"The entire plant, Swertia Chirata, Hamilton"—(U. S. P.). (Ophelia Chirata, Grisebach; Agathotes Chirayta, Don; Gentiana Chirayta, Roxburgh.
COMMON NAMES: Chirata, Chiretta (U. S. P., 1870), Chirayta.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 183.
Botanical Source.—Chirata is an annual with a branched root, and a smooth, erect stem, about 2 or 3 feet high, the middle and lower portion being round, the upper 4-angled, with a prominent decurrent line at each angle. The branches form panicles, the leaves being lanceolate, or ovate-acuminate, and cordate at the base, smooth, entire, acute, sessile, clasping, and marked with 3, 5, or 7 nerves. The flowers are yellow, rotate, 4-parted, numerous, and peduncled. The stamens are 4, the style single, and the stigma 2-lobed. The fruit is a many-seeded capsule.
History and Description.—This annual plant is a native of North India, growing in the mountainous districts, and has been held in considerable esteem as a medicine by the Hindus. The whole plant is gathered about the flowering period, or just as the capsules have fully formed (Pharmacographia). The whole plant, including the flowers, is very bitter, with the exception of the woody portions of the stouter stems. The U. S. P. thus describes the medicinal article: "Root nearly simple, about 7 Cm. (2 3/4 inches) long; stem branched, nearly 1 meter (about 40 inches) long, slightly quadrangular above; containing a narrow wood-circle and a large, yellowish pith. Leaves opposite, sessile, ovate, entire, 5-nerved. Flowers numerous, small, with a 4-lobed calyx and corolla. The whole plant smooth, pale-brown, inodorous, and intensely bitter"—(U. S. P.).
Chemical Composition.—The ash of chirata yields carbonates and phosphates of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Tannin is almost entirely absent. A crystalline, yellow, waxy body in small amount, as well as the ordinary plant constituents, abound. Two bitter principles occur, discovered by Höhn in 1869. These bodies are ophelic acid (C13H20O10), and chiratin (C26H48O15), the former being in largest amount. Ophelic acid is a hygroscopic, non-crystalline, yellow, viscid body, having an odor faintly suggestive of gentian, and an acidulous, bitter taste which is persistent. Water, ether, and alcohol dissolve it. Basic lead acetate precipitates it yellow. Chiratin forms an insoluble compound with tannic acid (ophelic acid does not), and may be removed by means of that acid. It is a pale-yellow, indistinctly crystalline powder. Alcohol, ether, and warm water dissolve it, and yet, though hygroscopic, it is not readily soluble in cold water. Its taste is extremely bitter, and its behavior to litmus neutral. Boiled with hydrochloric acid it splits into ophelic acid, water, and chiratogenin (C13H24O3), a bitter, amorphous, brown body, not soluble In water, but freely so in alcohol. It is unaffected by tannin.
Substitutes and Adulterants.—Several species of Ophelia and related plants go by the name of chirata in India. These are designated by the natives as bill (puharee) chirata, sweet (meetha) chirata, purple (ooda) chirata, and southern (dukhunee) chirata. Chota chiretta, or small chiretta is the product of Slevogtia orientalis, Grisebach. The species of Ophelia referred to above are the O. angustifolia, Don (less bitter than chirata); O. elegans, Wight; O. densifolia, Grisebach; O. multiflora, Dalz; O. pulchella, Don. These all possess, more or less, the bitter tonic virtues of chirata. Besides these are included Andrographis paniculata, Wallich, and a few species of Exacum (Pharmacographia).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—This drug possesses the tonic properties of gentian and similar bitters. It is valued in Hindustan, where it is much employed in urinary complaints with uneasiness in the region of the kidneys, frequent urging to urinate, which is accomplished with difficulty, and in cases of uric acid deposits. It is a remedy also for convalescence from exhausting sickness, and for atonic and nervous forms of dyspepsia. Dose of chirata, 10 to 20 grains; fluid extract, 10 to 20 minims; infusion (℥ss to boiling water Oj), fl℥i to fl℥ii, 3 times a day.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.