THE Datura Stramonium is a wandering annual plant, which follows the progress of cultivation, and is rarely found remote from the vicinity of dwellings. It occurs in every part of the Atlantic coast from Maine to the Floridas, and is also found in the Western States in the neighbourhood of settlements. Its favorite haunts are the borders of fields and roadsides, among rubbish and in neglected spots of rich ground. It emigrates with great facility, and often springs up in the ballast of ships, and in earth carried from one country to another. This circumstance in Europe has undeservedly given rise to the opinion, that it is originally an American plant. Its native country, however, is doubtful, from the want of authentic descriptions of sufficient antiquity. One of the oldest satisfactory accounts of it is that of Gerarde in 1597, who has published a description and figure of this plant, and states that it was introduced into England by himself, from seeds received from Constantinople.
[Note A.] [MOST European writers seem to consider the Datura stramonium as a native of America. In Miller's Dictionary by Martyn, the editor says, "That it is a native of America, we have the most undoubted proofs, for in earth brought with plants from various parts of that extensive country, we are sure to have the Thorn apple come up. Kalm says, that it grows about all the villages, and that this and the Phytolacca are the worst weeds there. Our old writers call it Thorny Apples of Peru."
This evidence however is by no means sufficient. The plant appears in earth and ballast, carried from either continent alike. The name Apple of Peru has also been applied to Datura metel, a plant of Africa and the East Indies.]
Its common name in Europe, derived from the form of its fruit, is Thorn apple. In this country its provincial names are Apple of Peru, Devil's apple, and Jamestown weed. It is a plant of rank growth and luxuriant foliage, varying in height from one to six feet, according to the soil in which it grows. In Carolina it begins to flower in May, and in Massachusetts about the latter part of July, and continues until the arrival of frosts.
The Datura Stramonium belongs to the first order of the fifth class in the Linnaean artificial arrangement. In its natural order it is found among the Luridae of Linnaeus and the Solaneae of Jussieu. The following are the essential marks which characterize the genus Datura. The corolla funnel form and plaited. The calyx tubular, angular and deciduous. The capsule four valved.—Under this genus are comprehended a number of species, a great part of which are natives of warm latitudes. The species Stramonium is distinguished from the rest by the following character. Capsules thorny, erect, ovate; leaves ovate, angular, smooth.—A more particular description of the plant is as follows. Stem erect, simple at bottom, much branched at top by repeated forks, smooth or slightly pubescent, hollow in the large plants, often solid in small ones. Leaves given off from the forks of the stem, five or six inches long, acute, irregularly sinuated and toothed, with large acute teeth and round sinuses, the sides of the base extending unequally down the petiole. Flowers single, axillary, on short stalks, erect or nodding. Calyx composed of one leaf, tubular, with five angles and five teeth, deciduous by breaking off from its base. Corolla funnel shaped with a long tube, five angled, its margin waved and folded, and terminating in five acuminate teeth. Stamens growing to the tube by their filaments, with oblong erect anthers. Germ superior, hairy with the rudiments of spines, ovate; style as long as the stamens; stigma obtuse, parted at base. Capsule ovate, fleshy, covered with thorns, four valved, four celled, opening at top. Seeds numerous, reniform, black, attached to a longitudinal receptacle, which occupies the centre of each cell.
At least two distinct varieties of Datura Stramonium are common in the United States. One of these has a green stalk and white flowers, and agrees with the figures of Sowerby and Woodville, except that the anthers are somewhat longer and the dissepiment of the capsule thinner. The second variety, the one represented in our figure, has a dark reddish stem, minutely dotted with green; and purple flowers striped with deep purple inside. It is generally a larger plant, and its stem more universally hollow. This variety is probably the D. tatula of Linnaeus, answering to the description in the Species plantarum. The distinguishing marks laid down between the two plants are not sufiicient to make them distinct species. I have cultivated both together and watched them throughout their growth, without being able to detect any difference except in colour. Their sensible and medical properties are the same. Sir James Edward Smith has lately informed me, that on consulting the herbarium of Linnaeus, the original specimens of D. Stramonium and tatula did not appear to be more than varieties of the same plant.
[Note B.] [In the Catalogue of plants in the Botanic garden at Calcutta, published in 1814, a species is inserted by the name of Datura Tatula, said to be a native of the Cape of Good Hope. This is probably different from the Datura Tatula of Linnaeus.]
