Botanical Source.—This is an annual glaucous plant, with a sub-erect, much-branched, spreading, leafy, angular stem, growing from 10 to 15 inches high. The leaves are mostly alternate, bipinnate, or tripinnate; the leaflets are wedge-shaped, cut into flat, lanceolate segments. The flowers are small, flesh-colored, tipped with crimson, nodding, the pedicles becoming erect in fruit. The racemes are opposite to the leaves, stalked, erect, many-flowered, and rather lax. The bracts are lanceolate, acute, and not half the length of the pedicles, especially when in fruit. Petals 4, unequal, one of them with a short, rounded spur at the base. The calyx is colored, toothed, and deciduous. The fruit or nut is ovoid or globose, indehiscent, emarginate, 1-seeded, and valveless, and the seed crestless (W.—G.).
History and Description.—This plant is found growing in cultivated soils in Europe and this country, bearing red flowers in June and July. The leaves, which are generally used, have no odor, but a bitterish taste, and, when fresh, furnish a large quantity of an aqueous, bitter, and inodorous juice, which possesses their therapeutical properties, and which is soluble in water, wine, or alcohol.
Chemical Composition.—The most prominent constituents of fumitory are an alkaloid fumarine, fumaric acid, and considerable amounts of inorganic matter, especially potassium salts. Upon incineration, Fumaria officinalis leaves about 8 per cent of potassium carbonate (Husemann and Hilger, Pflanzenstoffe, 1884). Fumarine was probably first obtained by Peschier, in 1829, and later investigated by Hannon (1852), Preuss (1866), and others. It forms colorless, monoclinic prisms, bitter in solution, soluble in alcohol, amyl alcohol, chloroform, benzene, and carbon disulphide, little soluble in water, insoluble in ether. It is closely related to the corydaline of Adermann (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 396). According to Reichwald (Jahresb. der Pharm., 1889, p. 406), it has the formula C21H19NO4. More recently Battandier observed its occurrence in a papaveraceous plant, Glaucium corniculatum, var. phoeniceum, and a variety of other plants (Ibid., 1892, p. 139). Fumaric acid (C2H2[COOH]2=C4H4O4), occurs in a number of different plants, e. g., in Iceland moss, and was first isolated from fumitory, in 1833, by Winckler. Fumaric acid is obtained by heating malic acid (C4H6O5. with water acidulated with sulphuric acid, to 180° C. (356° F.), whereby 1 molecule of water is split off. It occurs in colorless prisms or stellate scales, is somewhat soluble in cold, more soluble in hot water, to which it imparts an acid reaction; is also soluble in alcohol and ether, and forms salts with bases mostly soluble in water, but all of which are insoluble in absolute alcohol (Husemann and Hilger).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—It is a weak tonic, very much used in cutaneous diseases, in jaundice, obstructions of the abdominal viscera, scurvy, and in cases of debility of the digestive organs (E. and V.). It is also slightly diaphoretic and aperient. Dose of the infusion, a wineglassful every 2 or 3 hours; of the expressed juice, 1/2 wineglassful, 2 or 3 times a day. Two ounces of the tops and flowers infused in 3 pints of Madeira wine, and taken twice a day in doses of from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, will strengthen the stomach and improve the appetite.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.