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Gambir. U. S. Gambir [Pale Catechu] [to Replace Catechu, U. S. 1890]

Botanical name:

Related entry: Catechu

"A dried extract prepared from decoctions of the leaves and twigs of Ourouparia Gambir (Hunter) Baillon (Fam. Rubiaceae)." U. S. (See Catechu and Catechu Nigrum.)

Catechu Pallidum, Terra Japonica, Gambier, Cutch; Gambir Cubique, Fr.; Catechu, P. G.; Katechu, Gambir-Catechu, G.; Catecu, It., Sp.

Ourouparia Gambir (Hunter) Baillon (Uncaria Gambier Roxb.) This is a climbing shrub with slender stems somewhat thickened at the nodes; leaves ovate or oblong, entire, rounded at the base but abruptly attenuated at the summit, opposite and stipulated, smooth on both sides. The flowers are small, crowded into a dense globular head on a hairy receptacle; the flower heads are borne on long axillary peduncles which bear in the middle a whorl of bracts. At the point where these bracts occur the peduncle breaks after the falling of the inflorescence and the remainder of the peduncle becomes elongated and curved into hooks by means of which the plant climbs. Corolla gamopetalous, trumpet-shaped, tube slender; fruit one inch long, pericarp dry, dehiscing vertically into two valves; seeds very numerous.

It is a native of Malacca, Sumatra, Cochin-China, and other parts of Eastern Asia, and is largely cultivated in the islands of Bintang, Singapore, and Prince of Wales. The gambir is prepared by lopping off the leaves, shoots, and twigs of the plant, chopping them into pieces, and throwing them into an iron pot filled with boiling water. When the leaves are exhausted and the liquid sufficiently thick, it is poured into small wooden tubs, and so soon as sufficiently cool, a half-closed hand is plunged into the semi-fluid mass and a piece of light wood shaped like an elongated dice box rapidly worked up and down in the hollow formed by the hand. The extract begins to thicken by a process which is compared to crystallization. The mass is finally turned out, and cut into cubes, which are put upon trays and smoke-dried. (See also P. J., 1892, 1003.) This extract, which is known by the native Malays as pinang or siren was first brought to the attention of the profession by Campbell.

The amount of gambir exported from the Straits Settlements in 1910 amounted to 40,000,000 pounds, of which about 15,000,000 pounds was shipped to the United States.

Most of the commercial article is shipped from Singapore to London and Hamburg. The natives of Malay distinguish four different kinds:

  1. Gambir bulat or round Gambir, which occurs in biscuit-like pieces and is mostly used for chewing.
  2. Gambir papan or table Gambir which occurs in yellowish-brown thin tablets and is also used in chewing.
  3. Gambir paku (nail or finger Gambir) which occurs in long black sticks resembling licorice extract.
  4. Gambir dutoor or cube Gambir.

The latter is the form in which it is usually found in commerce. Gambir is also imported in large blocks, being used in this form for dyeing and tanning.

Properties.—Gambir is "usually in cubical or rectangular pieces from 20 to 30 mm. in diameter; externally pale grayish-brown to reddish-brown, more or less dull and porous; friable; internally of a light brown or dull earthy color; inodorous; taste bitterish and very astringent. Upon scraping a piece of Gambir and mounting the separated fragments in hydrated chloral T.S. and examining them under the microscope, numerous acicular crystals, from 0.01 to 0.03 mm. in length, separate at the edges of the fragments and gradually dissolve, leaving a few, thick-walled, non-glandular hairs which, when entire, may be 0.35 mm. in length; a few fragments of leaves may also be present showing either epidermal cells or small narrow trachea? with spiral or annular markings; a few starch grains either single or compound, of variable shapes and from 0.005 to 0.015 mm. in. diameter; a number of bacteria may also be present. Macerate 1 Gm. of Gambir with 50 mils of water, and filter; the pale yellowish-brown solution obtained gives an intense, green color with dilute ferric chloride T.S.; but yields no precipitate with copper sulphate T.S. Not less than 65 per cent. of Gambir is soluble in water and not less than 60 per cent. is soluble in alcohol. Gambir yields not more than 9 per cent. of ash." U. S,

