Scilla (U. S. P.)—Squill.
"The bulb of Urginea maritima (Linné), Baker" (Scilla maritima, Linné, Urginea Scilla, Steinheil),"deprived of its dry, membranaceous outer scales, and cut into thin slices, the central portions being rejected"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAME: Squills.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 281.
Botanical Source.—Squill is a perennial plant with a roundish-ovate bulb, very large, half above ground, with the integuments either pale-green or red, and giving off fibrous roots. The leaves proceed from the bulb, are broad-lanceolate, channeled, spreading, recurved, shining, deep-green, and make their appearance long after the flowers. The scape is 2 or 3 feet high, and terminated by a rather dense, long, ovate raceme. The flowers are about ¾ inch in diameter, spreading, pale, yellowish-green, with a green stain on the middle of each segment. Peduncles purplish; bracts linear, twisted, and deciduous. Filaments shorter than the segments of the perianth (L.—Wi.).
History and Description.—Squill is a native of almost every part of the Mediterranean coast, and is also met with in Portugal and France. It flowers in August and September. The only part used is the bulb. When recent it is pyriform, from 3 to 6 inches in its largest diameter, and consists of concentric scales, the outer ones of which are thin and membranous, while the inner ones are whitish, thick, fleshy, and full of juice; they weigh on an average from 1 to 4 pounds, though they have attained a weight of 10 ½ pounds. Two kinds of squill, both abounding in an acrid juice, and having a bitter taste, are met with in commerce, the white and the red, so called from the color of their scales. The white is preferred. The juice of the fresh bulb is very acrid and vesicating, but is rendered much milder by desiccation. According to Prof. Schroff (1865), scilla irritates the skin when rubbed into it, and this is due mainly to a mechanical effect, viz.: to the presence of hard crystals of oxalate of calcium, sharp pointed at each end. The crystals sometimes attain a length of 1 millimeter. When intended for medicinal use, squill bulbs ought not to be kept entire, but should be stripped of their outer scales, cut transversely into thin slices, and dried carefully at a temperature of about 37.7° C. (100° F.). When recent, these slices have a mucilaginous, disagreeably bitter, and somewhat acrid taste, with a feeble radish-like odor. As ordinarily met with, dried squill is in scales or slices of various sizes. They attract moisture from the air, and then become pliable and spoiled, on which account they, as well as their powder, should always be kept in well-closed vessels. The official drug is "in narrow segments, about 5 Cc. (2 inches.) long, slightly translucent, yellowish-white or reddish, brittle and pulverizable when dry, tough and flexible after exposure to damp air; inodorous; taste mucilaginous, bitter, and acrid"—(U. S. P.). Squill yields its properties to water, spirit, or diluted acids; but the best solvents are proof-spirit or vinegar. Squill kills rats almost instantly; 2 drachms of powdered squill may be made into balls with 1 pound of strong-smelling cheese (or with fried lard), and spread where they visit.
Chemical Composition.—Squill contains mucilage, calcium oxalate (see above), dextrose, starch, albuminous bodies, volatile oil, mineral salts (leaving about 3 to 4 per cent of ash), a peculiar coloring matter in the red variety, producing dark-green with ferric chloride and an evanescent blue (Hartwich) with caustic alkali. The peculiar active principles of squill have been investigated by many chemists. E. Merck (1879), by an unpublished process, obtained amorphous, bitter scillipicrin soluble in water; amorphous, brown scillitoxin insoluble in water and ether, soluble in alcohol, a cardiac poison; and crystalline yellow scillin, not easily soluble in water, producing numbness, vomiting, etc. The bitter principle, scillain, was also isolated, in 1879, by E. Von Jarmerstedt, and more recently (1894) by Franz Kurtz. The latter obtained it by digesting the aqueous solution of an alcoholic extract of squill with lead oxide, removing lead from the solution by hydrogen sulphide, abstracting the bitter principle by animal charcoal and removing it from the charcoal with alcohol. Scillain so obtained is amorphous, readily soluble in water and alcohol, soluble with difficulty in ether; intensely bitter, neutral, and non-alkaloidal, containing no nitrogen. It is a glucosid, yielding upon hydrolysis dextrose, butyric acid and iso-propyl-alcohol. A glutinous carbohydrate (C6H10O5) resembling dextrin, exists in squill in large quantity, and was called sinistrin by Schmiedeberg (1879), and scillin by Riche and Rémont (1880). It differs from dextrin in being laevo-rotatory, and upon hydrolysis yielding chiefly laevulose and other sugars. (For an excellent summary of the chemistry of squill, see F. X. Moerk, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1894, pp. 245-250.)
