Euphorbia corollata. Large flowering spurge.

Botanical name: 

Pl. 53. Euphorbia corollata. In point of stature and the shewy appearance of its flowers, this species of Euphorbia differs eminently from that described in the last article. In the common features, however, of the genus, such as its lactescence, its taste, and its medicinal powers; the consanguinity of the two plants evidently appears. I am not aware that this species has been much known for its operative qualities, until within a very recent period. The indians were, indeed, acquainted with the medicinal properties of more than one species of Euphorbia. They doubtless made use of the E. ipecacuanha, and not impossibly of the present species also. In Mr. Clayton's letter to Dr. Grew, contained in the Transactions of the Royal society for 1730, and which we have noticed in speaking of Aletris farinosa, the writer states, that the Aborigines made use of "the roots of Tythymal, of which there are two sorts, the one flore minimo herbaceo, the other flore albo. The flower of this last," he says, "is small, but large in comparison with the other. They are repentes, and grow in old manured grounds. They chiefly make use of the latter of these, and it is a most excellent purge, though it sometimes vomits. It is quick but moderate in its effect, and has this peculiarity, that it opens the body, when other more violent purgatives will not move it." We might safely conclude that the white flowering species, here noticed, is the Euphorbia corollata, were it not for the term repentes applied to both plants. It is not improbable that in this respect, the writer might have been misinformed.

Pursh informs us that Euphorbia corollata grows in dry fields from Canada to Carolina. I have never met with it north of Pennsylvania. The drawing which illustrates our description is from a specimen cultivated in the Botanic garden at Cambridge. It is a tall, erect plant, from one to five feet in height, resembling, at a distance, some of the white flowering corymbiferae. It begins to flower in June, but is not fully expanded until July or August. Its specific character is as follows. Umbel five rayed, three parted, dichotomous; leaves and involucra oblong, obtuse; segments of the calyx obovate, petaloid, coloured. The shape of the leaves is subject to variety, as is also their smoothness or hairiness.

This plant has a large branching root which sends up a number of stems, frequently from two to five feet in height. They are erect, round and in most instances simple. The leaves are scattered, sessile; oblong, obovate or linear, a little re volute at the margin, smooth in some plants, very hairy in others. The stem divides at top into a large five rayed umbel, supported by an involucrum of as many leaves. Not unfrequently a small axillary branch or two arise from the sides of the stem below the umbel. The rays of the umbel are repeatedly trifid or dichotomous, each fork being attended by two leafets and a flower. The top of the stem or centre of the umbel is turgid, and often bears a precocious flower. The calyx is large, rotate, white, with five obtuse petal-like segments, from which the name of the species has been taken. The nectaries or inner segments are five, very small, obtuse projections situated at the base of the segments. Stamens a dozen or more emerging two or three at a time, with double anthers. Germ pedicelled. Capsule three celled. A great portion of the plants are wholly staminiferous.

The results of a short chemical examination of this plant were very similar to those afforded by E. ipecacuanha. The ethereal solution was made turbed by alcohol, and the alcoholic by water. The precipitate in the last instance seemed denser and more abundant than it was in the former species. The decoction deposited a mucus or feculent substance, by means of alcohol, as in the other plant. The same sweetish taste characterised the solutions of both vegetables.

It has been observed, by late experimenters in vegetable chemistry, that most of the lactescent or milky plants contain caoutchouc. That they contain a substance of this nature, which is dissolved by ether and not by alcohol, I am able to attest from the examination of various lactescent plants inserted in this work, and some others.

The properties of Euphorbia corollata have been lately brought into notice by W. Zollickoffer, M. D. of Baltimore, to whom I was first indebted for my specimens of the root and living plant; and who has furnished me with a variety of facts relating to its properties. Dr. Z. states that this plant is quite common in some parts of the state of Virginia. In some districts of Maryland, and more particularly in Anne Arundel county, it grows in the greatest abundance, where it is recognised by the common appellations of Milkweed, Snake's milk, Ipecacuanha and Indian Physic. It delights in a poor, dry, and sandy soil. It is seldom or never found growing in the woods, but in fields that are cultivated every two or three years. The farmers have frequently told him that it is very hurtful to small grain, when it grows in great quantities, and the common means that are made use of, such as ploughing and harrowing, in order to kill bluegrass, have the effect of increasing the quantity and rapid growth of this plant. It is never eaten by animals. The root is sometimes used as an emetic by the country people; and it is esteemed in the cure of dropsy. The stalks, which arise from the common trunk of the root, are sometimes as many as thirty, and from this down to a single one. The largest roots, which he recollects seeing, measured from an inch to two inches and a half in circumference. He has been in the habit of using the Euphorbia corollata, for some time past in practice, as an emetic, in the place of the Ipecacuanha of the shops; and thinks it in no respect inferior to this article. Combined with opium and the Sulph. potassse in the proportions of the Pulv. doveri, he has found it to be a valuable diaphoretic. The contused root, in its recent state, will excite inflammation and vesication, when applied to any part of the body; which generally goes off in the course of four or five days without being attended with any inconvenience whatever. He was led to give it a number of trials in this way from the circumstance of his face becoming considerably inflamed after having handled large quantities of the root. As an expectorant, this plant, he says, is deserving of the attention of practitioners.

