Botanical Source, History, and Chemical Composition.—An evergreen shrub, or tree, with odd-pinnate, smooth leaves, the leaflets of which are in pairs of 3 to 5. The leaflets are ovate in outline, about an inch long, either obtuse or pointed, pale-green below, and glossy and deep-green on the upper surface. The flowers are blue, sometimes tinted with white, have 10 stamens, small campanulate calices, are very fragrant, and borne in close racemes. The fruit is a nearly round, indehiscent pod, 2 or 3 inches long, tough, slightly constricted, at intervals separated by the seeds, and coated with a pubescence of a light brown-gray color. The subglobular seeds are of a red color, are depressed at the hilum, and less than 1/2 inch in length. Sophora speciosa grows in Texas, and yields a bean which, it is said, is sometimes employed as a medicine by the Indians of southwestern Texas, producing delirious exhilaration and subsequent sleep of 2 or 3 days. Not more than 1/2 bean is taken, it being asserted that an entire bean will kill a man. Dr. H. C. Wood (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1877, p. 617, and 1878, p. 283) prepared, from specimens of the bean, an alkaloid, soluble in ether and diluted acids, and named it sophorine. Prof. Plugge (Archiv der Pharm., 1891, p. 563) believes it to be identical with the alkaloid cytisine (see Laburnum). (A complete quantitative analysis of the seeds, with description and illustration of the plant, is given by M. Kalteyer and W. E. Neil, in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1886, p. 465.)
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Of the alkaloid, sophorine, a mere speck paralyzed a frog, and 1/20 grain caused a cat to sleep many hours. From an overdose, death followed in a few hours. Its action is similar to that of the calabar bean. It appears to be a spinal sedative, and occasions death through the respiration. This remedy deserves investigation. According to Dr. Scudder, "it may be employed as a stimulant to the cerebro-spinal centers, when there is a defect of reflex action, imperfect respiration, and threatened paralysis. It also relieves the excited innervation from atony, and thus gives rest and sleep" (Spec. Med., p. 247) (not found in the version I have online -Henriette). A tincture of the seeds, with 98 per cent alcohol, is suggested, 5 drops of which may be added to 4 fluid ounces of water, the dose of the dilution being a tablespoonful.
Related Species.—Sophora japonica, Linné. This is a fine tree, a native of China or Japan. The flowers, under the name Wai-fa or Wai-hwa, are used in those countries for dyeing silk a yellow color, and to produce a beautiful green, when mixed with a proper proportion of blue. All parts of the tree are purgative, and persons who prune it, as well as workmen who are engaged in turning the dry wood, are affected by it. Foerster (1882) obtained from it the yellow glucosid, sophorine, which splits into sophoretin and isodulcite when treated with diluted sulphuric acid (also see R. Wachs, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1894, p. 35).
Sophora sericea, Nuttall.—Nebraska to California. The seeds and root of this small herb yielded F. A. Wentz ( United States Agricultural Report, 1879) an impure liquid alkaloid, thought to be identical with sophorine.
Sophora tomentosa yielded Greshoff (Pharm. Jour. Trans., Vol. XII) a fluid alkaloid, which Prof. Plugge (1891; see Sophora speciosa) regarded identical with cytisine.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.