The bark of the root of Euphorbia corollata, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Large flowering spurge, Blooming spurge, Milk purslane, Snake milk, etc. (see History).
ILLUSTRATION: Meehan's Native Flowers, Vol. I, p. 109.
Botanical Source.—This plant has many common names, and in some sections is improperly called Bowman's root. It is a perennial plant, with a round, slender, erect stem, 1 or 2 feet high, generally simple and smooth. The root is yellowish, large and branching. The leaves are scattered, sessile, oblong-ovate, or linear, entire, flat or revolute at the margin, smooth in some plants, very hairy in others, verticillate and opposite in the umbel, and from 1 to 2 inches in length. The flowers are in large, terminal umbels, with a corolla-like involucre, which is large, white, and showy. The umbels are 5-rayed, supported by as many bracteal leaves; not infrequently a small axilliary branch or two arises from the sides of the stem below the umbel. The rays of the umbels are repeatedly trifid or dichotomous, each fork attended by 2 leaflets and a flower. The involucre is large, rotate, white, with 5 obtuse, petal-like segments; at the base of these divisions are 5 interior, very small, obtuse segments. Stamens 12; a great portion of the plants are wholly staminiferous. The fruit is a smooth, 3-lobed, 3-celled capsule; the cells are 1-seeded, and the seeds smooth (L.—W.).
History.—Though not extensively used in medicine, many of the Euphorbias are consumed in the Eclectic practice. That some of them are excellent remedies, and could well take the place of some other extensively used drugs, there can be no doubt. The Euphorbia Ipecacuanha and Euphorbia corollata are old Eclectic drugs, while the E. hypericifolia was reintroduced, in 1874, by Dr. H. L. True (Eclectic Medical Journal, 1874), having been previously mentioned in the American Dispensatory. Though but little used, these drugs have staggered under a load of popular appellatives, some of them being peculiar to each plant named, others being shared by plants bearing no relation to the Euphorbias. Euphorbia Ipecacuanha is called wild ipecac and ipecacuanha spurge; E. corollata—blooming spurge, large flowering spurge, milkweed, snake's milk, hippo, picac, purge root, milk purslane, emetic root, apple root, Indian physic, ipecac, ipecacuanha and Bowman's root. E. hypericifolia—large spotted spurge, garden spurge, black purslane, milk purslane, eye bright, and fluxweed; E. pilulifera.pill-bearing spurge, asthma-weed and snake-weed. In view of this mass of confusing popular names, the physician will recognize the necessity of adhering to the botanical appellations for these plants.
There are many other species of Euphorbia, though all possess widely diverse characteristics from those of our medicinal plants. In the dominions of the Mauritanian despot the plants abound as large succulent trees or bushes resembling cacti, but differing from them in having a milky juice, which exudes on the slightest puncture. Nearly all the Euphorbias are more or less poisonous, and all exude this acrid milky fluid when broken. Like their fellow of the same natural order, the Ricinus communis, or Castor oil plant, most of them have cathartic powers, though some are astringent. An ornamental species, originally from Mexico, whose floral bracts are often 4 or 5 inches long and of a bright vermilion color, is familiar to flower lovers as "fire on the mountain, painted leaf, Mexican fire plant, or poinsetta" (E. heterophylla.. In Africa gum euphorbium is gathered from the E. resinifera. Incisions are made into the stems from which the juices flow freely. From its acridity great care must be exercised by the gatherer, as it produces a violent rhinitis. A species (E. Tirucalli. is in common use around Madras for hedging purposes. The leaves, which are used as vesicants, will not be partaken of by cattle. E. Lathyris was ordered by Charlemagne to be cultivated in all monastic gardens on account of the value of its purgative seeds. Two species, the E. hybernica and E. piscatoria, will stupefy fish, a small quantity serving to render the waters of a river poisonous to fish for a long distance down the stream. Though poisonous in the raw state, the E. edulis and E. balsamifera when boiled, may be eaten as pot-herbs, and the E. Cattimandoo furnishes a caoutchouc. In hot countries the milk of a certain species is employed as a caustic, while another furnishes the natives with an "arrow poison" by simply dipping the weapon in the milky juice. Anthelmintic properties are possessed by the Euphorbia thymifolia, Linné, of India.
The scientific name Euphorbia is said to have been given to this genus of plants by a celebrated African monarch, King Juba of Mauritiana. This king was the son of the partisan Juba, of the wars of Pompey and Caesar. It is claimed that he was exceptionally learned and had some knowledge of botany and medicine. Having found purging properties in a plant growing in his dominion, he called the attention of his renowned court physician, Euphorbus, to it and named it in his honor—Euphorbia. The trivial name, spurge, seems to have arisen from the reputed property given by King Juba, as it is but a contraction of "espurge," a French term meaning to purge.
