The gum-resin of Ferula galbaniflua, Boissier and Buhse; Ferula rubricaulis, Boissier; and probably from other related species.
SYNONYM: Gummi-resina galbanum.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 128.
Botanical Source.—Ferula galbaniflua is a north Persian plant having a solid, tall stem about 4 or 5 feet high. The leaves are grayish-tomentose, the radical ones being triangular in outline, and decompound-pinnate, pinnatifid, the sections being linear-obtuse. The radical leaves are large and the stem leaves small. The fruit is thin and flat, winged near the face, has slender, prominent ribs, and in the grooves presents single oil-tubes. Sometimes two narrow tubes are present. The commissure has no tubes.
Ferula rubricaulis is a south Persian plant, probably growing to some extent in northern Persia also. It has been classed with the preceding by some botanists, while others accord to it a separate place. It differs chiefly in the greater width of the leaf segments, and in having more numerous and narrower oil-tubes.
History and Description.—The plant from which the gum-resin Galbanum is obtained, is not definitely known. The British Pharmacopoeia (1898) mentions the above-named species and refers to the probability of other species of Ferula yielding it. That the Ferula galbaniflua is believed to yield it is due to the statement of F. A. Buhse, a German resident of Persia, who relates that in 1848 (see Flückiger, 1891), he was informed that the product spontaneously exudes from the plant in question, and was told by the natives that it was the source of galbanum. Galbanum is imported from the Levant, and from India in cases and chests. It is generally met with in lumps, consisting of large, irregular masses of a brownish or dark-brownish color, and composed of agglutinated tears, some few of which, when broken, are somewhat translucent; they have a waxy density, but become soft and sticky at a temperature of 35° to 37.7° C. (95° to 100° F.), are not pulverizable unless in very cold weather, have a strong, unpleasant odor, and a hot, somewhat acrid, and amarous taste. Occasionally, galbanum is met with in the form of oval, globular, or irregular tears. On account of the impurities it contains, it should be melted and strained previous to employing it. When the color of galbanum is dark-brown or blackish, and when it contains an admixture of sand, straw, chips of wood, and other foreign matters, the article should be rejected as being inferior. The specific gravity of galbanum is 1.212. Galbanum is partially dissolved by water, vinegar, or wine, forming therewith an emulsion. Alcohol dissolves about three-fifths of it, the residue being gum and impurities. Diluted alcohol is its best solvent.
Chemical Composition.—According to Pelletier, galbanum contains 6 per cent volatile oil, 67 per cent resin, 19 per cent gum, and 8 per cent foreign matter (H. and H.). The volatile oil consists mainly of a hydrocarbon of the terpene series, C10H16. According to Mössmer its boiling point is between 160° and 165 ° C. (320° and 329° F.). It is dextro-rotatory, colorless, has a specific gravity of 0.884, and forms crystals with gaseous hydrochloric acid. Probably other hydrocarbons are also present. The yellow-brown resin of galbanum may be obtained (Flückiger, Pharmacognosie, 1891, p. 65), by extracting galbanum with alcohol and distilling off the solvent. The residual resin is also soluble in carbon disulphide in commercial but not quite in absolute ether, and in caustic soda. Upon destructive distillation galbanum resin yields an aqueous fraction containing fatty acids, and a thick blue oil of the composition C20H30O, or more probably C10H16O, after removing therefrom a hydrocarbon C30H48 (Kachler, 1871). The blue oil boils at 289° C. (552.2° F.), and holds in solution or suspension a crystalline body which Sommer (1859) named umbelliferon. This substance is a common constituent of the products of the dry distillation of such gum-resins as asafoetida, sagapenum and opopanax, and those derived from Imperatoria Ostruthium, Angelica Archangelica, etc., all being umbelliferous plants, hence the name. An occurrence exceptional to this rule was observed in the non-umbelliferous plant, Daphne Mezereum (Zwenger, 1854).
Umbelliferon may be abstracted from the blue oil by means of boiling water, or by slightly alkaline water. It may also be obtained from galbanum resin direct by heating it with hydrochloric acid to 100° C. (212° F.), abstracting with chloroform and evaporating the solvent. Umbelliferon (C9H6O3), is closely related to coumarin, being para-oxycoumarin. It is hardly soluble in cold, soluble in 100 parts of boiling water, little soluble in ether, soluble in alcohol. It melts at 224° C. (435.2° F.), developing thereby an aromatic smell. In aqueous solution it exhibits a bluish fluorescence markedly increased by alkalies. Its solution in concentrated sulphuric acid is likewise beautifully fluorescent. When boiled with caustic potash umbelliferon is decomposed into resorcin (meta-dioxy-benzene) (C6H4[OH]2), and formic and carbonic acids. Resorcin is likewise formed when galbanum resin is fused with caustic potash, and was discovered by this reaction in 1866, by Hlasiwetz and Barth. It enters into the composition of many dyestuffs, especially fluoresceine (which see), and has been produced since on the manufacturing scale. When boiled with nitric acid, galbanum resin yields tri-nitroresorcin or styphnic acid (C6H[NO2]3[OH]2). Galbanum gum may be obtained by exhausting the drug with alcohol, and extracting the residue with water. The aqueous solution is optically inactive (Hirschsohn), and is precipitated by basic, but not by neutral acetate of lead.
