Erechtites Hieracifolia. Fireweed.
Natural Order Compositae, Tribe Senecionideae, Sub-tribe Eusenecioneae.
BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—Fireweed is a frequent annual weed growing in woodland pastures and waste places. It seems to require a loose soil and prefers light shade. A recent clearing, especially if it has been burned over, is a favorite habitat for the plant, hence, the name Fireweed. The plant is very brittle and easily broken, and probably on this account, it grows but rarely in fields that are grazed.
The usual height of the plant is two to three feet though in favorable rich locations it attains twice this size. The stem is strictly erect, and in the plants unbranched excepting the panicle above. It varies from the size of a lead pencil to an inch in diameter, and is round and striate. It has a large pith in the center and is easily crushed. The color is light green and the entire plant, stem, leaves and flowers have a remarkably uniform green color.
The leaves are two to four inches long, and about one-fourth as wide. They are alternate, spreading, lanceolate-oblong, acute, light green both sides, veiny, sessile, smooth or slightly hairy. The margins are unequally cut-serrate, with sharp teeth formed by the projecting veins. The upper leaves are narrower, linear, auriclate or clasping at the base, and more laciniately cut. The flowers appear in the latter part of August and September and are borne in a terminal loose panicled corymb. They are not conspicuous, from the absence of color, being about the same green hue as the plant. They belong to the large family known as compound flowers, consisting of very numerous minute flowers collected together in a head and surrounded by leafy bracts called an involucre. Our illustration (fig. 156) represents one of these heads cut open showing its structure and our figure 157 a single flower enlarged. The flower heads, are about an inch long, always erect, on slender bracteate peduncles. The involucre is cylindrical and swollen at its base, consisting of a single row of equal lineal scales. Externally on the base of the involucre are a few (about a dozen) short bracteate scales.
The heads do not have the outside flowers linear as is the case with many compound flowers, but they are all tubular as fig. 157. There are, however, two kinds in about equal number. The outer are narrower, have only two or three teeth and have a pistil only, the centre flowers (such as we illustrate) have generally five teeth to the corolla, and both stamens and pistil. The two kinds of flowers can be most readily distinguished by cutting open a head in the bud. According to our count there are from 150 to 200 flowers in each head. The fruit as in all Compositae is a dry achenium. It is crowned by a very copious sessile pappus, by which it is readily dispersed by the wind.
BOTANICAL HISTORY.—Aiton states that this plant was introduced into Europe by Rev. John Banister, [See page 26, note *.] in 1699, but it was evidently known before, as Hermann [See page 9, note *.] mentioned it in 1689 as an exotic plant observed in the botanical garden at Leydon, [Paradisi batavi prodromus, P. Hermann, Amsterdam, 1689, page 226.] and Plukenett, [See vol. 1., page 247, note *. The "Phytographia" was the first work issued by Plukenett, and it consisted entirely of figures of new plants. The figure of Fireweed is figure 1, of plate 112.] in 1691, in his "Phytographia".
It was classed by the first writers [Senecio americanus altissimus, blattariae f. hieracii folio.—Hermann, (1689).
Senecio foliis lanceolatis amplexicaulibus laevibus acute sinuatis denticulatis, caule herbaceo.—Linnaeus, (1737).
Senecio corollis nudis, foliis amplexicaulibus laceris, caule herbaceo erecto.—Linnaeus, (1748).] with the genus Senecio, [The genus Senecio is a very large family, numbering about nine hundred species according to late authority.
It is well represented in the United States, one species, Senccio aureus, being used quite largely by the Eclectics in medicine and will be considered in this work.
The genus is distinguished from most others of the great Order Compositae by having an involucre of a single series of equal scales. The flowers are usually yellow, and in this country and Europe the plants are herbaceous. In New Zealand, Australia and tropical countries Senecios are often shrubs with thick evergreen leaves.] in which family it was allowed to remain by Linnaeus, who christened it Senecio hieracifolius [The specific name hieracifolia refers to a resemblance of the leaves to those of the genus Hieracium. This is also a large family of the Compositae, very numerously represented in Europe, where it takes the place of the genera Aster and Solidago in this country. The resemblance was noticed by the first to describe the plant, and was made one of the specific characters which Linnaeus emphasized by making it the specific name for the plant. Darlington very truly says, "the specific name sonchifolius would have been more appropriate for the species, as its entire habits are more of a Sonchus than a Hieracium."] in his species Plantarum (1753). As Senecio hieracifolius it is known in all the botanical works of Europe and this country, such as Linnaeus, Pursh, Muhlenberg, Barton, and the entire series of Eaton's Manuals. Fortunately, the medical history has not been burdened with this synonym, having escaped very largely, because the plant was not much used in medicine until its present name had been firmly acquired.
