The leaves of the Buxus sempervirens, Linné.
COMMON NAME: Box.
Botanical Source.—Buxus sempervirens is a small, dense-leaved, hard-wooded, evergreen tree. Its leaves are ovate, opposite, of a deep, shining green, becoming red in the autumn, quite smooth and entire, with the cuticle of the underside readily stripping off; the petioles and young branches are slightly downy; the flowers aggregate, axillary, and pale-yellow; the capsule is globular, 3-horned, tricoccous, 6-seeded, and bursts elastically; the seeds are parallel, oblong, slightly compressed, and externally rounded (L.).
History.—This is an exotic, though generally well-known plant, growing on dry, chalky hills in Europe, and the west of Asia. One variety of it, the B. suffruticosa (Dwarf-box), with obovate leaves, and a stem scarcely woody, and which is much esteemed for borders along the walks of gardens, possesses similar medicinal virtues. It is of very slow growth, a tree 8 feet high must be 100 years old. The wood is yellow, very hard, and much used by wood-engravers for wood-cuts; also for other purposes. The leaves, which are the parts used, are bitter and nauseous, and impart their properties to water or alcohol. The bark has been used to some extent to adulterate pomegranate bark.
Chemical Composition.—The bark of box-tree was found by M. Fauré to contain among chlorophyll, wax, resin, gum, ash, etc., a bitter alkaloid, which he named buxine. This alkaloid was obtained by exhausting the powdered bark with alcohol, evaporating the liquid, dissolving the residue in water, and treating the solution with ammonia. The precipitate thus obtained was digested in alcohol, which, being evaporated, left a dark-brown translucent mass, which is the buxine. It is bitter, causes sneezing, is insoluble in water, slightly so in ether, readily so in alcohol, and is difficult to obtain white, even when treated with animal charcoal. It colors red litmus blue, and forms neutral salts with acids. Nitric acid added to the sulphate of buxine, removes a resinous matter and leaves the sulphate of buxine pure; from this salt, pure buxine may be obtained in crystals.
Buxine was shown by Walz (1860) to be apparently the same body as bebeerine (from Nectandra Rodiaei, Schomburgk, or bebeeru bark), which observation was confirmed by Prof. Flückiger (1869), who has further shown that both bebeerine and buxine do not differ essentially from pelosine, an alkaloid derived from both Cissampelos Pareira, Linné (Common False Pareira brava), and Chondodendron tomentosum, Ruiz et Pavon (True Pareira brava). A second alkaloid, discovered by Pavia, and investigated by Rotondi and Pavesi, received from the latter investigator the name parabuxine (C24H48N2O). Still another alkaloid, parabuxinidine, in the form of prisms, without color, and capable of producing a deep-red hue with turmeric paper, has been announced by Barbaglia (A. J. P., 1885). It dissolves in alcohol and ether, but not in water. An alcoholic solution of oxalic acid yields a heavy crystalline precipitate with solutions of the alkaloid. Tannin is said to be present in the leaves, as well as a fetid volatile oil.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Cathartic, sudorific, alterative, and anthelmintic. It may be used, in syrup or extract, in all diseases where an alterative is required. In doses of 10 or 20 grains of the powdered leaves, it proves an excellent vermifuge. The dose of a strong decoction, or syrup, is from 1/2 fluid ounce to 1 fluid ounce, 3 or 4 times a day. And in combination with the stillingia and corydalis, in the form of a syrup, it forms a very useful tonic and alterative in syphilis. Reputed to possess antispasmodic virtues, and to have been beneficially used in epilepsy, chorea, hysteria, etc., but requires further corroboration. Chips of the wood are said to have the same properties, and have been prescribed in secondary syphilitic diseases, and chronic rheumatism. A fetid empyreumatic oil, oleum buxi, was formerly prepared, but the use of which has become superseded by the preparations of guaiacum; it has, however, been successfully used in toothache. Camels who eat the leaves are said to become poisoned.