One of our early botanists, Nuttall; had a peculiar dislike to the Euphorbias, and could see no good in them, regarding them as dangerous and needless remedies. Rafinesque, who was more nearly Eclectic than any other of the earlier botanists, and whose views were those generally accepted by the Eclectic fathers, says of the E. corollata that it is a safer and better emetic than common ipecac, from the fact that its action may be regulated according to the quantity taken, which, as we all know, can not be done with the latter drug. This uncertainty is particularly noticeable in fluid preparations of ipecac. Rafinesque further notes the singular similarity of the Louisiana Indian name "peheca" and the Brazilian "ipeca," both meaning "emetic root." Barton considered the E. ipecacuanha of equal value to ipecac, besides possessing the advantage of having but little taste and odor.
Euphorbia corollata is found in dry fields and woods throughout portions of Canada and the United States, flowering from June to September. The milky juice, which exudes freely from all parts of the plant when bruised, proves very irritating to the cutaneous structures, and, if kept in contact sufficiently long, will cause pustulation and even vesication. The root, or part used, when dried, is odorless and nearly tasteless.
Description and Chemical Composition.—The root is from 1/3 of an inch to 1 or 2 inches in diameter, 1 or 2 feet in length, odorless, and nearly tasteless, producing a pungency in the mouth and fauces after having been chewed for some time. It should be gathered in the fall. The bark of the root is the medicinal part. It is from 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch in thickness, constituting the major part of the root, and imparts its properties to alcohol or water. It forms a light, brownish-yellow powder, speckled throughout with innumerable fine dark spots, somewhat resembling a mixture of fine pepper and salt, with the exception of color. Dr. Zollickoffer found it to contain resin, mucilage, and caoutchouc. It is possible, if not probable, that euphorbon is present, as it has been found in the E. Ipecacuanha. Kino and catechu are incompatible with this plant; when united with either, the medicinal powers of the Euphorbia are destroyed, while the astringency of the kino or catechu becomes entirely altered. Probably all vegetable astringents are incompatible with the agent under consideration. Opium interferes with its emetic operation, and should not, therefore, be given in combination with it, when emesis is desired. Acetic acid also interrupts its emetic influence, causing it to pass off by the bowels (Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. V, p. 166).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Euphorbia is emetic, diaphoretic, expectorant, and epispastic. Small doses are expectorant and diaphoretic. Larger doses produce emesis usually without much pain or spasm, nausea or giddiness. Overdoses will produce dangerous hyperemesis, or hypercatharsis, or both, and not infrequently give rise to an unpleasant inflammatory state of the alimentary canal. A dose that falls short of emesis usually proves cathartic.
Fifteen or 20 grains of the powdered bark of the root will excite emesis. Four grains of the powdered root bark, given every 3 hours, will act as a diaphoretic; or the compound powder of ipecacuanha and opium may be employed for the same purpose, substituting the E. corollata for the ipecacuanha. In doses of 3 grains, exhibited occasionally in a little honey, syrup or molasses, it operates as a useful expectorant, and may be administered in all cases where such action is desired. Even when given in large doses, it is apt to induce inflammation of the mucous coat of the stomach and bowels, with hypercatharsis. Occasionally when given as an emetic or cathartic, it causes distressing nausea, with considerable prostration. From 4 to 10 or 12 grains generally act as a cathartic.
The principal use to which this drug was put by the early Eclectics was as an emetic or emeto-cathartic in dropsical conditions, but undoubtedly we possess better agents in this class of affections in digitalis and the apocynums. An emetic dose was given 2 or 3 times a week for hydrothorax and ascites. As an emetic, it should never be employed where there is great debility or when an inflammation of the digestive organs is present. It has been employed with success in amenorrhoea. It has a direct action on mucous surfaces, and, when given in small doses is valuable to check inflammatory action of the stomach and bowels. Small doses relieve irritation, promote digestion, and increase functional activity. It rectifies irregularity of the bowels and rarely fails to overcome constipation if used as indicated. It is often indicated in diarrhoea and dysentery, especially the so-called bilious forms. Chronic bronchitis and laryngitis, with profuse mucous discharges, have been cured by it. Prof. King used it in several cases of partial deafness with tinnitus from extension of chronic catarrhal inflammation of the nares and throat to the Eustachian tubes. It is also indicated (in small doses) in catarrhal inflammations with abundant mucous discharges, and especially if the patient be debilitated. For this purpose it has served a good use in vesical catarrh.
Dose of the powder as an emetic, 15 to 30 grains, every 15 minutes; tincture (emetic), 15 to 60 drops, every 15 minutes; for specific uses, tincture, fraction of a drop to 10 drops; specific euphorbia, 1/10 to 10 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Indications for both this drug and for E. Ipecacuanha are long-continued gastric irritation, irritative diarrhoea, dropsy with irritation of mucous tissues, and catarrhal discharges with debility. Tongue elongated and pointed with prominent papillae, uneasy sensation in the stomach; cholera infantum with hot and tender abdomen, constant desire to defecate, with greenish irritating stools.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.