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62. Urginea Scilla, Steinheil.—The Sea Onion, or Officinal Squill.

Botanical name:

Sex. Syst. Hexandria, Monogynia.
(Bulbus recens, L.—Bulb, E. D.)

Synonymes.—Squilla maritima, Steinheil; Scilla maritima, Linn.; Cepa marina, Lobel. [In 1834, Steinheil (Ann. Sc. Nat. t. i. p. 321, 2nde Sér.) proposed the name Urginea for the genus to which squill (Urginea Scilla, Steinh.) belongs. Some objections having been raised to it, and no systematic writer having then adopted it, Steinheil, in 1836, (op. cit., t. vi. p. 272), proposed to substitute the name of Squilla (σκιλλα) for Urginea; but subsequently some writers have adopted the term Urginea as the generic name.]

History.—The Egyptians worshipped a bulbous plant called by Lucian κρομμυον, and which Pauw [Phil. Diss. on the Egyptians and Chinese, vol. i. p. 130, 1795.] asserts to be the squill, and further suggests that it was the red variety (? Squilla Pancration var. α Bulbo rufo, Steinheil); but by others it has been thought to be the onion (see Allium Cepa). Pythagoras [Pliny, Hist. Nat. lib. xix. cap. 30, ed. Valp.] is said to have written a volume on the medicinal properties of squill, and to have invented the acetum scillae. Hippocrates employed squill (σκιλλα) internally, [De victus ratious.] externally, [De ulceribus.] and as a pessary. [De Nat. Mul.] Pliny [Hists. Nat. lib. xix. cap. 30, ed. Valp.] says there are two medicinal sorts of squills—one, which he calls the male, with white leaves; the other, or female, with black leaves: the former probably is white, the latter red squills.

Botany. Gen. Char.—Sepals three, coloured, spreading. Petals very like them, and scarcely broader. Stamens six, shorter than the perianth; filaments smooth, somewhat dilated at the base, acuminate, entire. Ovary three-parted, glandular and melliferous at the apex; style smooth, simple; stigma obscurely three-lobed, papillose. Capsule rounded, three-cornered, three-celled. Seeds numerous, in two rows, flattened with a membranous testa. (Steinheil.)

Sp. Char.—Leaves very large, subsequently spreading. Bracts long. Flowers white; flower-bud somewhat acute. Anthers yellow. Ovarium thick, yellowish. Bulb very large. (Steinheil.)

Bulb roundish-ovate, half above ground. The leaves appear after the flowers: they are broad, lanceolate, twelve to eighteen inches long. Scape about two feet high, terminated by a dense long raceme.

Hab.—Shores of the Mediterranean, viz.: Spain, France, Sicily, Africa, &c. Navarino has long been celebrated for its squills. In its native soil the plant flowers about August.

Squilla Pancration, Steinh. (παγκρατιον, Dioscorides) is said by Steinheil to yield a small bulb of a reddish colour, found in commerce under the name of squill.

Description.—The fresh bulb (bulbus recens, L.; radix recens, offic.) is pyriform, of the size of the fist to that of a child's head, and is composed of thick, fleshy, smooth, shiny scales, attenuated at their edges, closely applied over each other, and attached to a conical disk (a rudimentary stem) which projects inferiorly, and gives origin to the root fibres, the remains of which are to be frequently found in the bulbs of commerce. The outer scales are usually dry, thin, coloured, membranous, or papery. By cracking the inner or fleshy scales, numerous spiral vessels may be drawn out. On submitting the cuticle of the scales to a microscopic examination, numerous acicular crystals (raphides) are perceived in cells, which are distinguished from the surrounding angular cells by being larger and elliptical. The pulvis scillae, offic., contains nine or ten per cent. of these crystals.

Two kinds of squills, both abounding in an acrid juice, and having a very bitter taste, are met with in commerce; viz., the white (scuilla alba, mascula, vel hispanica), and the red (scuilla rubra, faemina, vel italica), [Is the red kind the Squilla Pancration var. α Bulbo Rufo, Steinheil?] both of which are so called from the colour of the scales. The white is preferred in England.

In the London Pharmacopoeia (1851) the fresh bulbs are directed to be dried like Colchicum.

