Preparation: Tincture of Cactus
The fresh (green) stems and flowers of Cactus grandiflorus, Linné (Cereus grandiflorus, Miller and De Candolle).
COMMON NAMES: Night-blooming cereus, Large-flowered cactus, Sweet-scented cactus, Vanilla cactus.
Botanical Source.—Cactus grandiflorus is a creeping, rooting, fleshy shrub, having cylindrical or prismatic stems, with about 5 or 6 not very prominent angles, branching, and armed with clusters of small spines, arranged in radiated forms. The flowers are terminal and lateral, from the clusters of spines, very large, 8 to 12 inches in diameter, expanding at night, enduring for a few hours, and exhaling a vanilla-like odor. The petals are white, spreading, and shorter than the sepals; the sepals are linear-lanceolate, brown without, and yellow within. The fruit, or berry, is ovate, covered with scaly tubercles, fleshy, and of an orange, or fine reddish color. The seeds are very small and acid.
History.—Cactus grandiflorus (Cereus grandiflorus of De Candolle), Night-blooming cereus, also known by the names, Vanilla cactus, Sweet-scented cactus, Large-flowered cactus, is indigenous to Mexico and the West Indies, and also grows in Naples, where it blooms in July. In Mexico it was, at one time, a popular remedy for various diseases, as irritation of the kidneys and bladder, intermittent fever, difficulty in breathing, cough, etc. It is rarely met with in the higher temperate latitudes, where it is of difficult culture. Night-blooming cereus is a handsome and very showy shrub. Its blossoms commence expanding about 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening, and are fully blown about midnight; but about 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, they are quite decayed; during its continuance, however, there is scarcely any known flower of greater beauty. The perianth, when open, measures nearly a foot in diameter; the outer leaflets are of a dark-brown color, the inner ones are of a splendid yellow, gradually shaded, toward the center of the flower, into a pure and brilliant white. These flowers are delightfully fragrant, and fill the air with odors to a considerable distance. When the flower has withered, the ovary enlarges and becomes pulpy, and forms an acid juicy fruit, having some resemblance to a gooseberry. The plant was introduced to the medical profession by Dr. Scheele, of Germany; but little attention, however, was given to it, until Dr. R. Rubini, a Homoeopathic physician of Naples, brought it into especial notice as a remedy in heart diseases. The parts of the plant used in medicine are the flowers and young and tender stems, which should be gathered in July, and at once made into a tincture. The plant is mucilaginous, and when beaten in a mortar forms a viscid magma. No satisfactory analysis has been made of this plant, nor has it been satisfactorily ascertained whether the plant growing in its natural latitudes has any more powerful action than that cultivated in higher temperate latitudes.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Cactus impresses the sympathetic nervous system, and is especially active in its power over the cardiac plexus. In sufficiently large doses it acts as an intense irritant to the cardiac ganglia, producing thereby irritability, hyperaesthesia, arythmia, spasm and neuralgia of the heart, and even carditis and pericarditis. According to E. M. Hale, M. D., it acts upon the circular cardiac fibers, whereas digitalis acts upon all the muscular fibers of the heart. Like the latter, as a secondary effect of over-stimulation, it may induce heart-failure. The tincture, in large doses, produces gastric irritation, and also affects the brain, causing confusion of mind, hallucination, and slight delirium. In excessive doses, a quickened pulse, constrictive headache, or constrictive sensation in the chest, cardiac pain with palpitation, vertigo, dimness of sight, over-sensitiveness to noises, and a disposition to be sad or to imagine evil, are among its many nervous manifestations. Melancholia often follows such action. It is generally conceded, however, that the mental, cerebral, gastric, and other effects are secondary to and dependent largely upon the primary effects of the drug upon the heart.
In medicinal doses, night-blooming cereus diminishes the frequency of the pulse, and increases the renal secretions, and is, therefore, sedative and diuretic. According to Prof. Scudder (Spec. Med.), it neither increases nor depresses innervation; that it is neither stimulant nor sedative. Prof. Locke, on the other hand, believes it sedative, but not depressant (Syllab. of Mat. Med.). In such doses it does not appear to weaken the nervous system in the least. The special field for cactus is diseases of the heart, in which it exerts a very decided action, palliating or removing the symptoms, and frequently giving prompt relief. This influence upon the heart is manifested when the disorder is functional; organic conditions are only benefited in a measure. However, our Allopathic antagonists, who are generally skeptical regarding the virtues of plants which do not possess unusually powerful properties, consider cactus as a valuable agent in mitral regurgitation, due to valvular lesions. In our school, however, it is recognized chiefly as a functional remedy, and one of the best of cardiac tonics. There is no doubt but that the continued use of the drug tends to increase cardiac nutrition and waste, and in this way may benefit cases with structural lesions. The influence of cactus is exerted wholly upon the sympathetic nervous system, through the superior cervical ganglion, expending its force in regulating the action of the heart and controlling the cerebral circulation, thus giving increased nutrition to the brain. It is the remedy for almost all functional cardiac irregularities, as palpitation, pain, cardiac dyspnoea, intermission in rhythm, etc. Even in structural heart-wrongs, the majority of unpleasant symptoms are due to disordered innervation, and this condition is corrected by cactus. It does not seem to make any difference whether the heart-action be feeble, violent, or irregular, provided it be due to lack of innervation, associated with mental depression, or in excitable or nervous individuals, the remedy relieves, because its tendency is to promote normal rhythmic action of the cardiac muscle. In spasm of the heart-muscle, and in cardiac pain of a constrictive character, as if the organ were held with a strong band, it is the most prompt of all cardiac remedies. It is a good remedy in the heart troubles produced by tobacco. In palpitation, angina pectoris, cardiac neuralgia, rheumatism, or hypertrophy, valvular disease, etc., it is of much benefit, often giving great relief, even in incurable cases. It has been likewise found serviceable in some cases of dropsy, and in tendency to, or in incipient apoplexy. Pulmonary hemorrhage, particularly that accompanying phthisis and in advanced interstitial pneumonia, prompt results may be expected from cactus. Its use should be associated with iron in anemic cases, with tonics where great debility exists, with antiscrofulous agents where there is a scrofulous disposition, etc. When associated with cardiac weakness and irregularities, and in so far as they depend upon these conditions, it has likewise been found useful in cerebral congestion, mental derangements, rheumatism, inflammations of mucous membranes, prostatic diseases, irritable bladder, renal congestion, general dropsy, oedematous condition of the limbs, dysmenorrhoea, chronic bronchitis, etc. When a vigorous and healthy action of the heart obtains under its use these troubles pass away.
