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Ipecacuanha.

Botanical name:

(A larger monograph by Lloyd can be found at: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsOther/Cephaelis_Lloyd.pdf)

The beginning of the history of ipecacuanha root and the first study of its virtues is clouded in mystery and fable. It is stated that the South American Indians were acquainted with the medicinal properties of the plant, having gained their experience from observing the habits of animals (409). (This fable has a parallel in the quaint description given by Clusius concerning the discovery of the healing virtues of nux vomica bark in cases of snake bite.) A vague yet probably the first source of information on the subject of ipecacuanha root is found in a work published in London in 1625, named "The Pilgrimes," by Samuel Purchas (527), which in five volumes gives an account of many travels and the natural history of foreign countries. In Vol. IV, page 1311, where Brazilian plants and their uses are considered, the following passage occurs:

"Igpecaya or pigaya is profitable for the bloudie fluxe. The staike is a quarter long and the roots of another or more, it hath only four or five leaves, it smelleth much wheresoever it is, but the smell is strong and terrible."

The subsequent description of its medicinal virtues bears further evidence that we have here a plant at least closely related to official ipecacuanha. According to a printed note at the head of that chapter, the author is believed to be a Jesuit by the name of Manoel Tristaon (651a), who probably wrote the treatise in the year 1601.

The first definite information we have of ipecacuanha dates from the publication of a work by Piso and Marcgraf (511), called "Historia Naturalis Brasilise," Amsterdam, 1648, chapter Ixiv being entitled "De Ipecacuanha ejusque Facultatibus." Two species are described, a white and a brown species, the latter evidently being the true ipecacuanha plant. An illustration of the plant is added, which Merat considers quite a creditable reproduction of the true ipecacuanha. The entire chapter was reprinted, with French translation, by Merat (422), and inserted in his "Dictionnaire," as a testimony of the extreme exactness of the description given by Piso (511).

The root first came to Europe in 1672 through the agency of Le Gras (422), who sought to introduce it into medical practice. Keeping a stock supply in the care of an apothecary by the name of Claquenelle in Paris, he associated himself with J. A. Helvetius (309), a physician of German descent, who had graduated under the medical Faculty at Reims. However, the venture was at first a failure, owing to the employment of too large doses.

In 1680 a merchant by the name of Gamier in Paris, well acquainted with the medicinal virtues of the root, sent for a supply, obtaining 150 pounds from Spain. Through this gentleman, directly or indirectly, Helvetius (309) secured a new lot of the drug, which he skillfully managed to exploit by extensively advertising it as "radix anti-dysenterica," the origin of which, however, he kept a secret. Finally the fame of the remedy came to the notice of Minister Colbert, who ordered that the remedy be given an official trial in the Paris municipal hospital.

In 1688 Helvetius (309) obtained the sole license for the sale of the drug, which proved to be an efficient, or at least popular, remedy among the members of an aristocratic patronage, including no less a personage than the dauphin. King Louis the XIV then bought the secret from Helvetius for one thousand louis d'or, and made the remedy public property. He was induced to do so by the combined influences of his physician, Ant. d'Aquin, and of Franc, de Lachaise, confessor to the king. Gamier, the merchant, however, brought suit in order to obtain his share of profit in the transaction, but was unsuccessful in his efforts.

After the use of the drug had thus been established in France, the remedy was introduced into other countries, e. g., by Leibnitz (378a) (1696) and Valentini (656b) (1698) into Germany, and 1694 by Fried. Dekker into Holland.

During the first part of the eighteenth century the drug was in frequent use in the various pharmacies of Germany, as is evidenced from its being mentioned in several old documents of that age. It is, for example, mentioned in the authoritative drug list of the Silesian town of Strehlen in 1724.

However, during the increasing employment of the drug, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, much confusion arose as to its botanical origin, insomuch that it became the habit to designate as ipecacuanha any emetic plant, regardless of its botanical source. A long list of such plants is enumerated, for example, in Martius (409). In this manner the characteristics of the plant furnishing true ipecacuanha root became almost forgotten, other plants being substituted for it. Ray, for example, held it to be a species of paris, and no less an authority than Linnaeus himself thought viola ipecacuanha now known as ionidum ipecacuanha (684), to be the true ipecacuanha root.

In 1764, Mutis, a celebrated botanist in Santa Fe de Bogota, sent the younger Linnaeus a Peruvian emetic plant with description, which he thought was the true ipecacuanha root. Linnaeus fil. (385) accepted the statement of Mutis as correct and, moreover, believing the illustration given by Piso (511) of the true ipecacuanha plant to represent the specimen he received from Mutis, in 1871 gave it the name psychotria emetica, Mutis.

To Dr. Gomez (271, 272), who in 1800 returned from Brazil, is finally due the credit of having corrected this error. He re-established the nearly forgotten botanical character of true ipecacuanha in his memoir published at Lisbon in 1801, wherein he describes and figures the plant, and especially distinguishes it from Psychotria emetica, Mutis.

Having donated some specimens of the plant in his possession to his fellow countryman, F. A. Brotero (100, professor of botany, Coimbra, the latter published an account of it (1802) in the Trans. Linn. Soc., naming it Callicocca ipecacuanha (100), but without giving credit to the source of his information, which chagrined Gomez considerably (422). Twelve years later Brotero left a copy of his article with a botanist by the name of Hectot, of Nantes, who communicated it to M. Tussac (656a), and the latter, in publishing it, gave it the name Cephaelis ipecacuanha, also laying stress upon its distinction from Psychotria emetica, Mutis, perhaps without having had any knowledge of Gomez's paper written twelve years before.

In 1820 A. Richard (550) again called attention to this distinction, but, as it seems, also without giving proper credit to Gomez, with the result that later authorities frequently quote the true ipecacuanha root under the name of Cephaelis ipecacuanha, A. Richard.


The History of the Vegetable Drugs of the U.S.P., 1911, was written by John Uri Lloyd.



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