The fungus Polyporus officinalis, Fries (Boletus laricis, Jacquin; Boletus purgans, Persoon).
COMMON NAMES: White agaric, Larch agaric, Purging agaric.
Description.—White agaric (Agaricus albus) is in masses varying from the size of an ordinary apple to that of a large nutmeg-melon; its shape somewhat resembles a horse's hoof; it is reddish-grey or yellowish externally, whitish internally, and of a spongy, friable consistence; hymenium concrete; substance of the hymenium consisting of subrotund pores, with their simple dissepiments; pileus corky-fleshy, ungulate, zoned, smooth; pores yellowish; it has a feeble odor, and a bitter, acrid, somewhat sweetish taste.
History.—The various medicinal substances, included under the elastic name Agaric, are obtained from various plants of the fungous tribe. These plants afford a great diversity of form and structure, being in their simplest character little articulated filaments composed of chains of cellules, as in the mildew of the rose bush, and in moldiness, mucor; again, they may present an even and imperforate surface, and another separated into plates or cells, in which the sporules are deposited. They absorb a great amount of oxygen with evolution of hydrogen and carbonic acid gas, and contain considerable proportions of nitrogen. They are destructive to nearly all organic matter upon which they grow. According to recent nomenclature, "the genus Boletus, as now constituted, includes only fleshy species, with a hymenium composed of separable tubes. Those species formerly included in Boletus (many of which have corky or woody tissues) and the hymenium of which is composed of pores not separable from the pileus or from each other, form the genus Polyporus."
The Polyporus officinalis, Fries (Boletus laricis, Jacquin), is procured from Asia, Corinthia, Russia, and Central America, where it is found growing upon the larch. It is collected in August and September, deprived of its outer covering, and then dried and bleached in the sun. It is exceedingly difficult to pulverize in a mortar, but may be readily powdered by grating through a sieve.
This substance is generally known in Eclectic medicine as Boletus laricis, hence that term is here retained though the fungus is properly a Polyporus, and should be known by that name.
Chemical Composition.—This fungus is remarkable for the great amount of resinous matter it contains, running as high as 79 per cent. Various resinous and crystallizable substances have been differentiated therefrom by several investigators. Jahns, in 1883, isolated agaric acid from the alcoholic extract of the fungus, for which he found the formula C16H30O5.H2O. This formula and the bibasic nature of the acid was confirmed by Schmieder, in 1886, who made an exhaustive study of the chemistry of this fungus. Petroleum ether [boiling point, 45° C. (113° F.)], abstracted from the finely-powdered drug a fluorescent oil, from which crystals of agaricol (C10H16O) were separated, melting at 223° C. (430.7° F.). Cholesterin was obtained from the mother liquor; also two solid hydrocarbons, C22H46 and C29H54. The residue from the treatment with petroleum ether yielded to boiling water sugar, phosphoric, malic, and tannic acids. Boiling alcohol then abstracted 5 resins, the principal of which was a red resin (C15H24O4), melting at 88° C. (190.4° F.), which is stated to be the actively purging principle of the drug. The fungus contains also a peculiar kind of cellulose, to the extent of 10 per cent, and ash, which mostly consists of the phosphates and carbonates of potassium and magnesium (Flückiger, Pharmacognosie, 1891). Agaric acid is official in the German Pharmacopoeia, under the name of Agaricinum, and is described as a "white powder having a faint odor and taste, fusing at about 140° C. (284° F.) to a yellowish liquid; upon further heating evolving white fumes, and charring while giving off a caramel-like odor. It is little soluble in cold water; swells up in hot water and dissolves upon boiling, forming a frothing opalescent liquid, which faintly reddens litmus, and becomes strongly turbid upon cooling. Agaricin is soluble in 130 parts of cold, or 10 parts of hot alcohol; more easily soluble in warm acetic acid; very little soluble in ether; scarcely soluble in chloroform. Caustic potash dissolves it, forming a liquid which, upon shaking, forms a heavy froth"—(Ger. Pharm.).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Polyporus officinalis and the P. pinicola (see below), in doses of 3 or 4 grains of the powder, repeated every 3 or 4 hours, or of the concentrated tincture in doses of 5 drops, have both been found valuable in the cure of obstinate and long-standing intermittents, and other diseases common to malarial districts, as obstinate bilious remittent fever, chronic diarrhoea, chronic dysentery, periodical neuralgia, nervous headache, ague cake, and increased flow of urine. They have likewise proved useful in long-standing jaundice, and in the chills and fever common among consumptive patients.
