Related entry: Delphinium
"The ripe seeds of Delphinium Staphisagria Linné (Fam. Ranunculaceae), without the presence or admixture of more than 2 per cent. of foreign vegetable matter." U. S. "Stavesacre Seeds are the dried ripe seeds of Delphinium Staphisagria, Linn." Br.
Staphisagriae Semina, Br.; Semen Staphisagriae, Staphidiagriae or Pedicularis; Stavesacre Seeds; Staphisaigre, Fr. Cod.; Stephanskörner, Lausekörner, G; Stafisagria, It.
Delphinium Staphisagria L., or stavesacre, is a handsome, annual or biennial plant, one or two feet high, with a simple, erect, downy stem, and palmate, five- or seven-lobed leaves, supported on hairy petioles. The flowers are bluish or purple, in terminal racemes, with pedicels twice as long as the flower, and bracteoles inserted at the base of the pedicel. The sepals are five in number, irregular, petal-like, the upper one being spurred at the base. The petals are four, irregular, the two upper having long spurs which are inclosed in the spur of the calyx, the two lower having short claws. The pistils form a many seeded pod or capsule in fruit.
The plant is a native of the south of Europe. E. M. Holmes calls attention to the remarkable fact that the plant in the English botanic gardens hitherto considered to be Delphinium Staphisagria is in reality another species, i.e., Delphinium pictum Willd.. The author accounts for the absence of the true plant in botanic gardens partly by the fact that it is only half-hardy in Great Britain, while D. pictum is hardy, and partly by the reason that the illustrations in several works on medicinal plants—even in Bentley and Trimen's "Medicinal Plants"—are incorrect or unreliable. The two species are distinguished as follows: D. Staphisagria has very hairy stems, glandular hairs being mixed with' the long spreading soft hairs; flowers that when well-developed have an ultramarine blue tint; a calyx with very short or almost obsolete spur; carpels containing only four or five seeds. D. pictum Willd., has shorter soft hairs, but no glandular hairs on the stems; the flowers are of a pale lilac color; the spur is as long as the calyx segments; each carpel contains ten or twelve seeds, and these are only half the size of those of D. Staphisagria. The true D. Staphisagria extends from Teneriffe around both the northern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean to Asia Minor. It is quite possible, therefore, that varieties having blossoms of different tints may occur. The evidence obtainable, however, goes to show that the form of the plant from which the seed of commerce is obtained has clear blue flowers. (Y. B. P., 1899, 390.) For description of other species of this genus, see Delphinium.
Properties.—The seeds of stavesacre are officially described as "irregularly triangular, flattened, or somewhat tetrahedral, one side being-convex, from 4 to 7 mm. in length and from 3 to 6 mm. in breadth; externally dark brown, becoming lighter with age, and coarsely reticulate; easily cut, showing- a somewhat light brown, oily endosperm, enclosing a small embryo at the pointed end; odor slight, disagreeable; taste intensely bitter and acrid. Under the microscope, transverse sections of Staphisagria show an outer layer of nearly tabular, thick-walled, non-lignified cells, some being extended centrifugally, and forming the reticulations of the seed-coat; 2 or 3 rows of parenchyma cells with more or less irregular thin walls; a thin layer of very small, thick-walled cells with numerous, lattice-like or reticulate pores; endosperm large, composed of polygonal cells enclosing small aleurone grains and fixed oil, the latter forming in large globules on the addition of hydrated chloral T.S." U. S.
"Irregularly triangular or obscurely quadrangular, arched, blackish-brown when fresh, but becoming dull greyish-brown on keeping. Surface wrinkled and deeply pitted; kernel soft, whitish, oily. No marked odor; taste nauseous, bitter and acrid." Br.
The seeds of the field larkspur (D. Consolida L.. and of D. Ajacis L. are being largely used in place of the official staphisagria; in fact, they are recognized in the National Formulary. These are readily distinguished, being about 2 mm. in length and- of a black or blackish-brown color.