Every part of the Stramonium, when recent, has a strong, heavy, disagreeable odour, and a bitter, nauseous taste. Taken internally it proves a violent narcotic poison, affecting the mind and body in the most powerful manner. Its usual consequences when swallowed in considerable quantity, are vertigo and confusion of mind, insensibility of the retina, occasioning dilatation of the pupil and loss of sight, tremors of the limbs and loss of the power of voluntary motion, headache, dryness of the throat, nausea and vomiting, anxiety and faintness, and sometimes furious delirium. If the amount taken be large and not speedily ejected from the stomach, the symptoms pass into convulsions or lethargic stupor, which continue till death. When not fatal, its effects, like those of other narcotics, are temporary, disappearing in from one to two days, and frequently in a shorter period.—The remedies to be resorted to in cases of poison from Stramonium, are a prompt emetic, followed by a free use of vegetable acids and strong coffee.
Many stories have been related of the power of this and other species of Datura to produce mental alienation, without at the same time materially affecting the body.
[Note C.] [The Jamestown weed, (which resembles the thorny apples of Peru, and I take it to be the plant so called,) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gathered very young for a boiled sallad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon; and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days. One would blow up a feather in the air, another would dart straws at it with much fury; another stark naked was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning, and making mows at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic, than any in a Dutch droll. In this frantic condition they were confined, lest, in their folly, they should destroy themselves. A thousand simple tricks they played, and after eleven days returned to themselves again, not remembering any thing that had passed."
Beverly's History of Virginia, p. 121.]
These accounts are generally of somewhat ancient date, and not correspondent with the observations of later physicians. They were suited to those days of credulity, in which the Royal Society of London gravely inquired of Sir Philberto Vernatti, "Whether the Indians can a so prepare the stupifying herb Datura, that they make it lie several days, months, or years, according as they will have it, in a man's body; and at the end kill him without missing half an hour's time?"
Like opium and like other powerful medicines, this plant, when taken in small quantity, and under suitable regulations, proves a remedy of importance, and a useful agent in the hands of physicians. In common with some other narcotics, it seems first to have been introduced freely into practice by Baron Storck of Vienna, as a remedy in Mania, Epilepsy, Convulsions, &c. Many subsequent physicians have given testimony to its efficacy in certain forms of these disorders, yet the instances of its failure have doubtless been more frequent than those of its success. In Murray's Apparatus Medicaminum may be found a summary of the reports of many medical men, who have tried it with various success in the diseases in question, as well as in others. Dr. Cullen has no doubt that it may be a remedy in certain cases of mania and epilepsy; but doubts if any person has learned to distinguish the cases to which it is properly adapted.
Dr. Fisher, President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, has published in their communications some remarks on the employment of Stramonium in epilepsy. He divides the cases of that disease into three kinds; those of which the fits return daily; those in which they recur at regular periods, as monthly, or give warning of their approach hy previous symptoms; lastly, those in which they do not observe any regular period, and do not give any warning of their approach. In the two first kinds he asserts, that all the cases which came under his care, and which were not very few, had been cured by Stramonium. In those of the third kind he found it of no benefit whatever.
Dr. Archer of Maryland has formed distinctions nearly similar in the application of Stramonium to epilepsy.
In a case of Tic doloureux of long standing I found the extract, taken in as large doses as the stomach would bear, to afford decided relief. Several practitioners have spoken to me of its efficacy in this formidable disease. It should be taken in large doses, and the system kept for some time under its influence.
