Botanical Source.—This shrub grows from 6 to 20 feet high, has oval or oblong, smooth, leathery leaves, opposite and veined. The flowers are in a dense, pendulous panicle, the pedicels being long, filiform, and single flowered. The calyx-tube is very short, persistent, 4-parted, and small. The corolla is about 1 inch long, consisting of 4 very narrow, drooping, linear, snow-white petals; hence the name fringe-tree, by which it is generally known. The style is short, the stigma notched. The fruit is an oval, purple, fleshy drupe, with a bloom, and contains a bony, one-seeded nut.
History.—Chionanthus is one of our most striking and beautiful southern shrubs, and is often cultivated in gardens and parks for its ornamental beauty. We regard it as one of our most valuable indigenous remedies. The fringe-tree, as it is commonly called, grows from Pennsylvania to Georgia and Tennessee, thriving in sandy soils, in elevated situations, near flat rocks, and along river banks. The tree, when in blossom (May and June) presents a beautiful appearance, being snow-white, hence its common names of old man's beard, old man's gray beard, snowdrop-tree, and white ash. It is also known as poison ash. The name chionanthus (pronounced ki'o-nan"thus) is derived from two Greek words, chion (snow) and anthus (flower, or blossom), hence, snowflower. The bark of the root is the part used, and imparts its properties to water or alcohol.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Chionanthus acts principally upon the abdominal glandular organs, and to some extent upon the venous system, relieving congestion. It is an alterative in the Eclectic meaning of that term. While its main action is upon the visceral glands, especially the blood-making organs, its influence is also quite marked in other secretive structures. Besides its pronounced catalytic properties, it is diuretic, tonic, and is said to be aperient and narcotic. It is exceedingly doubtful if the latter statement be true and its aperient property, if it possesses such, is the result of its cholagogue action.
Prof. King, in former editions of the American Dispensatory, states that in bilious and typhoid fevers, as well as in obstinate intermittents, the infusion of the bark of the root is efficient. While the remedy is now but very little used for these conditions, still some "old school" authors, as well as some trade catalogues, seem to have appropriated the above statements in regard to its use. Prof. King further states that it is an excellent tonic in "convalescence from exhaustive diseases," and that it also proves a good local application in external inflammations, ulcers and wounds. The use of an infusion of the bark of the root is directed, still it is doubtful whether such a preparation would be as efficient as an alcoholic form, for the resin, or the resinoid, the active constituent of the drug, is insoluble in water. Goss states that the infusion is wholly inert. Chionanthus improves the appetite, aids digestion, promotes assimilation, and is a tonic to the whole system. It never produces catharsis, but ptyalism has resulted from its use.
Chionanthus has been successfully used in mercurial cachexia, scrofula, and syphilis, though we possess better agents for these classes of disease. Yet, if the patient be sallow, or yellow, and has hepatic pains, the remedy will prove a valuable accessory agent in hastening the cure.
It is for its prompt and efficient action in hepatic derangements that we most value fringe-tree preparations. If there is any one thing true in specific medicine, it is that chionanthus has a decidedly specific action in jaundice. The credit of having brought this remedy before the profession, for the purposes for which it is now used, belongs to the late Prof. I. J. M. Goss, of Georgia, who, in 1843, tested it on himself while suffering from an attack of jaundice, and reported the result in an eastern journal. Since then it has come to be the first remedy thought of for this complaint. Goss considered it the best remedy for all cases of jaundice, not dependent on gall stones. On the contrary, Prof. Scudder was high in his praise of it, even when calculi are present. He recommended it in 10 or 15-drop doses during the paroxysm, and also gave it to prevent a recurrence. Nux or dioscorea may be associated with it when called for, the former in atonic conditions, with broad, expressionless tongue, the latter in irritative states, the tongue being red, pointed, and elongated, with prominent papillae. Hypertrophy of the liver, chronic hepatic inflammation, and portal congestion are speedily relieved by chionanthus. The remedy acts quickly, often removing in from 1 to 2 weeks, an icteric hue that has existed for months, and even years. Jaundice once cured by it is not apt to recur. There are two direct indications for the drug—jaundice, as evidenced by the yellowness of skin and conjunctiva; and soreness and pain, "hepatic colic," as pointed out by Prof. Scudder. The latter is by far the most direct indication. There is the dull, heavy pain in right hypochondrium, with a feeling of fullness and weight, deep-seated tenderness ad soreness on pressure, occasional hectic flushes, light colored feces, sometimes diarrhoea with frothy, yeasty stools, and urine scanty and high colored.
These conditions, with the icteric hue of skin and conjunctiva, call for chionanthus. Sometimes the patient writhes in pain, can not find rest in any position. Rx Specific chionanthus, gtt. x, every half hour, and apply a cloth wrung out of hot water. In dyspepsia, with hepatic complications; in irritative states of the stomach from "high living," and the use of alcoholic stimulants; and in general chronic inflammatory conditions of the duodenum, and ductus communis choledochus, chionanthus serves a useful purpose. It is also a good remedy in infantile dyspepsia. Rheumatic affections, with soreness in the region of the liver, and a jaundiced condition, are ameliorated by this drug. Its tonic effects on the chylopoietic viscera render it a good agent in general debility. In intestinal dyspepsia, with jaundice, thin, watery, yeasty alvine discharges, with previous abdominal distension: Rx Specific chionanthus, gtt. v, every 2 hours.
Chronic splenitis and nephritis are conditions in which fringe-tree often proves a good remedy; also in pancreatic disease, inflammatory or otherwise. Glandular diseases, with evidence of imperfect waste, often call for its administration. Chionanthus is of utility in uterine and ovarian congestion, when the usual hepatic symptoms calling for it are present. If there be fullness and bearing down in the pelvic viscera, especially a desire to frequently evacuate the rectum, combine it with specific helonias. Rx Specific chionanthus, specific helonias, aa flℨi; aqua q. s., ℥iv. Mix. Sig. Teaspoonful every 2 hours.
In female disorders it may also be combined with gelsemium, macrotys, or pulsatilla, when indications for these drugs are present. Some cases of uterine leucorrhoea are promptly benefited by it. Cleansing injections should be employed at the same time. As a poultice it will be found an excellent local application in external inflammations, ulcers, and wounds.
Dose, from 1/2 fluid ounce of the infusion to 2 fluid ounces, repeated several times a day, according to its influence upon the system. The usual dose of specific chionanthus (the best preparation), is 10 drops in water every 3 hours. Chionanthin, the so-called concentration, is of little value and is but seldom used. It was first prepared by Prof. Goss.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Dirty, sallow skin, with expressionless eyes and hepatic tenderness; an icteric hue, with or without pain; hepatic colic; intense pain from liver to umbilicus, attended with nausea and vomiting and great prostration; pain in epigastrium and right hypochondrium, simulating colic, sometimes extending to the abdomen; jaundice, with itching skin and thin, light-colored, watery stools; tympanites; colic, with green alvine discharges; urine stains the clothing yellow.