The bark and berries of Lindera Benzoin, Meissner (Benzoin odoriferum, Nees; Laurus Benzoin, Linné).
COMMON NAMES: Spice-bush, Fever-bush, Wild allspice, Spicewood, Feverwood, Benjamin bush.
Botanical Source.—Spice-bush is an indigenous shrub growing from 5 to 12 feet in height, with obovate-lanceolate, veinless, entire deciduous leaves, green on each side, and slightly pubescent beneath. The flowers, which are yellow, in little naked umbels on the naked branches, often dioecious; the buds and pedicels are smooth; the fruit is the size of an olive, bright-red, borne in clusters, and contains an ovate, pointed nut. The calyx is 6-cleft, with oblong segments (NV.).
History.—This shrub grows in damp woods, along streams and shaded places, in the United States and Canada, bearing greenish-yellow flowers in March and April, before the leaves are unfolded, and maturing its fruit, which consists of bright, crimson-colored, ovoid berries, growing in small bunches, in the middle of autumn. The whole plant has a pleasant, aromatic taste, owing chiefly to a volatile oil, and yields its virtues to boiling water or alcohol. The dried berries were used during the American Revolution, and in the South during the late Rebellion, as a substitute for allspice.
Description.—BARK. Benzoin bark occurs in quills or thin, curved fragments, externally black-brown, somewhat shining and smooth, except where covered with small cork-like warts. In older specimens the corky warts are more conspicuous and the bark is more of an ashen color. Internally it is smooth, and yellow or light brown in color. Its fracture is abrupt and granular. It has a faint aromatic odor, and to the taste is sharp and astringent.
FRUIT.—The fruit is a long, red, ovate drupe, with a circular depression indicating the point of attachment of the pedicel. It contains 1 white seed, quite large, possessing an oleaginous taste. The integuments of the fruit become very dark—almost black—on drying, appearing granular, and have an agreeable odor and spice-like flavor.
Chemical Composition.—J. Morris Jones (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1873, p. 301), found in the bark a volatile oil, probably of the cinnamyl series, developing, on treatment with oxidizing substances, a bitter-almond odor. He also found sugar, resin, starch, and tannin. From the berries Dr. A. W. Miller (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1878, p. 772), obtained by warm expression and extraction with gasoline, 50 per cent of fatty and volatile oil of a greenish-brown color. By distilling this oil with steam, about 1 per cent of a pale-green, volatile oil was obtained, of a specific gravity of 0.850, and possessing a warm aromatic taste resembling that of allspice. Mr. P. M. Gleim (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1875, p. 246), obtained by the distillation of fresh berries the unusual yield of 5 per cent of a colorless, fragrant, volatile oil, having a density of 0.87.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Aromatic, tonic, and stimulant. An infusion or decoction has been successfully used in the treatment of ague and typhoid forms of fever; also as an anthelmintic. The berries afford a stimulant oil much esteemed as an application to bruises, chronic rheumatism, itch, etc., and has some reputation as a carminative in flatulence, flatulent colic, etc. The bark, in decoction, is said to be refrigerant and exhilarating, and exceedingly useful in all kinds of fever, for allaying excessive heat and uneasiness; a warm decoction is employed to produce diaphoresis. The decoction may be drank freely.
Related Species.—Lindera sericea, Blume. Japan. Tonic and stimulant. Source of the Japanese kuromoji oil, an essential oil distilled from the leaves and young twigs, and having considerable fragrance (see Schimmel & Co.'s Report, April, 1897; also see analysis by NY. Kwasnik, Archiv der Pharm., 1892, p. 265).
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.