Jalap

Botanical and Common Names

  • Family Convolvulaceae
  • Ipomoea spp.
  • Ipomoea purga syn. Convolvulus jalapa (Mexican Scammony Root, Purge Root, Ipomoea, Jalap Root, Mexican Morning Glory; Spanish: Jalapa, Raiz de Jalapa, Brionia, Michoacán, Tumba Vaqueros, Riñona, Espanta Vaqueros; Nahuatl: Chichicamolli, Tlanoquiloni, Tlaxapán; Maya: Xtabentum)
  • Ipomoea leptophylla (Bush Morning Glory, Big-root Morning Glory, Man Root, Man-of-the-Earth, Bush Moonflower, Wild Potato Vine)
  • Ipomoea pandurata (Big-Root Morning Glory)

Cautions

  • It should be taken only under strict supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner, as even moderate doses can cause watery stools and vomiting.

Description

 Native to Mexico, Jalap is a climbing, evergreen vine, reaching about twelve feet, with heart-shaped leaves and trumpet-like purple flowers. It is cultivated in Central America, parts of Peru, the West Indies, and Southeast Asia.

Jalap resin is derived from alcoholic extraction of the jalap root powder. The tuberous, thickened, secondary roots, called black rhubarb tubers, are harvested from May to autumn and dried in the sun, on hot ash, or over an open fire. Jalap resin is often confused with several other species and names, including the following: Brazil jalap, Aloe, Orizaba jalap, colophonium, starch, dextrin and guaiac resin, Ipomoea orizabensis, Ipomoea operculata, Operculina turpethum, Convolvulus scammonia, and Mirabilis jalapa.

History

 Ipomoea means worm-like, referring to the peculiar, twisted nature of the root system.

Jalap is a centuries-old purgative and vermifuge used by the Mexicans, who then taught the Spanish colonizers how to use the herb.

It was introduced into Europe in 1565 and used for all types of illnesses until the 19th century.

Because it is considered a good remedy for kidney problems, the plant is also widely-known as riñona from the Spanish word for kidneys, riñones.

The Spanish name of Michoacán was given because that was the place where it was first found in the "New World" by Spanish invaders. Also known as Jalapa, the plant was named for the city in the state of Vera Cruz.

In the 16th century book, Joyfulle Newes Out of the Newe Founde Worlde, the physician-author, tells of a friar who fell gravely ill shortly after the conquest of the Aztecs. The local Aztec lord, who had befriended the friar, brought his personal physician to see the friar who, thinking he had nothing left to lose, decided to try the Aztec doctor's remedy. The friar purged so much that he started to get better, and the good news passed up the grapevine to counterparts in Spain. This "miracle cure" was soon embraced, and the root was renamed Rhubarb of the Indias, replacing the Rhubarb of Barbary as the favoured purging agent of the day. The root eventually became so popular that it was exported to Europe in great quantities and sold at such premium prices that fortunes were made in the purging business.

The Pawnees burned the enormous, human-sized roots of the Bush Morning Glory as a smoke treatment for nervousness and bad dreams. They also pulverized the dried root and dusted it on the body to alleviate pain or to revive a person who had fainted. The Lakota scraped off a portion of the root and ate it raw for stomach trouble.

In the days before matches, Great Plains tribes would start a fire in a portion of the dried root and let it smolder for later use as a fire-starter.

The root was also used as an emergency food by the Pawnee, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa.US Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1864 as a cathartic.

Key Actions

  • powerful cathartic (purgative)

Key Components

  • resin (convolvulin)

Medicinal Parts

  • Root, resin from root

Traditional Uses

 The resin is a powerful purgative and used to facilitate bowel evacuation in the most dramatic cases of constipation. It is so strong that it must be combined with such other herbs as ginger, licorice, or some other digestive stimulant. It is occasionally used for constipation, colic and pain in the intestinal region, dysentery, colitis, and rheumatism.

Homeopathic remedies are used for night restlessness in children and in cases of diarrhea..

Another Ipomoea species, I. turpethum, is native to Asia and Australia and is also a drastic purgative. Other related species have interesting uses. I. batatas, from South America, is the common sweet potato and is an important food plant. The seeds of the morning glory (I. violacea), native to Mexico, contains compounds similar to LSD and were taken for rituals by the Zapotecs and Aztecs.

The Morning Glory or Jalapa roots are considered to be such an effective antispasmodic that they are used in a syrup to treat epilepsy. A simple boiled tea of the roots is used for less severe conditions, like spastic diarrhea, menstrual cramps, and general hysteria.