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Colocynthis.

Botanical name:

(A larger monograph by Lloyd can be found at: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsOther/Citrullus%20colocynthis-Lloyd.PDF)

The colocynth plant occupies the vast area extending from the west coast of Northern Africa (Senegambia, Morocco, and the Cape Verde Islands), eastward through the Sahara, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Beluchistan, and through India, as far as the Coromandel Coast and Ceylon, touching northward the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. At the Red Sea, near Kosseir, it occurs in immense quantities (239-240). It is also found here and there in Southern European countries, e. g., Spain and the islands of the Grecian archipelago. Isolated specimens occur in the Cape of Good Hope, Japan, Sicily (57), and it is suggested that birds of passage have much to do with the distribution of the seed. Even from our hemisphere we have recent reports of its successful cultivation on a small scale.

In the island of Cyprus the raising of colocynth has been a source of revenue since the fourteenth century, and it still forms an article of export at the present time.

Colocynth, as already stated, is a characteristic desert plant. Hooker and Ball (323a) met with it in the oasis of Sheshuaua in Morocco, and state that this characteristic plant of the desert region in North Africa rarely approaches the sea shore. The fruit is used in Morocco for the purpose of protecting woolen clothing from moths; but according to the testimony of these observers the purgative qualities of colocynth do not seem to be known to the native doctors.

Volkens (664a) enumerates citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrader, among the plants growing in the Egypto-Arabian deserts, pointing to its exceedingly rapid development, especially the fruit, which attains a diameter of ten centimeters. After the vine has withered away the fruits may be seen lying in the sand of the desert, ten to fifteen in number, about each plant. Volkens saw the plant in bloom in May as well as in December, and reports that when the plant is torn from the ground it withers in a short time, owing, he thinks, to the delicacy of the microscopical structure of the leaves.

A brief account of the growth of colocynth in Palestine by E. S. Wallace has more recently appeared in the United States consular reports (1895), from which we abstract the following points of interest:

The fruit grows abundantly between the mountains of Palestine and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, from the city of Gaza northward to Mount Carmel. The plant thrives without any attention whatever on the part of the husbandman, since the climate and soil are all-sufficient for its perfect growth—the natural requirements being merely a sandy soil, warm climate, and little moisture. The fruit which is known in commerce as the Turkish colocynth is collected by the native peasants (fellaheen) in July and August, before it is quite ripe, and is sold to Jaffa dealers, who peel it and dry the pulp in the sun. It is then molded into irregular small balls, packed in boxes and exported, mostly via England. The average annual shipments are stated in the consular reports to be ten thousand pounds, but these must have fallen off considerably during recent years. The reason for this, as we learn from another source, lies undoubtedly in the export tax. The report suggests that probably colocynth may be profitably cultivated in certain parts of the United States.

In this connection we may point to Prof. L. E. Sayre's paper (Am. Journ. Pharm., 1894, p. 273) on American colocynth, and the cultivation of colocynth in Montreal as reported in 1895 by Prof. T. D. Reed (Montreal Pharm. Journ., 1896, p. 334).

The drug is imported from Spain, Triest, Smyrna, Mogador, and elsewhere (501).


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



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