage (Wichtl, 1994).
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