Dr. Z. has furnished me with minutes of seventeen cases, in which he administered the powdered root of this plant in doses of from ten to twenty grains. In all of these it operated by vomiting, with the exception of two cases, where it produced nausea, followed by catharsis. Having tried a variety of preparations, he states, that the extract may be given in doses of from five to eight grains; the wine prepared in the same way as Vinum ipecacuanhae, in dose of an ounce or an ounce and an half. Of the root in powder from fifteen to twenty grains was found a proper emetic. He considers this medicine as having a peculiar advantage in possessing no unpleasant taste; being only followed by a sense of heat in a few minutes after it is taken. But this is by no means lasting, nor does it produce any material uneasiness.

In some experiments, to determine the soluble portions of this root, Dr. Z. found that two thousand one hundred and sixty grains of the recent root afforded one hundred and two grains of watery extract; and a like quantity by digestion in alcohol gave one hundred and twenty three grains of alcoholic extract. He did not observe any difference in the activity of these two extracts.

Dr. McKeen, whose Dissertation on the species of Euphorbia has been already cited in the last article, has detailed the circumstances of twelve cases, in which he administered the Euphorbia corollata. His experiments differ from those of Dr. Zollickoffer, in the quantity of the root used, being always smaller. The doses, which he gave, were from three to twelve grains of the powder. In every instance the medicine operated as a cathartic. In most of the cases nausea was produced, but in three only, out of the whole number, it was followed by vomiting. In one case a dose of three grains proved actively cathartic in four hours. In another five grains produced vomiting. In a third no effect was experienced from twelve grains, except that of a moderate laxative. In one instance twenty grains were given, which produced vomiting three times, followed by about twenty alvine evacuations.

I have placed portions of this plant in the hands of several practitioners and medical students, with a request to be informed of the effect, when suitable opportunities for its exhibition had occurred. In a majority of the instances I have been told, that a cathartic operation had followed its use; and sometimes, though less frequently, an emetic. It rarely has proved inactive.

The Euphorbia corollata must undoubtedly be ranked among the more efficient medicines of the evacuating class. Dr. McKeen concludes, from his experiments, that it is a very certain purgative, possessing, he thinks, about double the strength of jalap. It exerts its cathartic efficacy in doses of less than ten grains. If given to the amount of fifteen or twenty grains, it is very sure to prove emetic; the proportion of its failures, being not greater than occurs in the use of other emetic medicines. The only inconveniences which have come to my knowledge, as attending it, are, that if given in small doses, for a purgative, it is apt to produce nausea; while in the large doses suitable for an emetic, it sometimes has induced a degree of hypercatharsis. But it must be observed, that many of the medicines, in common use, may occasion similar consequences in persons of peculiar habit and irritable fibre. Future experiment will, no doubt, determine whether the Euphorbia corollata is any more irregular and unmanageable than other medicines of its kind, or whether it is entitled to a permanent and useful place in the Materia Medica.

Many, and perhaps all the species of Euphorbia are powerful external stimulants. Several are used as a sort of caustic to destroy warts. The gum, called Euphorbium, produced by the Euphorbia officinarum, is a strong vesicatory, employed by farriers, and sometimes used to adulterate the plaister of Cantharides. The blistering power of E. corollata has been stated by Dr. Zollickoffer. This active genus of plants deserves a thorough investigation with a view to this particular property, to determine whether they are safe and manageable vesications, or virulent and uncertain.

Botanical References.

Euphorbia corollata, Linn.
Willd. ii. 916.
Michaux, ii. 210.
Pursh, ii. 607.
Tithymalus marianus, &c.
Plukenet, Mant. 182. t. 446. f. 2.

Medical References.

Clayton, Philosophical transactions abridged, viii. 331.
Zollickoffer, Materia Medica. Baltimore, 1819.

American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.