Tribe IV. Hordeaceae.
Sex. Syst. Triandria, Digynia.
Synonymes.—Aτρα, Dios. lib. ii. cap. 122; Galen, de simpl. med. fac. lib. vi. § 10, and de aliment, facult. lib. i. cap. 37; Paulus Aeg. lib. vii. sect iii.; Lolium, Pliny, Hist. Nat. lib. xxii. cap. 79; Lolium infelix, Virgil, Georg. i. 153.
History.—This grass was used medicinally by the ancient Greeks and Romans, though it is somewhat remarkable that it is mentioned neither by Hippocrates nor Celsus.
Botany. Gen. Char.—Spikes many-flowered, distichous, sessile, contrary to the rachis. Flowers beardless at the base. Glumes 2, nearly equal, herbaceous, lanceolate, channelled, awnless; the lower or inner ones very often deficient in the lateral spikelets. Paleae 2, herbaceous; the lower concave, awnless, or awned below the point; the upper bicarinate. Stamens 3. Ovary smooth; styles 2, very short, inserted below the point; stigmas feathery, with long, simple, finely-toothed, transparent hairs; scales 2, fleshy, smooth, acute, entire or two-lobed. Caryopsis smooth, adhering to the upper paleae (Kunth).
Sp. Char.—Spikelets about 6-flowered, equalling or shorter than the glume. Outer paleae as long as its awn.—Root without barren shoots. Stem erect, 2 feet high, smooth and shining below, rough upwards. Ligule short. Inner glume usually present, often bifid.
Loluim temulentum, β. arvense, (Babington, Brit. Bot.) is a variety of the above. It is usually smaller and smoother; its spikelets 4- or 5-flowered; its awns either absent or at most short, lax, and weak.
Europe (indigenous), Japan, New Holland, Chili, Monte Video.—Annual.—Fl. July.
Description.—The grain (caryopsis) enclosed in the husk is ovato-oblong, on one side flattened and furrowed—on the other convex, grayish brown; odourless, with a sweetish-bitterish, not disagreeable, taste, It yields a darkish meal or farina (called aerina by Pliny) [Hist. Nat. lib. xxii. cap. 58].
Composition.—In 1827, Bizio [Dierbach, Die neuest. Entd. in.d. Mat. Med. Bd. iii. S. 1139, 1817.] examined darnel, and discovered in the seeds two peculiar substances, which he called respectively glojalico and lalico; the latter he stated possessed a narcotic power similar to that of opium. In 1837, Muratori [Buchner's Report. für die Pharmacie, 2te Reihe, Bd. xii. S. 181, 1838.] analyzed darnel seeds, and ascribed their poisonous properties to a peculiar acid. In 1834,Bley [Ibid., Bd. xlviii. S. 169, 1834.] examined them, and obtained the following substances: Traces of volatile oil, chlorophylle 7.5, soft resin 3.5, bitter extractive with chlorides and sulphates 6.0, gum with chloride of calcium 6.0, sugar 0.7, albumen 0.65, extractive with malate of lime 1.55, gum with sulphate and muriate of potash 2.5, gum with malate of potash 3.0, starch 29.9, artificial gum and coagulated albumen 2.9, gluten 0.8, vegetable fibre 11.0, moisture 20.0 [loss 0.4 ?]. Bley concluded that the poisonous principle of darnel was extractable from the seeds by water. Subsequently [Ibid., 2te Reihe, Bd. xii. S. 175, 1838.], he procured from the watery extract of darnel seeds a peculiar substance, which he called loliin. 1000 grains of the seeds yielded him 294 grains of starch.
Loliin is a foliated or pulverulent dirty white substance, soluble in hot and cold water, and in hot alcohol. Its aqueous solution reddened litmus paper feebly. A tenth of a grain of loliin caused an acrid sensation in the throat, followed by an affection of the head and weakness of the whole body, which effects continued only for a short time.
Chemical Characteristics.—According to Ruspini [Journ. de Pharm. et de Chimie, 3me Sér. t. v. p. 297, 1844.], the presence of grains of Lolium temulentum in wheat-flour may be detected by digesting the suspected farina in rectified spirit. If the Lolium be present, the spirit immediately acquires a characteristic green tint, which gradually deepens; and the taste of the tincture is astringent, and so disagreeable that it may even excite vomiting. By evaporation it yields a green resin. But I have not succeeded in obtaining these results. By digesting bruised and coarsely powdered grains of Lolium temulentum in rectified spirit, the liquid had acquired in forty eight hours a pale yellow colour and scarcely any flavour, and yielded, by spontaneous evaporation, a minute portion of yellowish residue with a saline taste.
Physiological Effects. α. On Animals.—The effects of bearded darnel on animals have been examined by Seeger, Burghard, Mariotti, and Hertwig; and the general results establish the poisonous action of the seeds of this grass. Vomiting was a general effect; followed by tremblings, convulsions, insensibility, and augmentation of urine and sweat [Wibmer, Die Wirk. d. Arzneim. u. Gifte, Bd. iii. S. 237, 1837.].
β On Man.—The ill effects of the seeds of bearded darnel on man were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The symptoms which they produce are twofold: those indicating gastro-intestinal irritation—such as vomiting and colic; and those which arise from disorder of the cerebro-spinal system—such as headache, giddiness, languor, ringing in the ears, confusion of sight, dilated pupil, delirium, heaviness, somnolency, trembling, convulsions, and paralysis. These seeds, therefore, appear to be acro-narcotic poisons. According to Seeger, one of the most certain signs of poisoning by them is trembling of the whole body. Both Burghard and Schober (quoted by Wibmer) mention death as having resulted from their use. In Cordier's cases their ill effects were directly ascertained by experiments made upon himself; but in most other cases they were the results of accidental poisoning. In general, they have arisen from the intermixture of bearded darnel seeds with other cereal grains. [See Christison On Poisons; and Wibmer, op. supra cit.] In a prison at Cologne, sixty persons suffered from the use of a bread-meal containing a drachm and a half of lolium temulentum, in six ounces of meal [Wibmer, p. 236.].
Regarded in a medicinal point of view, bearded darnel appears to possess sedative and anodyne properties. Fantoni [Annali universali di Medicina, Sept. 1843 (quoted by Dierbach).] and Giacomini consider it to be a direct hyposthenic (see vol. i. p. 134) depressing the cerebral circulation and acting like aconite.
Uses.—Darnel has been recently employed in headache, in rheumatic meningitis, and in sciatica. Fantoni used it with success in the case of a widow who, at the climacteric period, was affected with giddiness, headache, and epistaxis, which had resisted various other remedies. In a case of violent rheumatic meningitis, very great benefit was obtained by its use.
Administration.—The dose of powdered darnel is one or two grains every four or six hours in the form of powder or pill. It may also be employed in the form either of decoction or of extract. The extract is given to the extent of half a grain or a grain in the day.
Antidotes.—No specific chemical antidote is known. In the event, therefore, of a case of poisoning by darnel, our principal reliance must be on the use of evacuants and dynamical antidotes (see vol. i. p. 145). After the removal of the poison from the stomach and bowels, stimulants (such as ammonia, coffee, &c.) may be administered to relieve the depression.
The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1853.