The seeds of both these species of Curcas are met with under the name of physic nuts; and as their effects and uses are similar, I include them under a common head.
Gen. Char.—Flowers monoecious. Calyx very short, 5-parted. Males: Corolla globose-campanulate, 5-cleft, Stamens 10, united at the base, the 5 exterior alternating with the same number of conoid glands; filaments filiform; anthers turned inwards, 2-celled. Females: Corolla much larger than the calyx, convolute; consisting of 5 petals. Ovary on a 5-lobed disk, 3-celled, with 1 ovule in each cell. Styles 3, filiform, distinct. Stigmas thick, 2-lobed. Cap. suit 3-coccous, with 1 seed in each cell.—Tropical shrubs of America. Leaves alternate, petiolated, angulate-5-lobed, quite entire, truncated at the base, reticulate-7-nerved, quite smooth. Corymbs with long peduncles; the males terminal; the females axillary (Endlicher).
Species.—1. Curcas purgans, Adanson; Jatropha Curcas, Linn.; English Physic Nut, Wright; Physic nut tree, Hughes; Browne; Angular-leaved Physic Nut, Miller; Pinheiro de purga, Pinhaô paraguay, Mart., Syst. Mat Med. Brasil.—Leaves long-stalked, broadly cordate, angular, roundish; panicles terminal or axillary, in cymes.—West Indies; Brazils; Coast of Coromandel; Ceylon.
The fruit is a tricoccous capsule about the size and shape of a walnut.
The seeds (semina curcadis), sometimes called American or English physic nuts, or simply physic nuts (nuces cathartics americanae), Barbados seeds or nuts (nuces barbadenses), semina ricini majoris or gros pignon d'Inde, have the shape of castor seeds, but are somewhat rough to the touch, and black, but marked with numerous minute cracks. The kernels are covered with a fine white pellicle (cuticula nuclei). The seeds have been analyzed by Cadet de Gassicourt [Journ. de Pharm, t. x. p. 176, 1824.] and by Soubeiran. [Ibid. t. xv. p. 503, 1829.] the latter chemist found in them a fixed oil, a peculiar fixed acrid resin, saccharine matter, gum, a small quantity of fatty acid, glutine (emulsin?), a free acid (malic?), and some salts.
The expressed oil, commonly called jatropha oil (oleum jatrophae curcadis vel oleum infernale), was imported a few years ago under the name of oil of wild castor seeds. It is sometimes expressed in England. As commonly met with, it has a yellowish colour, with a feeble odour, and during the cold weather deposits a white solid fat (margarine or stearine). When fresh and pure it is described as being odourless, colourless, and quite limpid. 1000 parts of the seeds yielded Guibourt 656 parts of kernels, from which he obtained 265 parts of a colourless very fluid oil, which in the cold deposited a considerable quantity of stearine. Jatropha oil differs from castor and croton oils in its slight solubility in alcohol; but mixture with castor-oil augments its solubility. According to Mr. Quekett, [Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope, p. 138, 1848.] it is well adapted for burning in lamps; for which purpose it is employed in India.
Jatropha seeds and oil resemble the seeds and oil of croton in the character of their effects. Mr. Bennett [Lond. Med. Gaz. vol. ix. p. 8.] swallowed four seeds, and experienced a very unpleasant sensation in the stomach and bowels, with nausea, which, after an interval of nearly two hours, terminated in vomiting: their purgative effects followed soon afterwards, and were mild; the sickness had then passed away, but the burning sensation continued for some time longer. The kernels of five seeds caused in a labourer vomiting, purging, perspiration, debility, giddiness, and delirium. Four hours after taking the poison he walked to the London Hospital: the pupils were natural, the countenance pale, the hands cold, and the pulse 140. An opiate and a mild cordial were given to him, and he soon recovered. [Letheby, Lond. Med. Gaz. N. S. vol. vii. p. 116, 1848.] Jatropha oil is occasionally used as a drastic purgative. It is less powerful than croton oil. Dr. Christison states that twelve or fifteen drops of it are about equal to one ounce of castor-oil. The residual cake from which the oil has been expressed is very active. The last-mentioned authority found that a few grains of it caused violent vomiting and purging. The juice of the plant [Lunan, Hort. Jamaicensis, vol. ii. p. 62, quoted by Dr. Hamilton in the Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. v. p. 26. 1845.] has been successfully applied externally as a remedy for piles. Dr. McWilliam [Report on the Boa Vista Fever, 1847.] says, that a decoction of the leaves is used by the natives of the Cape Verde Islands to excite a secretion of milk in women who have borne a child, and who are not past child bearing.
2. Curcas multifidus, Endlicher, Encbir. Botan.; Jatropha multifida, Linn.; Adenorhopium multifidum, Pohl; French Physic Nut; Spanish Physic Nut.—Leaves large, stalked, palmate or digitate, many-lobed, smooth; lobes pinnatifid, cuneate.—West Indies; Brazils.—The capsule is yellowish, about the size of a walnut, obtusely 3-cornered, somewhat tapering above, 3 celled; each cell containing 1 seed. The seeds, called French physic nuts (semina curcadis multifidi; nuces purgantes: avellanae purgatrices; ben magnum), are about the size of those of a common nut, rounded externally, with two flattened surfaces separated by an ovule internally. The seed coat is marbled and smooth: the kernel is white.—The composition of these seeds is, according to Soubeiran, [Journ. de Pharm, t. xv. p.506, 1829.] similar to that of the seeds of the Curcas purgans.—The expressed oil (oleum curcadis multifidi; oleum pinhoen), as well as the seeds, are drastic cathartics. In their operation they resemble the preceding oil and seeds. Death is said to have been produced by them. [Sloane's Jamaica, vol. i. p. 36.]
3. The seeds of the Jatropha gossypifolia, Linn.; Bastard French Physic Nut, Belly-ache, or Wild Cassada, have also been used as purgatives in dropsies. [Hamilton, Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. v. p. 27. 1845.]