The entire plant Euphorbia pilulifera, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Pill-bearing spurge, Snake-weed, Cat's-hair, Queensland asthma-weed, Flowery-headed spurge.
Botanical Source.—A prostrate or ascending (erect, Coulter), pubescent, herbaceous annual, having a stem which forks at the base, bearing oblique, oblong-ovate, leaves, opposite, serrate, and acute at both ends. The flower-heads, which are cymose, minute, numerous, and crowded, are borne on a stalk which proceeds from only one leaf-axil. The involucres are minute and arranged in dense, short-stalked clusters, which are terminal. The gland-appendages are narrow or obsolete. The fruit is an acute-angled, hairy pod, inclosing the reddish 4-angled, transversely rugulose seeds.
History and Chemical Composition.—This plant is found in most tropical and subtropical regions. In the United States it grows throughout the gulf states to Texas and New Mexico (Coulter). This plant reaches a height of 10 to 15 inches, and has a red, fibrous root. The stalk, which is reddish, is covered with peculiar yellowish hairs. It grows well in almost any soil, and, in some countries, is a wayside weed and difficult of extermination. In Australia, where it is abundant, it is much esteemed by the laity as a remedy for coughs, colds, and bronchial and pulmonary disorders in general, including asthma. Its decoction gives an acid reaction with litmus paper. Chas. G. Levison, of San Francisco, who made a quantitative analysis of the plant (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1885, p. 147), found, among other substances, a trace of tannin, volatile substances, a non-volatile wax, salts of potassium, magnesium, sodium, and silica, starch, and several resins of a glucosidal character, differing mainly in the strength of alcohol required to accomplish their solution. Euphorbia pilulifera was introduced to the medical profession by Parke, Davis & Co., of Detroit, through whose extensive advertising it became generally known.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Euphorbia pilulifera is one of the tropical spurges. Its physiological effects are not pronounced, except that it. is irritant to the gastro-intestinal tract, and may occasion epigastric distress with nausea. Upon other portions of the mucous surfaces and the skin it seems to be inactive. Its action is said to be confined chiefly, if not wholly, to the respiratory and cardiac centers, and elimination takes place by the liver. It is brought forward as a reliable anti-asthmatic, being particularly adapted to spasmodic forms of asthma. Dyspnoea of cardiac disease has been relieved by it. It is recommended for chronic bronchitis in old people. It promoted expectoration, allayed cough, and exerted an anodyne influence in a case of pulmonary consumption. It has likewise given good results in emphysema. Dose of ordinary tincture, from 10 to 60 drops, as an anti-asthmatic, for which purpose it is highly valued in Australia. The leaves may be smoked in a pipe for paroxysmal asthma. Infusion (℥ss to aqua Oj), ¼ to ½ fluid ounce; fluid extract, 10 to 30 drops; specific asthma-weed, 1/10 to 30 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Spasmodic action of respiratory muscles, with bronchial irritation.
RELATED SPECIES.—Euphorbia parviflora. This species is mentioned merely on account of its having been used to adulterate, or as a substitute for, the above species, which it closely resembles. Its points of difference are: Less flowers in the flower-heads, minutely-papillose, obtuse seeds, and by having upon the involucral glands a white appendage, of an obovate-orbicular shape.