The microscopical appearance of gambir is very characteristic and Brumwell (J. S. C. Ind., 1911, p. 475) illustrates the appearance of commercial specimens. Gambir is light and porous, so that it floats when thrown in water. It is partially soluble in cold water, and almost wholly so in boiling water, which deposits a portion upon cooling. Duhamel, Ecky, and Procter dissolved 87.5 per cent. of it in cold water by means of percolation. (A. J. P., xvi, 166.) Nees von Esenbeck found it to consist of from 36 to 40 per cent. of catechutannic acid, a peculiar principle called catechuin, catechin, or catechuic acid, gum or gummy extractive, a deposit like cinchonic red, and 2.5 per cent. of lignin. Catechin, when perfectly pure, is snow-white, of a silky appearance, crystallizable in fine needles, melting at 217° C. (422.6° F.), unalterable in the air if dry, fusible by heat, very slightly soluble in cold water, with which it softens and swells up, soluble in boiling water, which deposits it on cooling, and soluble also in alcohol and ether. It very slightly reddens litmus paper, and, though coloring solution of chloride of iron green, and producing with it a grayish-green precipitate, differs from tannic acid in not affecting a solution of gelatin. The very great discordance of different authors as to its formula seems to be explained by some experiments of Etti (Ann. Ch. Ph., 186, p. 327), who showed that catechin, C19H18O8, readily gives at 100° C. (212° F.), or even when kept for some time over sulphuric acid, an anhydride, C38H34O15, and at 160° C.(320° F.) a second anhydride, C38H32O14, which, mixed in varying proportions, explain the varying results. Gautier (Bull. Soc. Chim., 30, 567) finds three different catechins separable by their different solubility in water, all of them crystallizable. These are: a-catechin, C40H38O18 + 2H2O, melting at from 204° to 205° C. (399.2°-401° F.), and present in gambir to the amount of 12 per cent.; b-catechin, C47H38O16 + H2O, melting at from 176° to 177° C. ^ (348.8°-350.6° F.), and 2 per cent. present in gambir; and c-catechin, C40H38O16 +H2O, melting at 163° C. (325.4° F.), and present in gambir to the amount of 6.5 per cent.

Perkin and Yoshitako (P. J., 1902, p. 530) have made an elaborate investigation of gambir and acacia catechus. They find three catechins, designated respectively as (a), (b), and (c). Catechin (b), C15H14O6 + 4H2O, occurs in air dried, colorless needles, melting at 175° to 177° C. (347°-350.6° F.), and gives on fusion with alkali, phloroglucinol, protocatechuic acid, and an acid resembling acetic acid. Catechin (c), C16H14O6, air dried, contains no water of crystallization and forms colorless prisms, melting at 235° to 237° C. (455°-458.6° F.). Catechin (a), C14H14O6 + 3H2O (or less probably C14H14O6+3H2O), air dried, forms colorless needles, melting at 204° to 205° C. (399.2°-401° F.).

Good gambir should occur in a hard compact mass, breaking up, "when the adhering mat is removed, into distinct cubes of a brownish-black color externally, and a deep mahogany-red with an occasional streak of yellow internally. It should not steam when the mat is opened. From this quality it grades down to a stuff which has been prepared by mixing the material obtained by reboiling the exhausted leaves with various mixtures. This lowest grade is not in cubes, steams when opened, frequently shows large patches of black or dirty blue color, and often has a sour fetid odor; its color varies from black to light-brown.

The varieties between the two extremes are very great; sometimes gambir occurs in solid mass of fair quality; sometimes the cubes are of extraordinary size, and of a color varying from a dirty white to a very pale yellow. At the Edinburgh Forestry Exhibition in 1885 the Maharajah of Johore exhibited specimens labelled "gambir produced in Johore." The first quality, which was "makan" (for eating), was in regular cubes, externally cassia-brown color, internally pale cinnamon brown, and yielded 32 per cent. of tannic acid; the second quality was in badly formed cubes, externally brown and black, internally cinnamon, and yielded 30 per cent. of tannic acid; the third quality was in dull-brown, well-shaped cubes, internally pale brown, and yielded 19 per cent. of tannic acid. The oblong or parallelepiped gambir was of a uniform dull brown, very hard and strong, and yielded only 2 per cent. of tannic acid. MacEwan believes that the low percentage of tannin was due to the decoction not having been subjected to prolonged boiling, which favors the decomposition of catechin, with the formation of catechu-tannic acid. None of the finest varieties of gambir, such as are used by the natives for chewing, occur to any extent in American commerce. Prebble records his examination of a cube gambir of fine appearance which contained a large percentage of starch. (P. J., 1893, 21.)

Enormous quantities of gambir are used both in Europe and America in tanning, calico printing, dyeing, as an ingredient in boiler compounds for preventing the hard scaly incrustation caused by certain kinds of water, and other art processes requiring tannic acid.

Vanderkleed and E'we call attention to the fact that the apparent alcohol soluble content of gambir may be unduly raised by the high moisture content of some of the commercial varieties, which they report as containing over 21 per cent. of moisture, all of which would be calculated in the alcohol soluble extractive by the ordinary methods in which no allowance is made for water. (J. A. Ph. A., 1914, 1685.)

Uses.—Gambir is a serviceable remedy in those cases where astringents are indicated.

The complaints to which it is best adapted are diarrhea dependent on debility or relaxation of the intestinal mucous membrane, and passive hemorrhages, particularly from the uterus. A small piece held in the mouth and allowed slowly to dissolve is an excellent remedy in relaxation of the uvula and the irritation of the fauces and troublesome cough which depend upon it. Applied to spongy gums, in the state of powder, it sometimes proves useful; and it has been recommended as a dentifrice in combination with powdered charcoal, Peruvian bark, myrrh, etc.

Dose, from ten grains to half a drachm (0.65—2.0 Gm.), which should be frequently repeated, and is best given with sugar, gum arable, and water.

Off. Prep.—Tinctura Gambir Composita, U. S. (Br.); Trochisci Gambir, N. F.; Pulvis Gambir Compositus, N. F.; Tinctura Pectoralis (from Compound Tincture), N. F.


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



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