Description.-Natural Order, Cinchonaceae. Genus CEPHAELIS: A shrubby plant, perennial, the stem forming several runners at the surface. Leaves opposite, oblong, lanceolate, three to four inches long, seldom more than six on a stem; on short and downy petioles, connected with each other by membranous stipules. Flowers small, white, funnel-shaped, on solitary and erect peduncles, eight to ten in a semi-globose head; a single oblong and downy bract to each flower; and a one-leaved, deeply six-parted, obovate, spreading involucre to the head. Calyx minute. Fruit an ovate berry, soft, fleshy, violet-black, the size of a very small bean, two-celled, two-seeded; seeds pale. Common to Brazil and all South America, from ten to twenty degrees south; flowering in January and February, and ripening in May.
The root of ipecacuanha is the portion used in medicine. It comes to market in pieces three or four inches long, about the size of a small quill; knotty and wrinkled, with circular fissures; of a grayish-brown color outwardly and white within; the outer portion brittle and the center tough. It has a faint and nauseous odor, and a sickening and feebly aromatic taste. The outer or cortical portion is the active one. It yields about one percent of a peculiar principle called emetia; which is said to be an alkaloid, and is the chief acting principle of the root. It contains, also, a little volatile oil, and an acrid, astringent principle in small quantities. Warm water extracts most of its virtues; but light alcoholic menstrua, as wines, act more freely on it. Boiling injures it very much; and the strong astringents, as also isinglass, cause a slow precipitation from an infusion.
Properties and Uses: The root has been a very popular nauseant, relaxing all the structures, reducing the pulse, favoring diaphoresis and expectoration, securing thin discharges from the bowels, and in large doses inducing repeated emesis. In pneumonia, hooping-cough, catarrh, spasmodic asthma, and as an emetic for children and feeble women, it has enjoyed a wide reputation. I used to employ it, and know a small quantity greatly promotes diaphoresis and expectoration, and also relieves a hot surface and lowers the pulse. By watching it very closely, I came to reject it from the list of sanative agents for the following reasons: It causes a free secretion of phlegm and mucus in the respiratory organs, but reduces the power of expectorating, and leaves the patient somewhat suffocated and pale. Children become sleepy and dull under its action, and have respiration interfered with, and pneumonia decidedly made worse by depression of the lungs. The extremities and cheeks become cold and pale; the pulse falls, and becomes almost imperceptible; and the nervous centers may be so depressed as to sink into coma. Inhalation of its dust will occasion choking and asthmatic feelings; and one druggist's clerk was nearly killed by it. The vomiting it induces is slow and persistent, and it is accompanied by a sense of extreme languor, and followed by stupor (or somnolent sleep) and continued weakness. Its active principle, emetia, has on all sides been pronounced too violent to admit of being used; and the one-sixteenth of a grain killed a dog. Accumulated observations of this kind have satisfied me that it is an unsafe article; and I feel morally certain that I have seen it prescribed by Allopathists and Eclectics, where its use led to fatal results in cases of infantile pneumonia that might have been saved.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com