Botanical Source.—This annual plant has a stem about 2 feet high, erect, bristly, and glaucous. The leaves are sessile, alternate, sinuately lobed, the angles armed with prickly spines, and spotted with white patches. The flowers, which are either yellow or white, and about 1 1/2 inches wide, are solitary, have numerous stamens and from 4 to 6 petals. The sepals, 3 in number, are deciduous and prickly. The stigmas, 4 to 6, are reflected. The capsule is ovate, prickly, about 1 inch in diameter, terminated by a radiate, subsessile stigma, and has many seeds which are minutely pitted, and blackish in color. The plant, when bruised, exudes a viscid, milk-like juice, which turns yellow when exposed to the atmosphere. The whole plant has an acrid, bitter taste.
History and Chemical Composition.—This plant is native to Mexico, the West Indies, Southern and Western United States, and has been naturalized in Brazil, Hindustan, Africa, and other subtropical and tropical places. The seeds of this plant yield a large quantity of a pale-yellow, fixed oil, of the drying variety, yet slow to dry, doing so incompletely, has a sickening odor, and is nearly bland, or but feebly acrid, and not disagreeable to the taste. This oil yielded a hard soap with soda, and gave in the soap-liquor acetic, valerianic, and butyric acids, and a trace of benzoic acid (Frölich, 1871). The oil is a mild cathartic in small doses, and has a density of 0.919 at 16.5° C. (61.8° F.) (Flückiger). From the capsules and leaves a small quantity of morphine was obtained by Charbonnier, in 1868. It is also believed to contain sanguinarine. The oil has been proposed for use in painting. The flowers have soporific properties (De Candolle).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Emetic, purgative, anodyne, and narcotic. The juice is applied in the East to warts, chancres, ulcers, corneal opacities, and ophthalmia; internally, it is used in certain skin diseases. The juice in its acrimonious qualities resembles gamboge. The oil is useful in flatulent colic, with atony of the bowels and constipation; also in headache. From 10 to 20 drops of the oil mildly purges; larger doses act as an emetic and hydragogue cathartic. The herb in infusion is diaphoretic. It is not much used in this country.