Dried squill (radix scillae siccata, offic.) is, however, for the most part imported, in consequence of the duty being no higher for this than for the recent bulb. It occurs in white or yellowish-white, slightly diaphanous pieces, which, when dry, are brittle, but when moist are readily flexible. As their affinity for moisture is great, they should be preserved in well-stoppered bottles, or in a very dry place.

Squill is imported from Malta, and other countries of the Mediterranean. Also from Petersburg and Copenhagen. [Trade List, Sept. 11, and Nov. 20, 1838. Sir James Wylie (Pharm. Castren. Ruthenica, p. 335, ed. 4to. 1840) gives North Russia as one of the habitats of this plant.]

Composition.—The more recent analyses of squill are those of Vogel, in 1812, [Ann. de Chim. t. 83, p. 147.] and of Tilloy, in 1826. [Journ. de Pharm. xii. p. 635.] Buchner, [Berl. Jahrb. xv. p. 1.] in 1811, examined the juice of the fresh bulb.

Vogel's Analysis of Squills, dried at 212° F.Tilloy's Analysis of dried and fresh squillsBuchner's Analysis of fresh Squill bulb juice.
Scillitin with some sugar35Acrid bitter resinous extractive (Scillitin)Peculiar bitter extractive9.47
Tannin24Uncrystallizable sugarMucilage3.09
Gum6Gum.Gelatinous matter (Tragacanthin?)0.94
Woody fibre, and some citrate (and perhaps tartrate) of lime30Fatty matter.Phosphate of lime0.31
Acrid volatile matterPiquant, very fugaceous matter.Fibrous matter3.38
Loss5----Water79.01
------Squill bulb.Astringent acidtraces
Squill bulb100Loss4.40
---------
Squill juice100.60

1. Acrid, volatile ? matter.—It is well known that squill, in the recent state, is very acrid, and, when applied to the skin, causes irritation, inflammation, and even vesication. By drying, the greater part of this acridity is got rid of; and hence the acrid principle is usually described as being of a volatile nature, and, in confirmation of its volatility, Athanasius [Pfaff, Mat. Med. Bd. v. S. 18.] states that two ounces of water distilled from fresh squills caused the death of a dog in six hours. However, by others, its volatility is denied; and Vogel says, that six ounces of water distilled from fresh squills had no effect on dogs. Büchner [Toxikologie, 340.] states, that besides the bitter scillitin, squill contains, Recording to his experiments, another principle, which is combined with phosphate of lime, and which is capable of exciting itching and inflammation. This acrid matter may be easily decomposed, but is not volatile, as is generally supposed.

2. Scillitin (Scillitite, Thomson).—The substance to which Vogel gave the name of Scillitin is a whitish transparent deliquescent substance, which, when dry, has a resinous fracture, and may be easily rubbed to powder. Its taste is bitter, and subsequently sweetish. It readily dissolves in water, spirit of wine, and acetic acid. The substance sold in the shops under the name of Scillitin is a thick treacle-like liquid. Landerer [Thomson's Org. Chem. p. 717.] obtained crystals of Scillitin. He says they possessed alkaline properties. Lebordais, [Ann. de Chim. et de Phys. xxiv. 58.] on the other hand, says it is neutral and incrystallizable. It obviously requires further examination.

3. Raphides (Phosphate of lime? Oxalate of lime?).—The acicular crystals found in the cuticle of the scales of the bulb, as before mentioned, probably consist of phosphate of lime, or, according to Schleiden, of oxalate of lime. These, perhaps, are the needle-like crystals obtained by Vogel by evaporating the juice of the bulb, and which he regarded as citrate of lime. According to the late Mr. E. Quekett they constitute about 10 per cent. of powdered squills.

Chemical Characteristics.—An aqueous decoction of squills is pale, and very bitter. Sesquichloride of iron communicates an intense purplish blue colour (gallate of iron) to it. (This test I have not found to succeed uniformly. The decoction of some specimens of squills scarcely becomes altered by the salts of iron.) Gelatin has scarcely any effect on it. Nitrate of silver forms a white precipitate (chloride of silver) soluble in ammonia, but insoluble in nitric acid. Oxalate of ammonia renders the decoction turbid, and after some time causes a white precipitate (oxalate of lime). Diacetate of lead and proto-nitrate of mercury form precipitates in the decoction. Tincture of nutgalls has little or no effect on it; it sometimes occasions a cloudiness. Starch is not recognizable in it by iodine. Alkalies heighten the colour of the decoction.