The virtues of staphisagria are extracted by water and alcohol. Analyzed by Lassaigne and Feneulle it yielded a brown and a yellow bitter principle, a volatile oil, about 30 per cent. of a fixed oil, albumen, a nitrogenous substance, a mucilaginous saccharine matter, mineral salts, and a peculiar alkaloid called delphinine, which exists in the seeds combined with an excess of malic acid. Marquis, in Dragendorff's laboratory in 1877, isolated the following four alkaloids: delphinine, C22H35O6N, a crystallizable alkaloid, of bitter taste, weak alkaline reaction, soluble in alcohol, ether, and chloroform; delphinoidine, C42H68O7N2, amorphous, soluble in ether, alcohol, chloroform, reaction strongly alkaline, fusing point from 110° to 120° C. (230°-248° F.); delphisine, C27H46O4N2, crystallizing in warty aggregations, soluble in ether, alcohol, and chloroform; staphisagrine, C22H33O5., only obtained amorphous, difficultly soluble in water and ether, easily soluble in alcohol and chloroform, of bitter taste, fusing point 90° C. (194° F.), of alkaline reaction in alcoholic solution. If delphinine be rubbed up with an equal quantity of malic acid, and some drops of concentrated sulphuric acid added, there will be produced an orange-red color passing into rose, growing deeper after some hours, and finally changing from the edges to violet, and at last becoming cobalt blue. (Tattersall, Chem. News, 41.) It is stated that no other alkaloid and no other organic acid, except malic, affords this reaction. (Pflanzenstoffe, 2d ed., 1884, 617.) The total amount of alkaloids is about 1 per cent. According to Charalampi Kara-Stojanow (In. Dis., Dorpat, 1890), delphinine and delphisine have the same composition, C31H49O7N, crystallize from their solutions in ether and petroleum benzin in identical forms, and have their melting points at 189° and 191° C. (372.2° and 375.8° F.), while delphinoidine has the formula C25H12O4N. Ahrens (Ap. Ztg., 1899, 361) obtained from the residue of the seeds of D. staphisagria, from which delphinine, delphinoidine, delphisine and staphisagrine had been extracted, the alkaloid staphisagroine (Ber. d. Chem. Ges., 1899, 1581). For Katz's process for extracting delphinine, see Ph. Ztg., 1900, 735.
Uses.—The seeds were formerly used as an emetic and cathartic, but have been abandoned in consequence of their violence. A strong tincture has been employed as an embrocation in rheumatism. The ointment is used to destroy lice and the itch-mite. Staphisagria should never be used internally, and when it is applied externally, care should be exercised not to put it on an abraded surface, but only upon the unbroken epidermis. In some countries the seeds are used like Cocculus Indicus to intoxicate fish.
When given in poisonous doses to the lower animals, delphinine produces excessive salivation, followed by violent and repeated vomiting, great disturbance of respiration, failure of heart action, gradual enfeeblement of voluntary motion and of sensation, and a peculiar fibrillary spasm of the muscles of the abdomen, which is said to be characteristic of the poisoning. Elevation of temperature and glycosuria have both been noticed; death is said to occur always from failure of respiration, though the heart is greatly enfeebled and finally ceases in diastole. According to Gauthier, the period of depression of the heart and of sensibility is preceded by one of excitement. The pupils are dilated and the motor nerve finally paralyzed. (L. M. R., Oct., 1887.) Turnbull, in his work On the Medical Properties of the Ranunculaceae states that pure delphinine may be given to the extent of three or four grains a day, in doses of half a grain each, without exciting vomiting, and without producing much intestinal irritation, though it sometimes purges. In most instances it proves diuretic, and gives rise to sensations of heat and tingling in various parts of the body. Externally, it acts like veratrine, but, according to Turnbull, produces more redness and burning and less tingling than that substance. He has employed it in neuralgia, rheumatism and paralysis. It may be applied by friction, in the form of ointment or alcoholic solution, in proportions varying from ten to thirty grains of the alkaloid to an ounce of the vehicle, and the friction should be continued till a pungent sensation is produced. Turnbull probably had an impure alkaloid; the doses just mentioned would not be safe with a pure delphinine.
Staphisagrine is said to act like delphinine, except that it does not depress the heart so much or produce fibrillary contractions. Although cases of human poisoning's have occurred with staphisagria, we know of none in which the result has been fatal. The symptoms are similar to those produced in the lower animals. Robert states that the alkaloids of staphisagria all resemble aconitine in their action, but that delphinoidine has some narcotic action.
The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.