Within a few years, the thorn apple has attracted much notice, both in Europe and in this country, as an efficacious palliative in Asthma and some other affections of the lungs, when used by smoking, in the same manner as tobacco. The practice was first suggested by the employment of another species, the Datura ferox, for similar complaints, in the East Indies. An English gentleman, having exhausted the stock with which he had been supplied of the oriental plant, was advised by Dr. Sims to have recourse to the common Stramonium as a substitute; and upon trial, experienced the same benefit as he had done from the former species. This instance of success led to further trials, and in a short time several publications appeared, containing cases of great relief afforded by smoking this plant in the paroxysms of Asthma. Many individuals, of different ages, habits, and constitutions, had used it with the effect of producing immediate relief, and of terminating the paroxysm in a short time. The efficacy however of this medicine was called in question by Dr. Bree, a physician well known by his elaborate treatise on Asthma, who published in the Medical and Physical Journal a letter, containing the result of a great number of unsuccessful trials of Stramonium in asthmatic cases. It may be doubted whether any other physician has been so unfortunate in its use as Dr. Bree, since he affirms that not one case of those under his care was benefitted by it. Certain it is, that in this country the thorn apple is employed with very frequent success by asthmatic patients, and it would not be difficult to designate a dozen individuals in Boston and its vicinity, who are in the habit of employing it with unfailing relief in the paroxysms of this distressing complaint. The cases, which it is fitted to relieve, are those of pure spasmodic asthma, in which it doubtless acts by its sedative and antispasmodic effects. In those depending upon effusion of serum in the lungs, or upon the presence of exciting causes in the first passages, or elsewhere, requiring to be removed; it must not be expected that remedies of this class can afford benefit. In several cases of plethoric and intemperate people, I have found it fail altogether, and venesection afterwards to give speedy relief.
The part of the plant, which I have employed for smoking, is the leaf prepared in the same way as tobacco. The root, which has commonly been the part used, is more woody and fibrous, and possesses less of the juices of the plant, than its more pulpy and succulent parts. The root also, being strictly annual, has no opportunity to accumulate the virtues of the plant, beyond any other part.
In the seventh volume of the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, for 1816, is a paper on the properties of the Stramonium by Dr. Marcet of London, Physician to Guy's Hospital. As the result of his experience, it appeared that this medicine taken internally had relieved acute pains of various kinds more effectually than any other narcotic substance. Its usual effects under his observation, when administered in appropriate doses, in chronic diseases attended with acute pain; were, to lessen powerfully and almost immediately sensibility and pain; to occasion a sort of nervous shock, which is frequently attended with a momentary affection of the head and eyes, with a degree of nausea, and with phenomena resembling those produced by intoxication; to excite in many instances nervous sensations, which are referred to the oesophagus or bronchiae or fauces, and which sometimes amount to a sense like suffocation; to have rather a relaxing, than an astringent effect on the bowels; to have no marked influence on the pulse, except in a few instances to seem to render it slower; to produce but a transitory and inconsiderable dilatation of the pupil, and to have but little immediate tendency to produce sleep, except from the state of comparative serenity and ease, which follows the preceding symptoms.—In some instances its beneficial effects were obtained without the patient experiencing any of the uneasy sensations above mentioned.
The cases in which Dr. Marcet employed the Stramonium, with their results, appear in the following summary. In four cases of Sciatica, decided benefit was obtained. The efficacy of the medicine was still more strongly marked in two cases of sciatica combined with syphilitic pains. It failed in two instances of diseased hip joint. It produced considerable relief of pain in a case of supposed disease of the spine, followed by paraplegia; and likewise in one of cancer of the breast. It allayed materially the pain occasioned by an acute uterine disease. It was of great and repeated utility in a case of Tic doloureux, its utility in a second case of the same description was yery doubtful, and in a third it entirely failed.
There are some authorities for the success of Stramonium in Chorea. Professor Chapman of Philadelphia has found it of use in dysmenorrhea, also with or without mercury in syphilitic and scrophulous ulcers of ill condition.
The external use of Stramonium is of much older date than its internal exhibition. Gerarde in his Herbal, published in 1597, says, "The iuyce of Thorne apples, boiled with hog's grease to the forme of an unguent or salve, cureth all inflammations whatsoever, all manner of burnings or scaidings, and that in very short time, as myself have found by my dayly practise, to my great credit and profit." Others, since the time of Gerarde, have used this preparation, if not with the same gratifying success, at least with some benefit as an anodyne, sedative application. It mitigates the pain in burns and inflammatory tumors, and promotes the cure of certain cutaneous eruptions. In some irritable ulcers with thickened edges and a sanious discharge, I have found it remarkably efficacious in changing the condition and promoting the granulations and cicatrization. In painful hemorrhoidal tumors the ointment of Stramonium with the ointment of acetate of lead gives, in many cases, very prompt and satisfactory relief, being in this respect inferior to no application, with which I have been acquainted.
Applied topically to the eye, the preparations of Stramonium diminish the sensibility of the retina, and relax the iris. From this effect it is employed by many surgeons to dilate the pupil, as preparatory to the operation for cataract.