In 1817, Rafinesque, [Florula Ludoviciana, 1817, p. 65.] separated this plant from the genus Senecio under the name Erechtites hieracifolia, and it is one of the few, of the many changes in nomenclature made by this author, that have stood the test of time. [The derivation of the name Erechtites is not certainly known. It is supposed that Rafinesque applied it to this plant because it is thought that the plant known to the Ancients under this name was a species of Senecio. It was originally derived, no doubt, from Erechtites, one of the early kings of Attica, according to the legends. It is thought that the name is only one of the titles of Neptune. The name as originally spelled is Erechtites, but in number of works, including Bentham and Hooker and Gray's Manual an extra h has been inserted, making it Erechthites. Gray corrects his spelling in his recent Synoptical Flora.
Wood states that the name is derived from the Greek ερεχθω, to trouble, because the plant is a troublesome weed, but this derivation is no doubt incorrect.]
The genus differs from Senecio, chiefly in having two kinds of tubular florets, the outer, pistillate only; the central, perfect. In Senecio all the disk florets are perfect. In fruit, involucre and habit the plant is a true Senecio.
De Candolle, in 1833, [It is evident that De Candolle was urged by letter from Rafinesque to adopt this change in the Prodromus and thus give more prominence to the view than the publication of the name in Rafinesque's works would have done. Candolle as authority for the name cites "Rafinesque in literis," and states in a post note that "Rafinesque in a letter, 1832, perhaps not undeservedly distinguishes three species of Erechtites, but does not send the descriptions."] adopted Rafinesque's change, shortly afterward Endlicher, then Torrey and Gray, then it was introduced into the new Manuals, first Woods, (1845), then Gray's, (1856), and the name Erechtites hieracifolia thus became the accepted name of the plant.
The genus, as now constituted, consists of this single species in North America, one in Asia, and about a dozen in Australia and New Zealand.
The following unimportant synonyms are mentioned, merely for completeness: Erechtites praealta and Erechtites elongata, supposed by Rafinesque to be distinct species, but thought now not to be even distinct forms; Neoceis hieracifolia, a name given by Cassini, a French botanist, who established a genus for the plant independent, but subsequent to Rafinesque; and Cineraria Canadensis, a name under which the plant is described in Walter's old work.
COMMERCIAL HISTORY.—There is a small demand for the crude drug for making fomentations and pharmaceutical preparations. The dried leaves are the part used. They can be easily recognized by comparison with our illustration, but often those that are collected are from the lower part of the plant and are more obtuse than we have figured them, and being generally collected from larger plants, they are also of larger size, some of them being six inches long. In drying they assume a very dark or even black color. As will be explained further on, through a confusion of common names the Erigeron has been confounded with this plant and we find that much of the drug sold as Fireweed leaves is in reality the leaves of the Erigeron canadense and Erigeron annum. They can be readily recognized by their lighter color in drying, and also by their different shape.
There is considerable demand for the Oil of Fireweed, [This is especially the case with Eclectic physicians who perhaps are the only consumers of the drug.] and in investigating the subject we were considerably surprised to find that in reality the oil now sold on the general American drug market is not Oil of True Fireweed, but the Oil of Erigeron canadense, an entirely different plant. [We refer to houses that make a specialty of dealing in essential oils. We obtained a strictly pure oil from Mr. Albert M. Todd, a distiller of essential oils at Nottawa, Michigan. We were surprised at the fact that the oil our house had handled for years, was not Oil of Fireweed, but Oil of Erigeron.]
We obtained samples from a number of sources and did not obtain a single specimen of the true oil. It was shown conclusively that dealers in essential oils supplied as a rule Oil of Erigeron under the label Oil of Fireweed. One party seemed to be aware of that fact, for he extended the information that the substance labeled "Oil of Fireweed" was Oil of Erigeron, and that there was no true Oil of Fireweed in commerce. This view was conclusively corroborated by our investigation with others.
