The entire plant Euphorbia hypericifolia, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Large spotted spurge, Garden spurge, Black purslane, Milk purslane, Eye-bright, Flux-weed.
Botanical Source and History.—Euphorbia hypericifolia is a common weed, found in gardens and on cultivated land, in all parts of the United States. The stem is from 1 to 2 feet in length, ascending, and much branched; it is smooth, and when the plant grows in sunny situations, is of a purple color. The branches are alternate, and proceed from opposite sides of the stem, giving the plant a flat appearance. The leaves are about an inch long, opposite, unequal at the base, and supported on very short leaf-stalks; they are oblong, obtuse, triple-veined from the base and serrulate, with numerous small, appressed teeth. The larger leaves have large purple spots near the center, which is very characteristic of the plant. The flowers are small, inconspicuous, and appear late in summer. They have the peculiar structure of the genus Euphorbia, and the involucrate clusters are borne from the forks of the branches on slender stalks about 1/4 inch long. The fruit is a 3-lobed carpel, containing 3 wrinkled, blackish seeds. The plant is minutely described in earlier editions of this Dispensatory, as follows: "This plant, also known by the names of Black purslane, Milk purslane, Eye-bright, etc., is an annual plant, with a smooth, somewhat procumbent, branching stem, from 1 to 2 feet high; branches dichotomous, divaricate-spreading. Leaves from 1/2 to 1 inch in length, about one-fourth as wide, opposite, oblong, somewhat falciform, serrated, oblique or heart-shaped at base, often curved, 3 to 5-ribbed underneath, on very short petioles, often marked with purple oblong dots and blotches. Flowers small, white, numerous, disposed in terminal and axillary corymbs. Fruit mostly rather hairy; seeds 4-angled, obscurely wrinkled transversely" (W.—G.).
History and Chemical Composition.—Euphorbia hypericifolia is an indigenous plant, growing in rich soil in waste and cultivated places, as old cornfields, but seldom in woods, and flowering from July to September. The whole plant is used, and yields its properties to water or alcohol; the leaves have a sweetish taste, succeeded by a sensation of harshness and roughness. The plant contains caoutchouc, resin, tannin, gallic acid, etc. (Wm. Zollickoffer, 1833). No further analysis or chemical examination seems to have been made. Dr. H. L. True brought this drug forward in the Eclectic Medical Journal, 1874, since which time numerous articles have appeared in various medical journals, and at present the plant is in regular use among Eclectic physicians, having obtained a reputation in the treatment of bowel disorders.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Garden spurge acts principally upon the digestive tract and the sympathetic nervous system. Dr. True, its introducer, proved the remedy upon himself, using an infusion of leaves and tops (℥ss to water Oj). He took 1 1/2 pints of the infusion at one dose. Shortly afterward, he experienced a fullness in the frontal and parietal regions, followed by a headache similar to that produced by macrotys, but less severe. The pain then centered at the top of the head and a characteristic heat was felt over the eyes. The mind could not be fixed upon anything but the headache. There was no tinnitus nor vertigo, nor was sleep produced, though a feeling of drowsiness and languor superseded the active stage. The maximum effect of the drug was produced in about 2 hours and subsided in 3 1/2 hours. An unpleasant fullness with oppression at the epigastrium accompanied the head symptoms. The drug proved so constipating that he was obliged to take physic the following day. He concluded that in large doses it acted primarily as a cerebral stimulant, and secondarily as a sedative to the brain and sympathetic nervous system. In no sense could it be called a narcotic. Dr. True found this drug to be very efficient as an injection for gonorrhoea, using it in several cases, some of them chronic, with complete success. The principal use, however, for which the drug was brought out, was for gastro-intestinal disorders. It is one of the most certain remedies for cholera infantum, having been employed where ipecac proved useless. Typhilitis, muco-enteritis, dysentery, and irritant diarrhoea are also cured by it when its indications are present, which are gastric irritation, or irritation of any portion of the mucous lining of the intestines. It is usually employed with specific aconite. It has been found of service in menorrhagia and leucorrhoea, both from debility, and is recommended for infantile pneumonia and bronchitis. It is also valuable in summer complaints of adults. Excellent results have attended its employment in cholera morbus. Its most marked property is that of removing gastro-intestinal irritation. The dose of the strong infusion of the plant (℥ss to boiling water Oj, infused 1/2 hour) is, for a child, from 15 minims to 2 fluid drachms every hour; for an adult, from a teaspoonful to a tablespoonful every hour. Dose of specific spotted spurge, 1 to 10 drops in water every 1 or 2 hours.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Gastro-intestinal irritation; cholera infantum; muco-enteritis; dysentery; vertigo, with constipation; "diarrhoea, the discharges being greenish and irritant; frequent desire to go to stool, which relieves sometimes without any motion" (Scudder).
Related Species.—Euphorbia maculata, Linné, or Spotted spurge, is possessed of similar properties, and has been used with advantage in the same forms of disease, cholera morbus, diarrhoea, dysentery, etc. It is an annual plant, generally found growing with the E. hypericifolia, and possesses sensible properties analogous to those of this variety. It has a procumbent stem, spreading flat on the ground, much branched, and hairy; leaves opposite, oval or oblong, minutely serrulate toward the end, unequal at the base, slightly 3-ribbed, smooth above, hairy and pale beneath, oblique at base, on short petioles, often spotted with dark-purple, from 3 to 6 lines long, one-half as wide. Flowers white, solitary, axillary, much shorter than the leaves, appearing from July to October; female flowers naked. Filaments articulated; receptacle squamose; capsule 3-grained smooth, pubescent, or warty; seeds 4-angled, obscurely wrinkled transversely, about one-third smaller than the E. hypericifolia (W.—G.). Zollickoffer, in 1842, found resin, caoutchouc, and gallic and tannic acids in this species.