Cactus is recommended in visual defects of an asthenopic character, and in exophthalmic goitre, due to functional heart disease; tinnitus aurium, from the same cause, is benefited by it. These eye and ear disorders are not benefited by it when the cardiac disorder is of an organic nature.
The peculiar state of the nervous system in cardiac diseases, calling for cactus, is quite characteristic. There is a marked mental depression, often amounting to hypochondria and fear of impending death. Associated with these are praecordial weight and oppression and difficult breathing. During the menstrual period and at the menopause, nervous women frequently experience unpleasant cardiac disturbances of a functional character. These are promptly relieved by cactus. For the nervous menstrual headache, Prof. Locke recommends: Rx Specific cactus, gtt. x to xxx; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Sig. Dose, a teaspoonful 3 or 4 times a day. It has a marked control over the nervous system, somewhat like that of pulsatilla.
The effects of cactus are permanent and not merely temporary. The nutrition of the heart is increased, the contractile power augmented, and the irregular movements regulated.
The dose of tincture of cactus (plant, ℥iv to alcohol, 98 per cent, Oj) is from a fraction of a drop to 10 drops; of specific cactus, a fraction of a drop to 5 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Impaired heart-action, whether feeble, violent, or irregular; cardiac disorder, with nervousness, praecordial oppression, anxiety, apprehension of danger, or death; hysteria; tobacco heart; nervous disorders, with heart complications.
Related Species.—Many species of the cactus family have been used for food and medicine; others furnish acid fruits which yield a refreshing juice to thirsty travelers, while the seeds of some species have been roasted and made into bread. The Opuntias, growing wild in Texas, are roasted and fed to cattle, and it is recorded that horses and mules will crush with their hoofs various members of the order Cactaceae to obtain the acid juices, of which they are exceedingly fond. The following represent a few of the species which have been employed more or less as a medicine, or for some other economic purpose:
Cactus fIagelliformis, Linné (Cereus flagelliformis, Miller).—Red or pink flowers; stem-branches spiny, verrucose, 10-angled, slender, weak and prostrate, and many feet long. This plant has an acid juice and wooly fruit. Buchner (1836) found it to contain albumen, mucilage, bimalate of calcium, and acetate of potassium. Its juice is said to possess anthelmintic properties.
Cactus fimbriatus, Lamarck (Cereus fimbriatus, De Candolle).—Stock 8 or 10-angled and erect; spines clustered; flowers rose-pink; and fruit red and acid. The juice of the plant is acrid.
Cactus paniculatis, Lamarck (Cereus paniculatis, De Candolle).—Stock 4-angled; branches spiny and crenated. The whole plant is tree-like, and bears sweetish-acidulous, yellowish fruit (berry).
Opuntia vulgaris, Miller (Cactus Opuntia, Linné). Prickly pear, Indian fig.—Stock prostrate, glaucous, with minute, scale-like leaves, a few spines and numerous bristles. The flowers are large and yellow. The fruit ovoid, almost smooth, slightly bristly, crimson when mature, and edible, having a sweetish, acidulous taste. According to careful analysis by Miss DeGraffe (A. J. P., 1896) neither alkaloids, glucosids, nor tannin occur in the fruit, but sugar is present in comparatively large amount. Used as a discutient, and the decoction is mucilaginous. Grows in the West Indies and from Connecticut to Texas, delighting in rocky situations. This species is said to effect the intestinal mucous surfaces and probably the abdominal nerves. Diarrhoea, with excessive nausea, is reputed to have been cured by Opuntia vulgaris.
Melocactus communis, Link et Otto (Cactus Melocactus, Linné).—West Indies. Stock succulent, round-ovate, about a foot high, and from 12 to 18-ribbed, brown clustered spines; stock surmounted by what resembles a spadix, consisting chiefly of dense, woolly tufts, in the summit of which are imbedded the small red blossoms. The bruised stems are employed as a discutient. The red berries of this and other species are said to impart a red color to the urine.
Anhalonium Lewinii, Henning.—Habitat Mexico, where it is known as Muscale buttons, and employed for narcotic purposes. Lewin (1888) isolated an alkaloid, anhalonine (C12H15NO3). The anhalonium is said to grow on high chalk-cliffs and on almost inaccessible mountain peaks. Anhalonine paralyzes the spinal-cord, and increases reflex action, and may produce tetanic symptoms. Vomiting is induced by small doses of it. The fruit has a somewhat prolonged intoxicant action. Anhalonium is reputed a cardiac tonic, and is said also to be a remedy for all forms of dyspnoea (?), and of value in angina pectoris, to control the painful paroxysms.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.