The dust of the Larch agaric is irritating to mucous surfaces, causing tears when it enters the eyes, and sneezing, cough, and nausea, when the nostrils are exposed to it. It has been used in 1/2 drachm or drachm doses as a purgative; in larger doses as an emetic. Small doses, unless long continued, check diarrhoea, as well as excessive broncho-pulmonary secretions; hence the value of agaric and agaricin in phthisis. Boletus is also said to arrest the mammary secretion. In doses of 3 to 10 grains, gradually increasing to 60 grains in the course of the 24 hours, it has been found efficient in arresting the nocturnal perspiration of consumptives. For this purpose, however, agaricin (see below) is now preferred. Owing to its power over the sympathetic and spinal nervous system, certain cases of epilepsy and chorea have been controlled by it; and in neuralgia and insanity it has been found of value where nutrition was imperfect and the cerebral circulation feeble. As a remedy for ague it is adapted to those cases presenting alternate chills and flushes of heat, with heavy bearing-down pains in the back. The patient perspires freely at night and has a yellow-coated tongue, bitter taste, poor appetite, slight fever, and has for some time been experiencing a dull, languid feeling. Not only does it check phthisical night-sweats, but it also controls the rapid circulation and reduces the hectic fever. Externally, it has been used, together with the Agaric of the oak (Polyporus fomentarius, Fries) as a styptic, and is said to restrain not only venous, but arterial hemorrhages, without the use of ligatures; it does not appear, however, to possess any real styptic power, or to act otherwise than dry lint, sponge, or other soft applications. Prepared with nitre as for tinder, it has been used as a species of moxa.
AGARICIN (agaric or agaricinic acid), is irritant to the gastro-intestinal tract, occasioning, in doses of 5 to 15 grains, purging and vomiting. Upon the lower animals it depresses the nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems. According to Riegel 1/6 grain of agaricin is equal, as an antihydrotic, to 3/4 grain of atropine. In doses of 1/16 to 1/6 grain it has been remarkably effectual in colliquative sweating, especially in phthisis, where it also allays thirst and controls the cough and diarrhoea in some cases. Long continued use of it will produce looseness of the bowels.
Tincture of boletus, 1 to 5 drops; specific boletus, fraction of a drop to 5 drops; agaricin, 1/16 to 1/3 grain.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Ague, with alternate chills and flushes of heat with heavy bearing-down pain in the back (Sp. Boletus, gtt. x to aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Teaspoonful every 2 hours). Stimulant to nervous system, when nutrition is impaired and cerebral circulation feeble; colliquative sweats.
Related Fungi.—FUNGUS CHIRURGORUM, or Surgeon's agaric, known also as Agaricus (or Boletus), chirurgorum, and as Spunk, Touchwood, and Tinder, is the Polyporus fomentarius, Fries. A hoof-shaped, obliquely triangular, sessile fungus found on oak and beech trees in South and Central Europe, freed of its hard rind and hymenial, tubular spores, cut into slices, immersed in water, and afterward boiled in a weak, alkali solution, washed again, and finally beaten until soft and pliable. When cut into slices, beaten, soaked in a solution of nitre, and dried, it forms an inflammable substance known as spunk, amadou, or German tinder.
Surgeon's agaric is tasteless, practically odorless, and soft. It is in velvety, glossy, and cinnamon-colored flat pieces. It is exceedingly light, tough, porous, and elastic, and has long been valued to arrest local hemorrhages, small in amount. By insinuating it between the nail and the flesh, and securing it with adhesive strips, it is one of the best of substances for use in the treatment of ingrown toe-nail.
Polyporus igniarius, Fries, or Agaric of the oak, is a fungus found on oak, cherry, willow, plum, and other trees. When young it is soft, but gradually becomes hard and woody. In shape it somewhat resembles the Polyporus officinalis; its upper smooth surface is marked with dark circular ridges, and its under surface is very porous and of a yellowish-white color. It is tasteless and inodorous.
Polyporus pinicola grows upon the pine, birch, tamarac, fir, and similar trees. With absolute alcohol, the fresh fungus forms a dark-red, intensely bitter tincture.
