SYNONYM: Ambra cinerea.
Source.—An odorous, fatty material, believed to be a morbid production of the Physeter macrocephalus, Linné, or Sperm whale. It is found in the intestines of the whale, where it is thought to be produced, and also excreted and floating in large masses upon the waters of the sea. A single whale has yielded over 700 pounds of ambergris (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1859). The manner of production of ambergris is not definitely known, though it is supposed to be derived from the fatty matter of certain cephalopods consumed as food by the whale.
Description.—Ambergris occurs in irregular, wax-like masses, of a grayish or grayish-brown color, streaked or mottled, and opaque. Its density is less than that of water; it becomes soft and waxy by the warmth of the hand, but when cold is friable. It is also inflammable, and when heated is almost completely volatilized. Its odor is peculiar and fragrant. Ambergris has little or no taste. It is subject to adulteration, but may be distinguished by its physical characters.
Chemical Composition.—The chief constituent (80 to 85 per cent) of ambergris is ambrein (Pelletier and Caventou), a fatty body bearing some resemblance to cholesterin. It may be obtained in shining, white, needle-like crystals, odorless and tasteless. According to an analysis by John, in 1818, it also contains coloring matter, balsamic substances, sodium chloride, and benzoic acid.
Medical and Other Uses.—This substance has-been employed as a stimulant to the circulatory and nervous systems. On account of its supposed selective affinity for the generative apparatus of the female, it has been given in hysterical disorders of a spasmodic character. Musk, castor, and like animal drugs, as well as valerian, have been frequently given in conjunction with it. It has likewise been employed in low grades of fevers. The dose is from 5 to 20 grains in substance, or in solution in ether. It is more generally used in the preparation of perfumes. Ambergris was formerly employed in cookery.
Tinctura Ambrae.—Finely triturate with well-washed sand 10 parts of ambergris; then macerate the powder in 100 parts of alcohol (80 per cent). This tincture is often employed in fixing the odors of delicate, volatile perfumes.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.