An infusion of squills in water acidulated with hydrochloric acid yields a white precipitate with oxalate of ammonia (oxalate of lime) ; and with caustic ammonia sometimes a precipitate (phosphate of lime), at others scarcely a cloud.

Physiological Effects. α. On Vegetables.—Not ascertained.

β. On Animals.—An ounce of powdered squills acts as a diuretic on horses and other large animals; the same effect is produced on smaller animals by half a drachm. [Moiroud, Pharm. Vétér.] When the dose is large, squill acts as a poison. It first causes local irritation; then its active principle becomes absorbed, affects the nervous system, and thereby quickens the respiration, causes convulsions, and death. [Orfila, Toxicol. Gén.] Hillefeld [Marx, Die Lehre von d. Giften, vol. ii.] mentions paralysis produced in a rabbit by nineteen grains of powdered squill. Emmert and Hoering [Meckel's Archiv, B. 4, Heft 4, S. 527.] state that the squill juice introduced into the abdominal cavity became absorbed.

γ. On Man.—Squill is an acrid. In small doses it acts as a stimulant to the excretory organs. Thus it promotes secretion from the mucous membranes (especially the bronchial and gastro-intestinal) and the kidneys. Its most marked effect is that of a diuretic. Its expectorant effects are less obvious and constant. Sometimes, when it fails to act on the kidneys, it increases cutaneous exhalation. Its influence on secreting organs is probably to be referred to the local stimulus communicated to their vessels by the active principle of squill in its passage out of the system, for Emmert and Hoering [Op. cit.] have shown that the juice is absorbed, so that squills may be regarded as an acrid even for these remote parts. When it proves diuretic in dropsies, it usually promotes the absorption of the effused fluid—an effect which is, I think, indirect, and a consequence of the diuresis. But Sundelin [Handb. d. sp. Heilm. Bd. ii. s. 17.] observes of squill, that it promotes the secretion of urine loss by its local irritation of the kidneys, than by its general excitement of the absorbent apparatus.

By the continued use of squill, in gradually increased doses, it disturbs the functions of digestion and assimilation.

In full medicinal doses, squill excites nausea and vomiting. Purging, also, is not unfrequently produced. When squill proves emetic or purgative, its diuretic operation is much less obvious—a circumstance which Cullen [Treat. of the Mat. Med. p. 557.] refers to the squill being prevented reaching the blood-vessels and kidneys. Home, [Clinical Experiments, ed edit. p. 387, 1783.] however, alleges that the diuretic effects are not to be expected unless there be some operation on the stomach. But the operation on the stomach may be, as Cullen suggests, a mere test of the activity of the squills. However, that the effect of squill, in strong doses, is not confined to the alimentary canal, is proved by the fact, that when the vomiting and purging were present, the pulse has been observed to be reduced in frequency, often to forty beats per minute (Home).

In excessive doses, squill acts as a narcotico-acrid poison, and causes vomiting, purging, griping pain, strangury, bloody urine, convulsions, inflammation, and gangrene of the stomach and intestines. [Murray, App. Med. vol. v. p. 97.] Twenty-four grains of the powder have proved fatal. [Vogel, Journ. de Phys. lxxv. 194.]

Considered with reference to its diuretic effect, squill is comparable with foxglove. But it exceeds the latter in its stimulant influence over the urinary organs. On the other hand, foxglove is characterized by its powerfully sedative effect on the vascular system; for though squill has, in some instances, reduced the frequency of the pulse, this effect is by no means common. Squill, says Vogt, [Pharmacodyn. ii. 343, 2te Aufl.] preponderates in its action on the inferior or vegetative [organic] life; foxglove, on the other hand, in its action on the higher or animal life.

Uses.—The principal uses of squill are those of an emetic, diuretic, and expectorant.

1. As a diuretic in dropsies.—It is applicable to those cases of dropsy requiring the use of stimulating or acrid diuretics, and is improper in inflammatory cases. It is an unfit remedy for dropsy complicated with granular kidney or vesical irritation; but when these conditions aie not present, it is adapted for torpid leuco-phlegmatic subjects. Hence, it is more serviceable in anasarca than in either ascites or hydrothorax. It should be given so as to excite a slight degree of nausea (not vomiting), as recommended by Van Swieten. [Commentary upon Boerhaave's Aphorisms, vol. xii. p. 435.] By this means its absorption is promoted. The acetate or bitartrate of potash may be conjoined. Calomel is usually regarded as a good adjunct for promoting the diuretic influence of squill. When it does not purge it is beneficial, but its tendency to affect the bowels is an objection to its use.