The virtues of Stramonium appear to be seated in an extractive principle, which dissolves in water and alcohol, but most readily in the former. It is copiously precipitated from the infusion by muriate of tin. With sulphate of iron it gives a deep green colour, and with gelatin suffers no change. Water distilled from the plant has the sensible qualities in a slight degree, but does not seem to possess the medicinal powers of the plant. Dr. S. Cooper, in a valuable dissertation on this plant, says, that an ounce of the distilled water was taken into the stomach with little or no effect. The same gentleman states, that upon evaporating the infusion of Stramonium, he observed a large number of minute crystals, resembling particles of nitre. Thinking it possible that these might be something analogous to the crystals, said to be obtained by Derosne from opium, and by him denominated the narcotic principle, I repeated the experiment by carefully evaporating separate decoctions of the green and dried leaves. No crystals however were discoverable at any stage of the process, either to the touch, or to the eye assisted by a strong magnifier.
The forms in which the Stramonium is prepared for use are the powder, the inspissated juice, the extract, the tincture and the ointment. The powder should be made as soon as the plant is dry, and kept in close stopped bottles.—The inspissated juice is made by compressing the bruised leaves in a strong bag, until the juice is forced out. This is to be evaporated in flat vessels at the heat of boiling salt water to the thickness of honey; it is then suffered to cool, put up in glazed vessels and moistened with alcohol. The extract is prepared by immersing a pound of the leaves in three gallons of water and boiling down to one. The decoction should then be strained and stand six hours to settle, after which it may be drawn off and evaporated to the proper consistence. When the seeds are used, the decoction should stand a longer time to separate the oil with which the cotyledons abound, before evaporation. A larger amount of extract may be obtained by boiling the portion, which has been used, a second time in a smaller quantity of water, and mixing the two decoctions before evaporation. For the tincture one ounce of the dried leaves is to be digested for a week in eight ounces of proof spirit, and filtrated through paper. In making the ointment, a pound of the fresh leaves may be simmered in three pounds of hog's lard until the leaves become crisp. It is then to be strained, and cooled gradually.
The period for gathering the leaves is from the time the plant begins to flower, until the arrival of frost. As the preparations of Stramonium are liable to vary in strength according to the circumstances under which they are made, it is always prudent to begin with the smallest dose, and repeat it about three times a day, increasing each dose until the effects begin to appear in the stomach or head.
The commencing doses of the Stramonium, when properly prepared, are as follows.
Of the powdered leaves 1 grain.
powdered seeds 1/2 a grain.
inspissated juice or extract 1 grain.
extract of the seeds from 1/4 to 1/2 grain.
tincture from 15 to 20 drops.
Datura Stramonium, Linnaeus Sp. pl. Fl. Suec. 185 &c.
Gronovius Fl. Virg. 23.
Oeder. Fl. Danica 436.
Blackwell t. 313.
Gmelin Iter i. 43.
Pollich. Palatin. 224.
Hoffmann Germ. 77.
Roth Fl. Germ. i. 92 &c.
Woodville t. 124.
Curtis Lond. vi. t. 17.
Smith Fl. Brit. 254.
Engl. Bot. t. 1288.
Pursh Amer. 141.
Elliott Carol. i. 275.
Stramonium foliis angulosis &c. Haller Helv. 586.
Nuci metellae congener planta, Camerarius Epitome 276.
Solanum foetida pomo spinoso, oblongo, &c. Bauhin pin. 168.
Stramonium spinosum, Gerarde Herbal 348.
Storck de Stramonio &c.
Lindenstolpe de venenis, 531
Sauvages Nosol. 2. 430.
Greding in Ludwigs Adversaria i. 345.
Murray App. Med. i. 670.
Cullen Mat. Med. ii. 281.
Fowler in Med. Comment. v. 161.
Odhelius cit. in Med. Comment v. 161
Papin in Phil. Trans. abr. vi. 53.
Rush in Philad. Trans. i. 384.
Wedenberg in Med. Comment iii. 18.
Beverly, Hist. Virg. p. 121.
Medical and Physical Journal, vol. xxv. & xxvi. in various places.
Cooper in Caldwell's Theses, vol. i.
Barton, Coll. Mat. Med. 46.
Chapman in edit.
Thatcher, Disp. 205.
Marcet Medico-Chirur. Trans. vii.
American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.