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On Prickly-Ash Berries.

Selected writings of John King:

Prickly ash was a favorite medicine with Professor King and the earlier Eclectics, and one which has suffered unmerited neglect in our own time. The uses here given by Dr. King were those of his personal experience and the added experience of those who passed through the great cholera scourges of the nineteenth century. We hope the reading of this paper will renew an interest in this valuable stimulant, alterative, and mucous membrane remedy.—Ed. Gleaner.

ON PRICKLY-ASH BERRIES.—Prickly-ash berries are stimulant, carminative, and anti-spasmodic, and exert a very persistent stimulating influence on mucous tissues. They likewise contain an oil, which is very fragrant, somewhat resembling the oil of lemons in odor, and the properties of which appear to be in many respects quite different from those of the oil obtained from the bark; this oil is the oil of xanthoxylum of the shops. The saturated tincture of prickly-ash berries is a very valuable medicinal agent, and it is to this preparation more particularly that I desire to call the attention of the profession.

I have used this tincture for some years past, and had the pleasure of introducing it to the profession in this city during the year 1849, both in the treatment of tympanitic distension of the bowels during peritoneal inflammation and in Asiatic cholera. In tympanites it may be administered by mouth and by injection; internally, from half a fluidrachm to a fluidrachm may be given in a little sweetened water, repeating the dose every half hour or hour; at the same time half a fluid ounce may be added to the same quantity of waiter and used as an injection, repeating it every fifteen or thirty minutes, according to its influence and the severity of the symptoms; and should there be pain, ten or twenty drops of laudanum may be added to every third or fourth injection. The action is usually prompt and permanent, and, as far as my experience with the agent has gone, I prefer it in a majority of cases to oil of turpentine and other remedies advised in this condition.

In Asiatic cholera, during 1849-50, it was much employed by our physicians in Cincinnati, and with great success—it acted like electricity, so sudden and diffusive was its influence over the system. In this disease the tincture was given in teaspoonful doses, and repeated, according to the circumstances, every five, ten, or twenty minutes, at the same time administering an injection, prepared as above, after each discharge from the bowels, and causing it to be retained by the patient as long as possible.

In the summer complaint of children I consider it one of our best and most effectual agents, and whatever may be the remedial means prescribed, the tincture of prickly-ash berries forms an important part of them; it stimulates the lining mucous membrane of the alimentary canal, which is in a debilitated condition, permanently imparting to it tone and vigor. It should be used both by mouth and as an injection. A very pleasant preparation, after having first acted upon the bowels by the compound syrup of rhubarb and potassa, is made as follows: Rx. Rhubarb, Colombo, Cinnamon, of each, one drachm; Prickly-ash berries, three drachms; good brandy, half pint. Add the articles, bruised, to the brandy, and let them stand for several days, frequently agitating. The dose for a child two years old is a teaspoonful, which may be repeated three or four times a day, administering it in some sweetened water; attention must of course be paid to the character of the child's diet.

In diarrhoea it will form a valuable addition to the compound syrup of rhubarb and potassa in the proportion of one part of the tincture to three parts of the syrup, and it is rarely indeed that I omit its use in this disease. Children laboring under diarrhoea or cholera infant are frequently attacked with a very painful tympanitic distention of the abdomen, often occasioning them to utter from time to time the most piercing screams; this condition obstinately resists the means usually employed for its removal, and generally terminates in the death of the child. In this difficulty I add together equal parts of olive oil and the tincture of prickly-ash berries, and having this rubbed over the abdomen whenever it becomes dry, I order the nurse or attendant to pass her hand, slowly and lightly at first, upon the swelled abdomen, in a downward direction from the pit of the stomach, and never upward, gradually increasing the pressure of the hand, as the child can bear it. This slow friction will, in the course of fifteen or twenty minutes, so far relieve the child as to cause him to be still and cease his moans, and should the operation be stopped, he will, by crying or in some other way, solicit its continuance; the friction will require to be continued for one or two hours, or until the bowels have become soft and yielding, and all tension removed. While it is going on it will be found that the child will pass off a great quantity of gas, the accumulation of which, undoubtedly, produces the difficulty. After the removal of the flatulent tympanites, there will frequently be a tendency to its return, which may be overcome by using the tincture of prickly-ash berries in injection, four or five times a day, and likewise administering it by mouth, in doses suited to the age of the child and his susceptibility to its influence.

But it is in typhus fever, and typhoid conditions generally, to which I would more especially call the attention of the practitioner. In typhus fever, typhoid pneumonia, and the prostrating or typhoid conditions of several febrile affections, stimulants are indicated, and those more commonly administered are carbonate of ammonia, ale, porter, wine, brandy, etc.; but without wishing to detract from the value and utility of these, I am compelled to say that I consider the tincture of prickly-ash berries superior to them all. Those who have never used it in these conditions will be astonished to observe the promptness with which it acts, and the permanency of its stimulation; this can not be owing to the alcohol contained in it, for double the quantity of alcohol will produce no effects in the least approaching those following the administration of this tincture. I have known cases of typhoid pneumonia in which the patients were so low that all prospect of recovery was despaired of, to be so immediately benefited that the patients, who a few minutes before were unable to notice anything around them, would reply to questions, and manifest considerable attention, and ultimately recover. It must be employed in these cases both by injection and by mouth; the quantity for each should be according to the age of the patient, and the intervals of repetition will depend upon the influence it exerts, exhibiting it at longer intervals when it is prompt in its action, and oftener when the reverse is the case. As an injection it may be added to an equal quantity of water, gruel, beef-tea, wine, ale, or even brandy; the quantity for an adult is a tablespoonful of the tincture to a tablespoonful of the selected fluid, and this should be retained in the bowels as long as possible, repeating the injection, as recommended above. Internally, an adult may take a teaspoonful every five, ten, or twenty minutes, or every hour or two, depending upon the urgency of the symptoms, and it may be administered in ale, porter, wine, or brandy, when the patient is very low; in beef-tea, or mutton-tea, when nutriment is desired; in fluid extract of scullcap, or of valerian, etc., when nervous or spasmodic symptoms are present; and in tincture of lupulin, tincture of lactucarium, laudanum, etc., in cases of excessive wakefulness, where stimulation is not contra-indicated.

In recent piles, or where there is no great amount of inflammation present, and in piles during pregnancy, two parts of the oil of fireweed (Erechtites hieracifolius., mixed with one of the oil of prickly-ash berries, will be found very valuable. The parts may be anointed with the mixture several times a day, or, if the tumor protrudes, a piece of cotton may be dipped in the preparation and applied.

I have likewise found the tincture useful in some old, obstinate ophthalmic affections, as a local application, and likewise in some diseases of the mouth and throat, etc., of which I may speak on another occasion, having already exceeded the limits I had placed upon this communication. I trust I have said sufficient to interest our practitioners at least to give the article a fair trial in the diseases above named; and should any further discoveries of the value of the remedy be made, I should be pleased to have them published in the columns of this journal.—J. KING, College Journal of Medical Sciences, 1856.


The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.



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