"The fruit of Prunus domestica, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAMES: Prune tree, Plum tree.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 96.
Botanical Source, History, and Description.—This tree is about 20 feet in height, thornless, and has serrate, oval-elliptic leaves, and pedunculated, whitish flowers, appearing singly or paired. A great number of varieties have been produced so that the fruits differ in size, shape, and color. Its native country is western Asia, but it is now cultivated in most temperate countries.
The dried or prepared fruit is the only official part, and furnishes the prunes of commerce. The best prunes come from Bordeaux; an inferior grade is received from Germany. California prunes are of superior quality. Prunes are prepared in warm countries by placing them on hurdles and drying them by solar heat; in colder climates, artificial beat is employed. They have a faint, peculiar odor, and a sweetish, slightly acidulous, and viscid taste. The official prunes are "oblong or subglobular, about 3 Cm. (1 1/5 inches) long, shrivelled, blackish-blue, glaucous; the sarcocarp brownish-yellow, sweet, and acidulous; putamen hard, smooth, or irregularly ridged; the seeds almond-like in shape, but smaller, and of a bitter-almond taste"—(U. S. P.).
Chemical Composition.—The fresh fruits contain about 80 or 85 per cent of water. Dried prunes, analyzed by Bertram (Jahresb. der Pharm., 1878, p. 184), had the following composition : Kernels, 13.7; pulp, 86.3 per cent. The latter contained water (30.03), albumen (1.31), crude fiber (1.34), ash (1.18), nitrogen-free extractive matter (52.44); the latter consisting of grape sugar (42.28), cane sugar (0.22), starch (0.22), free acid (1.74), pectin matter (4.22), undetermined substance (3.76). The acid occurring in prunes, according to Scheele and later observers, is malic acid. The crushed seeds yield upon maceration and subsequent distillation with water, an essential oil containing hydrocyanic acid; this is due to the presence of amygdalin (about 1 per cent) and the ferment, emulsin, in the seeds (see Amygdala). They also contain a brown-yellow, non-drying, fixed oil. Gum sometimes exudes from the ripe fruits.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—In Germany, a sort of brandy is made from this fruit. Dried prunes are mildly laxative, and are frequently employed in decoction, or the fruit eaten stewed, in convalescence from acute diseases, forming a nourishing and agreeable diet. They are often added to cathartic decoctions, to improve the flavor, and promote the purgative effect. They enter into the composition of the confection of senna. In large quantities, and with some dyspeptics, they are apt to disorder the bowels. Ɣ The following preparation has been administered with much success in leucorrhoea, irregular menstruation, and in debility from frequent abortions: Take of small raisins, or dried currants, 2 ounces, anise-seed, mace, and cinnamon, of each, 1/2 ounce; and 1 nutmeg, in powder. To these add 1 quart of prune brandy, and let them macerate for 2 weeks, frequently agitating. This is the formula as originally given. Of the clear tincture thus made, 1 fluid ounce may be given previous to a meal, and repeated 3 times daily.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.