BY MILTON S. FALCK, PH.G.
From an Inaugural Essay.
Description.—The rhizome is (25 mm.—15 cm.) 1 to 6 inches or more in length, and from (5—25 mm.) 1/5 to 1 inch in thickness, horizontal, rather hard, after drying brownish-black externally, yellowish-white internally, with stout upright or curved branches. These branches are annulated and slightly wrinkled, and are marked above by cup-shaped scars left by the decay of the overground stems of previous years. Attached to the lower side of the rhizomes are numerous brittle, irregularly rounded, wiry rootlets, about (3 mm.) 1/8 inch thick, or less, of a blackish-brown color externally, white internally, and longitudinally wrinkled. The drug has a rather heavy disagreeable odor when fresh, but is nearly inodorous when dried. The taste (at first mucilaginous) becomes persistently bitter and acrid. The drug when dry and old has these qualities less evident, which point to the fact that it is less active than when recently dried, or when in a fresh state, and this is fully carried out by the more satisfactory results obtained by the administration of the latter as remedial agents. It should be collected in the latter part of August and early part of September, as at this time of the year the drug is most fully developed. The odor and taste of the rootlets resemble that of the rhizome. As met with in commerce, the rootlets and often the rhizomes are much broken, and quite frequently the former are alltogether wanting.
Histology.—The rhizome breaks with a smooth fracture, and exhibits upon a transverse section a large central pith made up of about twenty-one rows of colorless, thin-walled, parenchymatous cells. Surrounding this central cell-structure is a circle of wood-tissue, about as wide as the pith, consisting of flattened prosenchymatous cells smaller than the cells of the pith and circularly arranged in more or less distinctly wedge-shaped masses, and, of large thicker walled cells, which upon examining a longitudinal section proved to be pitted ducts. The woody-tissue has about thirty to forty medullary rays radiating through it from the pith to the bark. These rays are made up of ten to twelve rows of elongated parenchymatous cells and two to three rows of pitted ducts. The pleurenchymatous tissue is separated from the prosenchymatous tissue of the bark by a cambium layer made up of a single row of rectangular-shaped cells about one-fourth the size of the surrounding cell-structure. The bark is made up of two layers. The outer bark consists of three to five rows of loose thin walled parenchyma, containing a yellowish-brown coloring matter. The inner bark consists of about thirty rows of horizontally flattened prosenchymatous cells larger than the cells of the woody tissue or pith.
The rootlets have a short, smooth fracture; and upon a transverse section show an outer and inner bark, a cambium layer, and a meditullium. The outer bark consists of one to two rows of parenchymatous cells loosely placed together containing a brownish coloring matter. The inner bark consists of ten to twelve circular rows of flattened prosenchymatous cells. The bark is separated from the meditullium by a cambium layer of a single line of rectangular cells smaller than the surrounding tissues. The meditullium is made up of complete parenchymatous cells, with lighter colored rectangular pleurenchyma tissue radiating through it in a triangular, cross-like or stellate manner according to the number of wood-bundles. Around the outer sides of the meditullium and at the ends of the wood-rays the parenchyma tissue is crowded in dense masses and elongated, as if pushed out of place by the wood-bundles. The arrangement of the woody tissue in the rootlets, representing a maltese cross, is the characteristic distinguishing mark of the drug.
Medical History.—The early history of this drug, and the time when it was first used as a remedial agent to the human race is not known. Considerable variance of opinion has existed with regard to the influence this drug is capable of exciting upon the animal economy.
Linnaeus, in his Materia Medica published in 1771, called it Actaea racemosa, and classed it among the sudorifics and anodynes. The first mention of the drug by the profession was made by Benjamin Smith Barton in his Collections for an Essay towards a Materia Medica of the United States, in which he says: "The Actaea racemosa or Black Snakeroot, is also a valuable medicine. The root of the plant is considered astringent. In a putrid sore-throat which prevailed in Jersey, many years ago, a strong decoction of the root was used as a gargle with great success. The Indians called it squaw-root, and set an high value on it as a medicine. A decoction cures the itch."
The author then notes from various journals and standard works the observations and recommendations by Drs. Garden, of Wyliesburg, Va., (1823), C. C. Hildreth, Chapman (1831), Jesse Young, Davis, Physicks, Wood and many others, and afterward discusses the introduction of the drug into the United States Pharmacopoeia and the various preparations made from it since 1860.
