23. Polyporus officinalis, Fries.—Larch Agaric.
History.—This fungus was used by the ancients. It is described by Dioscorides [Lib. iii. cap. 1.] under the name of Aγαρικον. In the modern Greek Pharmacopoeia, it is termed Aγαρικον τολευκον, its Turkish name being Kατραν μανταρι.
Botany. Gen. Char.—Hymenium concrete, with the substance of the pileus, consisting of subrotund pores with their simple dissepiments. (Berkeley.)
Sp. Char.—Pileus corky-fleshy, ungulate, zoned, smooth. Pores yellowish (Fries).
Hab.—South of Europe and Asia, on the Larch.
Commerce.—The best agaric is brought from Asia and Carinthia. A small and inferior kind is collected in Dauphinè. I was informed by the late Mr. Butler, of Covent Garden Market, that the London shops were supplied from Germany.
Levant Agaric (an inferior sort of which is known at Marseilles by the name of cucumule) is exported from Smyrna. The Russian larch agaric, exported from Archangel, is the product of Larix sibirica [Martius, in Buchner's Repertorium, N. S. Bd. xli. S. 92, 1846.].
Collection.—It is collected in the months of August and September, decorticated, dried, and bleached in the sun. Martiny states that it is beaten with wooden hammers to make it soft. But that which I have found in English commerce has neither been decorticated nor beaten.
Description.—This fungus is still kept in the herb-shops, being sold under the name of agaric, white agaric (agaricus albus), or larch or female agaric (fungus laricis). It occurs in masses, varying in size from that of the fist to that of a child's head. The most usual shape which I have found is that of a horse's hoof, or of half a cone (divided by a plane passing through both the apex and the base) [The specimen from which Fig. 190 was taken was kindly lent me by the Rev. M. J. Berkeley. I have had it represented as growing on the stem of a tree.]. Externally, it is yellowish or reddish gray; internally, it is white. It has a very feeble odour, and a bitter acrid taste. It is liable to be attacked by a beetle, the Anobium festivum, Panz.
Composition.—It has been analyzed by Bouillon-La-Grange [Ann. de Chimie, t. li. p. 76, 1808; also, Thomson's Chemistry of Organic Bodies—Vegetables, p. 939, 1838.]; by Bucholz [Berlin, Jahrbuch für 1808, p. 111.]; by Braconnot [Bull. de Pharm. t. iv. p. 304, 1812.], and by Bley [Trommsdorff's N. Journ. Bd. xxv. S. 119, 1832; Martiny, Encyclop. d. Natur, S. 909.].
The constituents, according to Bley, are resin, 33.1; extractive, 2; gum and bitter extractive, 8.3; vegetable albumen, 0.7; wax, 0.2; fungic acids, 0.13; boletic acid, 0.06; tartaric and phosphoric acids, 1.354; potash, 0.329; lime, 0.16; ammonia and sulphur, traces. The following substances were obtained by the action of caustic potash and hydrochloric acid: coagulated albumen, 0.4; artificial gum, 15.5; artificial resin, soluble in ether, 9.5; residual fibre called fungine (cellulose), 15; moisture, 11, and loss, 2.367 = 100.000.
The active principle of agaric has been usually said to reside in the resin; but Martius [Buchner's Repertorium, Bd. xli. S. 93, 1846.] states that it is a peculiar substance, which he proposes to call laricin. This is a white amorphous powder, possessing a bitter taste, soluble in alcohol and oil of turpentine, and forming with boiling water a paste. It has been analyzed by Dr. Will, who found that its formula was C14H12O4.
The resin of agaric possesses purgative qualities, and was formerly employed for the adulteration of jalap resin [Jacquin, Diss. de Agarico Offic., Vind. 1778 (Richter's Arzneimittellehre, Bd. ii. S. 275.]. It probably contains laricin.
Effects.—Larch agaric is an acrid substance. Its dust irritates the eyes, and causes sneezing, cough, and nausea. When swallowed in the dose of a drachm or two, this fungus excites nausea, vomiting, griping, and purging, and is said to check sweating.
Uses.—It has been employed internally as an emetic, cathartic, discutient, and to check colliquative sweating: externally, as an astringent. De Haen reported favourably of it as an anti-sudorific in phthisis, and Barbut confirms his statements. Favourable reports of it were also made by Toel, Neumann, Kopp, Burdach, Andral, and others. Subsequently, however, Andral has expressed an opinion that little benefit is to be derived from it.
Administration.—The dose of it is from ℨss to ℨj as a purgative; and from grs iij to grs viij, taken before going to sleep, to check sweating [For further details respecting its medical uses, se Murray, App. Med. vol. v. p. 673; Riecke, die neuern Arzneimitt.; and Dunglison, New Remedies; and, for formulae for its preparation, see Jourdan's Pharmacopée Universelle.].