2. As an expectorant in chronic pulmonary affections admitting of the use of a substance stimulating the capillary vessels of the bronchial membrane. Thus, in chronic catarrh, humid asthma, and winter cough, it is often employed with considerable benefit. It is of course improper in all acute cases accompanied with inflammation or febrile disorder. In old persons it is often combined with the tinctura camphorae composita, and with good effect. The oxymel or syrup of squill may be given to relieve troublesome chronic coughs in children.

3. As an emetic, it is occasionally used in affections of the organs of respiration requiring or admitting of the use of vomits. Thus, the oxymel is given, with the view of creating sickness and promoting expectoration, to children affected with hooping-cough; and sometimes, though with less propriety, in mild cases of croup. The great objection to its use is the uncertainty of its operation: in one case it will hardly excite nausea, in another it causes violent vomiting. Furthermore, it is of course highly objectionable as an emetic for delicate children with irritable stomachs, on account of its acrid properties, and the irritation it is capable, in these cases, of setting up.

Administration.—The following are the preparations of squills usually employed:—

1. PULVIS SCILLAE; Powder of Squill.—The bulb loses about four-fifths of its weight by drying; so that six grains of the dry powder are equal to half a drachm when fresh. Powdered squill readily attracts water from the atmosphere, and becomes soft and mouldy; hence the necessity of preserving it in stoppered bottles and in a dry place. I have seen it become hard and massive like diachylon plaster. It is usually administered in the form of pill. The dose of the powder, as an emetic, is from six to fifteen grains; ten grains being the average. As an expectorant or diuretic we should commence with one grain, and gradually increase the dose until slight nausea is excited.

2. PILULA SCILLAE COMPOSITAE, L.; Pilulae Scillae Compositae, D. [U. S.]; Pilulae Scillae, E.; Compound Squill Pill.—(Squill, fresh dried and powdered, ℨj [ℨiiss, D.]; Ginger powdered, Ammoniacum powdered, of each ℨij; Soft Soap ℨiij [Castile Soap ℨij, D.] [Syrup, U. S.]; Treacle as much as may be sufficient [by weight f℥ss, D.]. Mix the powders together; then beat them with the other ingredients until they are incorporated. The Edinburgh College takes of powdered Squill five parts; powdered Ammoniac, Ginger, and Spanish Soap, of each four parts; Conserve of Red Roses two parts; and forms them into five-grain pills.)— Expectorant and diuretic. Principally used in chronic bronchial affections. Dose, from five to twenty grains. It readily spoils by keeping.

3. TINCTURA SCILLAE, L. D. E. [U. S.]; Tincture of Squills.—(Squill, fresh dried [in coarse powder, E.], ℥v; Proof Spirit Oij; macerate for seven [fourteen, E.] days, and strain, L. "Prepare this tincture by percolation, as directed for tincture of cinchona, but without packing the pulp firmly in the percolator. It may likewise be obtained by the process of digestion from the sliced bulb." E.) [The U. S. Pharm, directs of Squill four ounces; diluted Alcohol two pints; macerate for fourteen days, compress and filter through paper; or, this tincture may also be prepared by thoroughly moistening the Squill in powder, with diluted Alcohol, allowing it to stand for twenty-four hours, then transferring to an apparatus for displacement, and gradually pouring upon it diluted Alcohol, until two pints of the filtered liquor are obtained.]—Expectorant and diuretic. Used in chronic bronchial affections. Dose, ♏i to fℨss.

4. ACETUM SCILLAE, L. D. E. [U. S.]; Vinegar of Squills.—(Sqill, fresh dried and powdered, ℥ijss [℥ij, D.]; Dilute Acetic Acid Oj [Acetic Acid of commerce (sp. gr. 1.044), f℥iv; Distilled Water ℥xij, D.]; [Proof Spirit f℥iss, L.] The ingredients and relative proportions used by the Edinburgh College are the same as those of the London College, except that distilled vinegar is employed. Macerate the squill with the vinegar, with a gentle heat, in a covered vessel, for three [seven, D. Ed.] days; afterwards press out [the liquor] and set it aside, that the dregs may subside; lastly, add the spirit to the clear liquor. [The U. S. Pharm. directs, of Squill, bruised, four ounces; Diluted Acetic Acid two pints; Alcohol a fluidounce. The process is the same as that of the Dublin College; or it may be made by displacement.])—Expectorant and diuretic. Used in chronic pulmonary affections and dropsies, under the regulations before described. Dose, ℨss to ℨiss, in some aromatic water.