Euphorbia prostata, Aiton, Swallowwort, a plant growing in the southwestern portions of the United States and Mexico, is one of the many so-called specifics against the bite of the rattlesnake, and other poisonous reptiles, spiders, etc. It is known to the natives of Mexico as gollindrinera, The fresh juice of the plant is procured by bruising it in a mortar, and then adding water and expressing it; the dose is 3 or 4 fluid ounces, repeated every 1, 2, or 3 hours, or oftener, according to the urgency of the case; the bruised plant being at the same time applied to the wound. The plant grows in dry, hard, sandy soils, has long, thread-like, reddish stems, resembling somewhat the Coptis trifolia, and which become entangled with each other; leaves opposite, dark-green, obcordate, petaloid, from 1/3 to 1/2 inch long; flowers appear from April to November, are small, white, axillary, dark-purple at the orifice of the corolla tube; sepals 4; petals 4; root large, deep-brown. The whole plant contains an abundance of an odorless, insipid milky juice.
Euphorbia humistrata, Engelmann.—Mississippi valley. Resembles the preceding species.
Euphorbia chiliensis, of Chili.—Is employed as a drastic cathartic.
Euphorbia ocellata, Dur. and Hilg..Pacific states. Contains gallo-tannic acid and resin. Used to antidote snakebites.
Euphorbia lata, Engelmann.—United States. Cases of poisoning by seeds, reported near Philadelphia, by Harlan, producing serious gastro-intestinal disturbance, with excessive catharsis, followed by dilatation of pupils and stupor (Med. and Phys. Researches, p. 603).
Euphorbia Lathyris, Linné (Tithymalus Lathyris, Scopoli); Caper or Garden spurge.—A native of the south of Europe, but cultivated and somewhat naturalized in the United States, having been introduced into New Mexico and western Texas (Coulter). The seeds, which were formerly used. under the name of semen cataputiae minoris, yield an expressed oil which is purgative, and deposits a crystalline mass upon standing. O. Zander obtained 42 per cent of oil by extraction with carbon disulphide (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1878, P. 339). Aesculetin (C9H6O4), is also one of its constituents (R. Tawara, Chem. Ztg., 1889, p. 1706). Five seeds have been known to purge, and also to provoke emesis. It is said to act somewhat like croton oil. In doses of 5 to 10 drops the pure oil is said to act mildly, but is liable to assume dangerous acrid properties. When recent the oil is without odor, colorless, and practically tasteless. Cases of poisoning by the seeds have been reported (Bull. de Therap., Vol. CI, p. 541). The antidotes are opiates. The milky juice from this plant, collected in autumn, revealed under the microscope the presence of euphorbon, starch, and crystals of calcium malate (Henke, Archiv. der Pharm., 1886, p. 753).
Euphorbia eremocarpus.—Pacific states. Contains resin, an acid, and a volatile oil. Used to stupefy fish to facilitate their capture (Proc. Cal. Coll. Pharm., 1885).
Euphorbia Drummondii, Boissier.—Australia. This plant, according to Bailey and Gordon, is poisonous to sheep. It is also fatal to cattle. If eaten by them early in the morning, before the sun has dried the plant, the result is said to be nearly always fatal. Sheep will only eat it when grass is scarce. The head becomes enormously swollen, and the animal, being unable to support it, is forced to drag it over the ground. The ears also swell, and suppuration ensues. It is known to the natives as caustic creeper, milk plant, and pox plant. The Euphorbia alsinaeflora, Baillon, is likewise poisonous to sheep (Useful Native Plants of Australia, Maiden). Dr. J. Reid (Austral. Med. Gaz., No. 61), is said to have isolated a crystalline alkaloid devoid of color from E. Drummondii, and named it drummine. He ascribes to it anaesthetic properties, which property is considered by some as doubtful (see also Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 264). The entire subject of its chemistry needs verification.
Euphorbia heterodoxa, Mueller.—Brazil. This plant is known as Alveloz, Aveloz, and Arveloz. The juice is said to act somewhat like jequirity. When fresh it produces dermatitis, and destroys diseased tissue without producing marked pain. Spread upon a granulating sore, it produces a profusion of pus, and placed upon morbid growths destroys them, layer after layer, and induces granulation. The acrid principle seems to reside in a resin. It has been used with reputed success in the treatment of cancerous growths and syphilitic chancroids.
Euphorbia helioscopia, Linné.—Texas and other parts of the United States. The juice of this plant is said to remove warty growths.
Euphorbia marginata, Pursh; Snow-on-the-mountain.—Cultivated in gardens in the United States. Produces effects like those of poison-oak (Bot. Gaz., 1890, p. 276).
MANZANILLO.—A West Indian Euphorbiaceae, the juice of which is violently irritant, and when internally administered (20 drops), produced a fatal gastro-intestinal inflammation. It is diuretic, and in 2-drop doses is reputed actively purgative. The Cubans make use of it in tetanus.
Mercurialis annua (Nat. Ord.—Euphorbiaceae). Europe. Reichardt, in 1863, obtained from this herbaceous plant a volatile base, mercurealine, which he describes as an oily base, analogous to coniine, of strongly alkaline reaction, possessing a penetrating, narcotic odor, and resinifying when exposed to the air. It begins to distill it 140° C. (284° F.). E. Schmidt (1878), declares it identical in every respect with monomethylamine (CH3NH2), and to be associated in the plant with small amounts of trimethylamine. When boiled the plant is rendered nonacrid, and is used as a poultice. It was formerly regarded an important remedy in Europe, where it was variously lauded as a purgative, diuretic, emmenagogue, and antisyphilitic. A related European species, Mercurialis perennis, is likewise toxic.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.