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Elaterium

Botanical name:

Elaterium. Br. 1898. Extractum Elaterii. Elaterium, Elaterion, Fr. Elaterium, G. Elaterio, It., Sp.—"A sediment from the juice of the fruit of Ecballium Elaterium, A. Richard." Br., 1898. Ecballium Elaterium (L.) A. Eich., commonly known as the wild or squirting cucumber, is a perennial plant, with a large fleshy root, from which rise several round, thick, rough stems, branching and trailing like the common cucumber, but without tendrils. The leaves are petiolate, large, rough, irregularly cordate, and of a grayish-green color. The flowers are yellow and axillary. The fruit has the shape of a small oval cucumber, about an inch and a half long, an inch thick, of a greenish or grayish color, and covered with stiff hairs or prickles. When fully ripe, it separates from the peduncle, and throws out its juice and seeds with considerable force through an opening at the base, where it was attached to the footstalk. The name of squirting cucumber was derived from this circumstance, and the scientific and official title is supposed to have had a similar origin, though some authors maintain that the term elaterium was applied to the drug rather from the mode of its operation upon the bowels than from the projectile property of the fruit. The word elaterium was used by Hippocrates to signify any active purge. Dioscorides applied it to the medicine of which we are treating. It is a native of the south of Europe, and is cultivated in Great Britain, where, however, it perishes in the winter. (For description of the culture in England, see U. S. D., 19th ed., p. 432.)

Elaterium is the substance spontaneously deposited by the juice of the fruit, when separated and allowed to stand. Strong expression of the juice injures the product. When the fruit is sliced and placed upon a sieve, a perfectly limpid and colorless juice flows out, which soon becomes turbid, and in the course of a few hours begins to deposit a sediment. This, when collected and carefully dried, is very light and pulverulent, of a yellowish-white color, slightly tinged with green. It is the genuine elaterium, and was found by Clutterbuck to purge violently in the dose of one-eighth of a grain. But the quantity contained in the fruit is very small. Clutterbuck obtained only six grains from forty cucumbers. Commercial elaterium is often a weaker medicine, owing in part, perhaps, to adulteration, but much more to the fact that in order to increase the product, the juice of the fruit is often expressed with great force, and there is reason to believe that it is sometimes evaporated so as to form an extract, instead of being allowed to deposit the active matter. The French elaterium is prepared by expressing the juice, clarifying it by rest and nitration, and then evaporating to a suitable consistence. As the liquid remaining after the deposition of the sediment is comparatively inert, it will be perceived that the preparation of the French Codex must be relatively feeble. The following are the directions of the British Pharm. (1885): "Cut the fruit lengthwise, and lightly press out the juice. Strain it through a hair sieve, and set aside to deposit. Carefully pour off the supernatant liquor; pour the sediment on a linen filter, and dry it on porous tiles, in a warm place. The decanted fluid may deposit a second portion of sediment, which can be dried in the same way." The slight pressure directed is necessary for the separation of the juice from the somewhat immature fruit employed. The perfectly ripe fruit is not used, as, in consequence of its disposition to part with its contents, it cannot be carried to market.

The best elaterium is in thin flat or slightly curled cakes or fragments, often bearing the impression of the muslin upon which it was dried, of a greenish-gray color becoming yellowish by exposure, of a feeble odor, and a bitter, somewhat acrid taste. It is pulverulent and inflammable, and so light that it floats when thrown upon water. When of inferior quality, it ia sometimes dark-colored, much curled, and rather hard, breaking with difficulty, or presenting a resinous fracture. "In light, friable, flat or slightly curved, opaque cakes, about one-tenth of an inch (two and a half millimetres) thick; pale green, grayish-green, or yellowish-gray in color; fracture finely granular; odor faint, tea-like; taste bitter and acrid. It should not give the characteristic reactions with the tests for carbonates or for starch, and should yield half its weight to boiling alcohol (90 per cent.). When exhausted with chloroform, the solution evaporated, the residue washed with. ether, and the process of solution, evaporation, and washing repeated, Elaterium should yield 25 per cent., or not less than 20 per cent., of Elaterin." Br. For an assay of elaterium by Jones and Ransom, see U. S. Dispensatory, 19th ed., p. 432. The Maltese elaterium is in larger pieces, of a pale color, sometimes without the least tinge of green, destitute of odor, soft, and friable, and not infrequently gives evidence of having been mixed with chalk or starch. It sinks in water, and usually contains so little elaterin that it should be employed only as a source of that principle. In the analyses of T. A. Elwood, the average yield of English elaterium was 21.5 per cent., of Maltese elaterium 15.3 per cent. (P. J., Nov., 1891.)

Clutterbuck first observed that elaterium resided in the portion of it soluble in alcohol and not in water. The subsequent experiments of Hennell, of London, and Morries, of Edinburgh, which were nearly simultaneous, demonstrated the existence of a crystallizable matter in elaterium which is the active principle, and has been named elaterin. (See Elaterinum.) According to Hennell, 100 parts of elaterium contain 44 of elaterin, 17 of a green resin (chlorophyll); 6 of starch, 27 of lignin, and 6 of saline matters.

Uses.—Elaterium is a powerful hydragogue cathartic, and in a large dose generally excites nausea and vomiting. If too freely administered, it operates with great violence upon both the stomach and bowels, producing inflammation of these organs, which has in some instances eventuated fatally. It also increases the flow of urine. The fruit was employed by the ancients, and is recommended in the writings of Dioscorides as a remedy in mania and melancholy. It is at present employed only for its purgative effects. It is one of the most efficient hydragogue cathartics in the treatment of dropsy, especially valued when edema is due to disease of the kidney. It should be used with the greatest caution, or not at all, in the old or feeble or those prostrated by disease. Two-fifths of a grain (0.025 Gm.) of elaterium proved fatal by purging in an ill and feeble lady of 70 years. (A. J. P., 1868, p. 373.) Because of its variability elaterium should never be employed, preference always being given to the official elaterin.


The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.



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