5. OXYMEL SCILLAE, L. [U. S.]; Syrupus Scillae, E.; Oxymel of Squills; Syrup of Squills.—(Honey lb v; Vinegar of Squill Oijss. Boil down the vinegar, with a slow fire, to twelve fluidounces, and mix the honey, made hot, L.—Vinegar of Squills Oiij; Pure Sugar lb vij. Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar of squills with the aid of a gentle heat and agitation, E. [Vinegar of Squill Oij; Clarified Honey Ojss. Mix them, and evaporate, by means of a water-bath, to the proper consistence. The specific gravity should be 1.32, U. S.])—Used as an expectorant in chronic catarrhs and asthma, in doses of fℨj or fℨij. As an emetic, it is sometimes given to children affected with hooping-cough or croup, in doses of a teaspoonful repeated every quarter of an hour until vomiting occurs.

[6. SYRYPUS SCILLAE, U. S.; Syrup of Squills.—This is directed to be prepared of Vinegar of Squills a pint; Sugar two pounds. Add the sugar to the vinegar of squill, and proceed in the manner directed for syrup. This preparation is used in place of the preceding as an emetic and expectorant. In affections of the lungs, where squill is beneficial, it may be employed as an ingredient of cough mixtures, variously compounded. As a common remedy for children in cases of cough or cold, it is with safety directed and commonly used. The dose is fℨss to ℨj or ℨij.

7. SYRYPUS SCILLAE COMPOSITUS, U. S.; Compound Syrup of Squill; Hive Syrup.—Take of Squill bruised, Senega bruised, each four ounces; Tartrate of Antimony and Potassa forty-eight grains; Water four pints; Sugar three pounds and a half. Pour the water upon the squill and senega, and having boiled to one-half, strain, and add the sugar; then evaporate to three pints, and, while the syrup is still hot, dissolve in it the tartrate of antimony and potassa. Another mode of preparation is, to take of Squill in coarse powder, Senega in coarse powder, each four ounces; Tartrate of Antimony and Potassa forty-eight grains; Alcohol half a pint; Water a sufficient quantity; Sugar three pounds and a half. Mix the alcohol with two pints and a half of water, and macerate the squill and senega in the mixture for twenty-four hours. Put the whole in an apparatus for displacement, and add as much water as may be necessary to make the filtered liquor amount to three pints. Boil the liquor for a few minutes, evaporate to one-half, and strain; then add the sugar, and evaporate until the resulting syrup measures three pints. Lastly, dissolve the tartrate of antimony and potassa in the syrup, while it is still hot.

This preparation is a modification of that made according to the formula given by Dr. J. R. Coxe, and which goes by the name of Coxe's Hive Syrup. In the former editions of the Pharmacopoeia, the formula of Dr. Coxe was adopted; and as honey was substituted for sugar, it had the officinal name of Mel Scillae compositum. The formula above cited authorizes the substitution of sugar for honey, as it is less liable, when prepared as directed, to undergo fermentation—a great desideratum in hot weather. There is no difference between the proportions of the ingredients, so that an equal strength of the two preparations is obtained by both. The latter was introduced in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee of Revision of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.

This preparation combines the advantages of squill, senega, and tartarized antimony, and is an exceedingly active preparation. In sufficient doses, it operates upon the stomach, producing free vomiting and expectoration. It is used at the commencement of croup, hooping-cough, and catarrhal affections in children, with the view to its evacuant impression. In the inflammatory stages, as an expectorant and nauseant, it may also be employed with advantage, in reduced doses. The dose is from gtt. x to fℨi, according to the age of the child, repeated every ten or fifteen minutes until it pukes. As an expectorant for adults, the dose is gtt. xx to gtt. xxx.]

Antidote.—No antidote is known. The first object, therefore, in a case of poisoning, is to evacuate the stomach; the second, to allay the inflammatory symptoms which may supervene.


The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1854.



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