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Squill is irritant, emetic, cathartic, diuretic, and expectorant. In large doses it is a dangerous irritant poison, producing inflammation of the alimentary canal, and urinary organs, and proving fatal in the dose of only 24 grains of the powder. Some constitutions are so susceptible of its irritant action, that it can not be safely used in any dose, unless combined with opium. The usual effects of very large doses are violent vomiting and purging attended with severe abdominal pain. The urine may be bloody and is passed with difficulty; the skin becomes cold, and coma and convulsions supervene. The juice of fresh squill acts as a rubefacient, and if the skin be broken its diuretic effects may be exhibited. It is seldom used as an emetic or cathartic, on account of its uncertainty in producing these effects. In small doses it causes nausea and depression of the pulse, and never stimulates the circulation. It stimulates all of the secretory organs. Small doses of it relieve irritation of the mucous surfaces and check excessive secretions. Its expectorant action is greatly increased by the addition of opium, and its diuretic by the conjunction of digitalis, or some other vegetable or saline diuretic, as potassium acetate. It is used extensively in dropsy not due to organic changes. It acts better in general and passive than in local dropsies, and also in those of an asthenic character. Dropsies of cardiac origin are probably more often relieved by it. It may be used in all cases where no inflammation is present, and there is over-action of the kidneys. According to dose it may be made to restrain or to increase the amount of urine secreted. To check the renal flow, as in diabetes, the minute dose should be employed. While in the majority of cases the drug has been employed with digitalis in the cases showing enfeebled circulation, yet in small doses (1 to 10 drops of a strong tincture, bulb, ℥viii to alcohol, 76 per cent, Oj) it acts favorably where there is a "dry, harsh skin, parched tongue, fevered lips, and contraction of features" (Scudder). Squill long continued gives rise to gastric irritation and loss of appetite, and when these effects are the result of its internal use the tincture may be rubbed into the skin or applied to the abdomen by means of compresses saturated with it. In cardiac dropsy, when the heart's action is feeble and the pulse is weak and rapid, 2 grains of squill may be given in a fluid drachm of infusion of digitalis 3 times a day. As an expectorant it will be found useful in chronic catarrh, humid asthma, pneumonia, phthisis, winter cough, and other chronic bronchial affections. In chronic respiratory troubles, with but little febrile reaction and no inflammation, and scanty tenacious sputa, 1 part of syrup of squill may be added to 3 parts of syrup of wild cherry and a teaspoonful be administered 4 times a day. Troublesome vomiting or purging caused by squill is best corrected by opium. Where there is much inflammation or vascular excitement, it is contraindicated. Dose of the powder, as a diuretic and expectorant, from 1 to 3 grains; as an emetic, 6 to 12 grains; of the syrup, 1 or 2 fluid drachms; tincture, 1 to 20 drops. The pilular form is the best when squill is given in powder.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Chronic cough, with scanty, tenacious sputa; scanty, high-colored urine, with sense of pressure in the bladder; overactivity of the kidneys with inability to retain the urine; dropsy, with no fever or inflammation, and a general asthenic condition.
Related Species.—The following plants yield bulbs which may be used like squill, but on account of the cheapness of the latter, are not found in commerce (see Pharmacographia for fuller information).
Scilla indica, Baker (Ledebouria hyacinthina, Roth), India and Abyssinia; Urginea indica, Kunth (Scilla Indica, Roxburgh), India and east Africa; Urginea altissima, Baker (Onithogalum altissimum, Linné), south Africa, well represents squill; Crinum Asiaticum, var. toxicarium, Herbert (Crinum toxicarium, Roxburgh), India, Ceylon, and the Moluccas; Drimia ciliaris, Jacquin, Itch bulb of the Cape of Good Hope. The juice is a powerful local irritant.
Medeola virginica, Linné (Gyromia virginica, Nuttall) (Nat. Ord.—Liliaceae).—This is the Indian cucumber found in shady situations and woods of the United States from the Mississippi River eastward. It bears greenish-yellow flowers in May and June. The rhizome is the part employed and resembles, both in taste and shape, our common cucumber. It is horizontal, from 1 to 1 ½ inches in length and ¼ inch in diameter, lower end pointed, has a white interior, and a brown-yellow exterior. It is beset with simple capillary rootlets. The rhizome contains starch. It is said to have been used as a food by the Indians (Pursh) and has been employed in dropsical disorders, it possessing both diuretic and hydragogue properties. It is now seldom used.
Gloriosa superba, Linné.—The tuberous root of this liliaceous climber contains, according to Warden, two resins and a bitter principle, superbine, which is very poisonous and closely allied, he believes, to the bitter principle of squill. Various statements are made regarding the toxic nature of the root and its reputed criminal uses. These reports, however, are not well established (Dymock).