Chemical Analysis.—Two portions, 5 grams each of the fresh rhizome and rootlets were dried: one spontaneously, the other in a desiccator. That portion dried spontaneously lost 52.5 per cent., that in the desiccator 54.5 per cent. of moisture. One gram of the powdered air-dried drug at 100° C. lost 7.8 per cent. of moisture. This upon being incinerated at a low heat, yielded 6.8 per cent. of a grayish-white ash; of this ash, 1.3 per cent. was soluble in water, consisting of potassium and sodium as chlorides and sulphates; 3.6 per cent. soluble in hydrochloric acid, consisting of calcium, iron, and magnesium as carbonates and phosphates; 4 per cent. soluble in sodium hydrate, consisting of combined silica, and 1.5 was insoluble in water, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydrate.
An infusion of the drug upon evaporating and cooling became slightly gelatinous. The infusion yielded, precipitates with nitric acid, copper sulphate, lead acetate, silver nitrate, mercuric chloride, ammonium moxalate and gelatia; it became blue with iodine and reduced Trommer's solution.
The percolate, made with cold water, was of a yellowish-brown color, at first clear, soon became cloudy and upon evaporating yielded 23'5 per cent. of a brownish-black extract. The alcoholic percolate was of a clear golden yellow color, and upon evaporating yielded 12'5 per cent. of uniform yellowish-brown extract.
Wax was found in small quantities, by treating the resin exhausted by alcohol, with chloroform. Resin was obtained by exhausting the drug with alcohol, evaporating and pouring the concentrated tincture into water, collecting the precipitate washing and drying. The resin had a brownish-yellow color, was without odor, but had a slight taste, was soluble in alcohol, ether and chloroform, partly soluble in cold and hot solutions of potassa, and insoluble in benzin, hot and cold water. After treatment with animal charcoal the resin was of a yellowish-green color, and when incinerated left a grayish-white ash.
The distillate obtained by cohobation from 26 pounds of the fresh drug, was milky and had the odor of the drug, but no separation of volatile oil occurred, though the top of the bottle which contained the distillate, appeared greasy when the water was shaken. Portions of this distillate were then agitated with ether, chloroform and deodorized benzin, and set aside. After twenty-four hours that agitated with benzin had a whitish snow-like substance floating upon the top, while that which had been agitated with chloroform had separated the substance at the bottom of the vessel, and no similar separation was observed in the portion of the distillate agitated with ether.
The floating mass, collected from the distillate agitated with benzin, appeared like minute globules, and after freeing it as much as possible from benzin and water, and evaporating it to dryness, the residue weighed .025 grams and was a fine grayish-white powder without odor or taste, soluble in alcohol, slightly soluble in benzin, benzol and stronger ether, insoluble in water.
Ten pounds (avoir.) of the fresh drug was placed in an hydraulic press (power 4,000 pounds to the square inch). From this pressure there resulted one pint and a half of dirty-brown colored liquid, which after filtering was blackish-brown, and on evaporating yielded 4.252 grams of brownish-black extract. Treated in the manner stated by T. E. Conard, "Am. Jour. Phar., 1871, p. 152" the crystalline substance described by him, was obtained, the properties of which differed in the following particulars: It was insoluble in hydrochloric acid, but soluble in sulphuric and dilute sulphuric acids. Strong sulphuric acid, when in contact with it for a little time, gave it a brown color, which upon the addition of a few drops of solution of bichromate of potassium was changed to a permanent yellow. An alcoholic solution was neutral, or if anything slightly alkaline to test paper, and when concentrated and poured into water gave a white precipitate which was insoluble in the alkalies. The fumes from the substance when fused with pure potassa, in a test tube, colored red litmus-paper blue, and gave rise to white fumes when a rod moistened with hydrochloric acid was passed partly into and over the top of the tube. The substance fuses at a moderate heat, and is entirely dissipated at a red heat. A precipitate was obtained when a solution of the substance in alcohol was treated with an alcoholic solution of chloride of gold and sodium, also when an acid solution was treated with an aqueous solution of chloride of gold and sodium. An acid solution when treated with phosphomolybidic acid gave a precipitate. An acid solution (the acid solutions all made with dilute sulphuric acid) gave with solution of iodo-hydrargyrate of potassium a precipitate. A precipitate was gotten from an alcoholic solution by adding an aqueous solution of tannin, care must be taken not to add sufficient to get a precipitate with water in the test solution. From the above tests and the examination with the microscope which I have made of this substance, isolated from cimicifuga racemosa, I judge it to be an alkaloid.