Amanita muscaria, Persoon (Agaricus muscarius, Linné). Fungus muscarius or Fly agaric.—This poisonous European fungus, which makes its growth in the autumn months, usually in pine woods, derives its common name from the fact that when infused in milk it is used for the purpose of destroying flies. The stem or stalk is white, thick, and tuberous or bulbous at the base, where there are also scales. It is about 3/4 of an inch thick, and from 3 to 6 inches high. The cap or pileus, which is at first spherical, flattens out or becomes convex while growing, and when full grown is either flattish or depressed, and from 4 to 8 inches broad. The cap is usually scarlet or orange in color, though it has been found to vary to crimson, light-brown, greenish-yellow, or even white. Internally the fungus is yellowish. White, angular warts are scattered upon the surface of the pileus, and when moist these are sticky. The under surface has broad, white, lamellated gills, or hymenium. An acrid, burning taste and an unpleasant odor characterizes this species. Apoiger (1851) considered the toxic principle to be a crystallizable acid, while Letellier regarded amanitin, a brown, tasteless, non-crystalline glucosid, to be the active constituent. An alkaloid, muscarine (C5H15NO3), was isolated, in 1869, by Schmiedeberg and Koppe, choline (C5H15NO2), also a constituent of hops, beer, bile, brain, and herring brine, being associated with it. The latter body is probably identical with Harnack's (1876) amanitine. Muscarine (sometimes wrongly termed amanitine) is an exceedingly deliquescent, crystalline alkaloid, without color or odor; sparingly dissolved by chloroform, but not by ether. It unites with acids to produce deliquescent salts. It dissolves readily in water and alcohol. Kobert, in 1891, pointed out the existence in this fungus of another alkaloid, pilzatropin, this being the physiological opposite of muscarine. A. B. Griffith, in 1896, gave the name amanitine to the red, amorphous pigment of the fungus, insoluble in water, and soluble in chloroform and ether. Fly agaric once had a reputation as a remedy for epilepsy. Chorea is treated with it by homoeopathists, and it was also used in chronic skin affections. That it possesses undoubted power over the nervous system seems well established, and its use is suggested in spinal imitation and typhoid conditions characterized by "tremor, restlessness, and desire to get out of bed" (Webster). Prof. Scudder (Specific Medication), who suggested a tincture of the fresh fungus prepared with strong alcohol, wrote: "Probably the best defined indication for this remedy is involuntary twitching of the muscles of the face, forehead, and even of the eyes, so that objects are not seen well because they seem to move; drawing of the tissues of the forehead and nose. Pressing pain in the occiput and an inclination to fall backward is also a very good indication." Tincture, gtt. j. to aqua fl℥iv. Dose, 1 teaspoonful. The principal use that has been made of this fungus is to control colliquative night-sweats from debilitating diseases, and profuse sweating during the daytime. The extract, in doses of 5 drops of a 1 per cent solution, has been employed. Muscarine may be used.
Muscarine is usually employed in the form of a sulphate or nitrate. It is an exceedingly energetic poison, and is antagonistic to atropine, and is sometimes used instead of eserine in poisoning by the latter. Profuse ptyalism, weeping, vomiting, depressed circulation, difficult breathing, muscular weakness, paralysis, and death are the effects of a toxic dose. Before death the pupils, which are minutely contracted, dilate. Tetanic contractions of the spleen, bladder, and intestines occur, and the latter finally relax, when violent peristaltic movements ensue. Muscarine is used in colliquative sweats and in diabetes insipidus in doses of 1/30 to 1/15 grain.
For the poisonous effects of Amanita species, see below (Amanita phalloides).