A distinctive test for galbanum is as follows: Extract its resin by means of carbon disulphide, dissolve it in alcohol, and gently warm with hydrochloric acid of sp. gr. 1.15. The mixture then assumes a beautiful blue color which is evanescent. Galbanum resin, when in prolonged contact (for several hours) with hydrochloric acid of sp. gr. 1.12 or higher, imparts to the latter, especially upon warming, a beautiful red color (Flückiger, Pharmacognosie, 1891).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The effects of galbanum are similar to those of asafoetida and ammoniac, being weaker than the former, but stronger than the latter. Upon the unbroken skin it produces papules, while it causes ulceration if the skin be broken. It controls excessive catarrhal discharges, and causes some arterial tension and cerebral fullness. It has been used in hysteria, chronic rheumatism, suppressed menstruation, leucorrhoea and chronic mucous affections of the air passages; and may be given in doses of from 10 grains to ½ drachm, in pill form, or in emulsion. Externally, a plaster is sometimes employed, as a mild stimulant and resolvent to indolent tumors; and the tincture has been efficient in scrofulous ophthalmia, or irritability or weakness of the eyes.
Related Gum-resins and Drugs.—SAGAPENUM (or Serapinum of mediaeval times). Sagapenum is imported from the Levant. It is the solidified juice of an unknown plant, probably a Ferula, of Persian origin. It is commonly in tears agglutinated together, of a brownish-yellow color, a hot and bitter taste, often alliaceous odor, softens between the fingers, is sparingly soluble in water, not completely soluble in alcohol, and when distilled with water it yields a pale-yellow, very fluid volatile oil, lighter than water, of a strong, alliaceous smell, and a bitter, acrid taste, it is readily soluble in ether and alcohol, and is speedily changed to a transparent resin on exposure to the air. According to Hager (Handbuch der Pharm. Praxis, 1886), sagapenum consists of about 50 per cent resin, 30 per cent gum, 5 to 10 per cent volatile oil, and 5 to 8 per cent impurities. Flückiger (Pharmacographia), states that sagapenum contains umbelliferon but no sulphur, and that it is remarkable for the permanent, intense blue color it assumes in the cold when a very small piece is placed in hydrochloric acid (density 1.13). Sagapenum possesses medicinal properties similar to ammoniac and asafoetida; but is not so powerful as the last of these. It is sometimes added to discutient plasters as a stimulating ingredient. The dose is from 10 grains to ½ drachm.
OPOPANAX.—The gum-resin of Opopanax Chironium, Koch AGAPENUM (Pastinaca Opopanax, Linné). Nat. Ord.—Umbelliferae. This plant, called Rough parsnip, is indigenous to the south of Europe. On wounding the stalk-base, or the root, a yellowish lactescent juice exudes and concretes. This is opopanax. The best grade is that which occurs in irregularly angular pieces, or sub-globular tears, varying in size, and of a reddish or yellowish- brown color. It readily fractures, displaying a waxy interior, and often exhibits imbedded fragments of vegetable tissues. Its odor is strong and disagreeable, and its taste acrid, bitter and balsamic. When warmed it becomes soft, exhaling an onion-like odor. It burns with a bright, non-sooty flame. The poorer qualities are not so bitter as good opopanax, and come in masses larger than a walnut. A specimen of false opopanax has been observed in commerce by J. H. Marais (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1875, p. 39), consisting entirely of gum myrrh, which it resembles in appearance. Myrrh changes to a rose color with the vapors of nitric acid, while gum opopanax is not altered by the same treatment. It forms a yellow emulsion with water. Besides vegetable impurities it contains starch (4.2 per cent), wax, volatile oil, resin (42 per cent), and gum (33.4 per cent) (Pelletier, Bull. de Pharm., 1812, p. 51). It is seldom used in medicine now, but in olden times was one of the gum-resins thought to be applicable to almost all ills, hence the name opopanax, meaning the "all-healing juice." In later times it was used in plasters, and internally in bronchitis with abundant expectoration, asthma, hysteria, hypochondriasis, amenorrhoea, etc. Dose, from 15 to 30 grains.
Herniaria glabra.—About 1885 a demand was made in this city for Herniaria glabra, the drug being introduced by a specialist for whom the writer procured a supply in England. The remedy is still employed by physicians, several claiming to derive good results from the fluid extract. This is a very old remedy, popular with the early herbalists of England. Herniarine, the crystallizable body obtained from this plant has been shown to be methyl-umbelliferon (C10H8O3). Paronychine, an alkaloid, has been found in small amounts in the plant by Schneegans (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 488). About the only use the plant now has is in catarrhal affections of the bladder. J. H. Schröder (1693) and Samuel Dale (Pharmacologia, 7th ed., 1751) refer to the plant as being principally employed to cure hernia (hence its name) and to increase the flow of urine. It was also said to increase the flow of bile, and was employed for the cure of jaundice and excess of mucus in the stomach (probably gastric catarrh). Internally and externally it was praised in snake-bites, and the powdered plant was employed to kill maggots upon unhealthy sores of horses. It was reputed to "crush" and expel calculi from the kidneys and bladder, assisting in their expulsion by carrying with them an enveloping coating of mucus. Its general properties were said to be cooling and drying, and the plant was popularly known as Breast wort and Knot weed.