Amanita phalloides, Fries. Death-cup (see illustration, Year Book of U. S. Agric. Dept., 1896, p. 144).—This is reputed the most toxic of all the fleshy fungi. It resembles in general shape the common mushroom, which, however, lacks the basal, cup-like appendage of the death-cup. It resembles also the Amanita muscaria (see above), from which it may be distinguished by the more brilliant coloring of the latter. This fungus grows in the medium elevations and low lands of nearly all parts of the United States and in Europe. The white stem when young is more or less pithy, but as the fungus grows it becomes somewhat fistulous. The young plant is entirely enclosed in a volva, which breaks circumcisally as the plant expands, leaving at the base, as a remnant of the volva, a cup-like appendage, which is characteristic. The cap, unless it should bear fragmentary remains of the volva, is usually smooth and satin-like, and when moist, viscid. It varies in color, and though most generally white or yellowish, it may be green, or if grown in deeply shaded situations, spotted. It has white gills and spores. The fungus varies in height from 3 to 5 inches. No bad taste gives warning of the dangerous character of this fungus, of which but a small portion may kill. A boy of 12 met death from a third of a middle-sized raw pileus (= cap). Out of 51 cases of poisoning by this plant, 75 per cent were fatal, and during the summer of 1893, 25 deaths in the United States alone, were attributed to species of amanita. A half day or more may elapse after swallowing the fungus before any discomfort is felt by the victim. Then follow severe intestinal pain, nausea and vomiting, and excessive diarrhoea of the rice-watertype, symptoms closely resembling Asiatic cholera. These symptoms persisting, death may take place in from 2 to 4 days, consciousness being retained to the last.
That muscarine was the chief cause of the toxic symptoms has been maintained for several years. It has been observed, however, that in fatal cases the symptoms were different from those caused by muscarine alone, and that they were not antidoted by atropine, which is antagonistic to that alkaloid. Later investigations, in 1891, by Kobert, of Dorpat, seem to establish the fact that the chief toxic principle is a tox-albumin, not unlike abrin (see Abrus precatorius), and other poisonous albumins, such as have been found in rattlesnake and insect venom, barbadoes nut, castor-oil bean, etc. To this body the name phallin has been given. It is without odor and taste, and is easily coagulated by heat. Its death-dealing action appears to reside in its power to dissolve the red-blood discs, thereby allowing the blood serum to escape by way of the alimentary canal. Salt solution dissolves phallin, removing it from the fungus, but after having been swallowed there is no known antidote. For an excellent article, from which this note is compiled, see "Some Common Poisonous Plants" (illustrated), by V. K. Chesnut, in Yearbook of U. S. Agric. Dept., 1896, p. 144.
Lycoperdon Bovista, Linné (Lycoperdon giganteum, Batsch; Bovista giganteum, Nees). Giant puffball.—Yellow or deep-brown, obconical or subglobular masses having a spongy interior. They sometimes attain a width of 2 feet. It furnished the Fungus chirurgorum, much used at one time as a local haemostatic. Said to be anodyne and antiseptic, and to be a good application to cancerous growths, to allay pain and check bleeding. Porcher, from personal experience, declared Giant puff ball to possess some narcotic power. A tincture has been used in nervous affections and the dry powder in intertrigo. The fumes from burning this common puff ball are narcotic and anaesthetic, but no practical application of them has been made. In 1853, Dr. B. W. Richardson, acting upon the suggestion that bees were stupefied by the fumes of this fungus, experimented upon and narcotized and anaesthetized several animals, from one of which he painlessly removed a tumor. If carried too far the inhalation produced death, respiration being paralyzed. No congestion was produced. When death was not produced the animal slowly recovered, and even after the narcotism had passed off the perception of pain was for a time abolished. These effects have been attributed to carbonic oxide, the gas given off when the puff ball is burned.
Elaphomyces granulatus, Fries.Lycoperdon cervinum, Linné; Scleroderma granulatus, Persoon.) Hart's truffle, Puff ball.—Walnut-sized, warty, brown fungus, with a purple-brown interior. Stimulant.
Pachyma Cocos, Fries.Lycoperdon solidum, Gronovius). Tuckahoe.—A peculiar formation found upon fir-tree roots, believed to be an alteration of the same, produced by a fungus. It is found in the southern portion of the United States, where it is known as tuckahoe, or Indian bread. In China, where it also grows, it is called fuh-ling. It is a long or irregularly globose body, often weighing many pounds. It has a rugose, ashy-black surface, and a whitish, firm, but apparently spongy interior. It has a starchy appearance internally, and breaks into irregular fragments. It contains pectose, glucose, gum, cellulose, nitrogen, and salts.
Tuber cibarium, Sibthorp.Lycoperdon Tuber, Linné). Truffle.—An edible tuber growing beneath the surface of the ground. Walnut-sized, subglobose, warty, and blackish externally, with a fleshy, marbled (white and brown) interior.