In one instance, we were informed that "We presume you mean Erigeron Canadensis, as Fireweed is one of the numerous names of the oil." We were also informed that "The oil is received by us as Erigeron, and we sort it out by such tests as we know, selling as Erigeron that which we think is Erigeron, as Fireweed what we think is fireweed." [The Oil labeled Oil of Fireweed, obtained from this party was good Oil of Erigeron.] Thus it is shown in this instance, that a firm we consider among the most reliable handlers of essential oils, determined the matter by selection, and judging by the specimens supplied us, they obtained only Oil of Erigeron to select from. These statements together with the fact that in the general drug market of America we were not so fortunate as to obtain a single specimen of Oil of Fireweed, convinces us that the commercial history of this oil is remarkable, inasmuch as it has no commercial history. It seems also that this fact is known to some dealers, who have come to consider the term Oil of Fireweed a synonym for Oil of Erigeron. This view is somewhat justified by the fact that the name "Fireweed" is applied in published lists to a number of plants and among others to Erigeron Canadensis, as was cited to us by a leading oil house as an authority for labeling the oil "Fireweed." The demand is altogether for Oil of Fireweed and not for Oil of Erechtites hieracifolia. The labels of dealers are invariably "Oil of Fireweed" and the proper name of the drug is not used either by dealer or consumer. [Doubtless if dealers had applied to any of the responsible makers of American essential oils, they would have met the courteous attention Mr. Todd extended us. These gentlemen have no reason to substitute and possibly accept that Oil of Fireweed was another name for Oil of Erigeron.]
It is impossible to determine the amount of oil sold under the name Oil of Fireweed, but, Mr. Todd writes us, that in his opinion less than two hundred pounds per year of true Oil of Erechtites hieracifolia is produced. In our opinion but a trifling amount has heretofore been true to label.
DESCRIPTION.—[The oils examined in this series were made expressly for our purpose by Mr Albert M. Todd, of Nottawa, Michigan, from plants botanically true and identified by us. The information extended by Mr. Todd is particularly valuable, as he is an extensive maker and dealer in essential oils, and has exceptional facilities for manufacturing. The practical notes on distillation were kindly given by him and we hereby extend our thanks.
The investigations of all who united with us were made with the same oils and in a general way we hereby extend Mr. Todd the thanks of the several gentlemen. Mr. Todd also entered zealously into the subject, and his paper in the American Journal of Pharmacy, June, 1887, p. 302, may be considered an independent part of the study.]Natural Oil of Fireweed [The term "natural" we use to distinguish the product of the distillation of the herb from the re-distilled oil.] is neutral, transparent and colorless when freshly made from green plants by quick distillation with steam, if condensed in a clean tin worm and the process is not carried too far. If the vapor is condensed in rusty iron, or in copper pipes, the oil is reddish or brown. If the distillation is slow, even if the pipes are bright tin, the product is colored and resinous, especially if the distillation is carried until the oil ceases to pass, and, to avoid this feature, is at the expense of part of the possible yield. The last portions of the charge are always colored, and owing to the fact that makers do not separate the first from the last runnings, we find even fresh Oil of Fireweed, free from metal, to be colored. [The distillation should not be carried too far.] The first part of the oil obtained is of less specific gravity than the latter portion.
Upon keeping colorless Oil of Fireweed in loosely corked vials, it becomes resinous and yellow; a few drops, exposed to the air from a leaking cork concretes and becomes solid. The cork stopper becomes hard and covered with resin. If the bottles be hermetically sealed the oil remains for a long time clear and colorless.
Oil of Fireweed has a peculiar odor that we can only describe by comparing it with Oil of Erigeron; they resemble each other. However, Oil of Erigeron possesses a slight fragrance that is distinctive, and, although both these oils have a peculiar harshness, neither is unpleasant to us. [We have seen commercial "Oil of Neroli" that seemed to be contaminated with either Erigeron or Fireweed, but, we have not made a study of Neroli.]
Specific Gravity.—The specific gravity of natural Oil of Fireweed (the entire distillate) ranges from 0.847 to 0.907 (Todd). If the natural oil be re-distilled in a current of steam, it begins to pass over with a gravity of 0.825, increasing to 0.919 (Todd). [The distillation should not be carried too far. This result is remarkable for the difference in product.] Finally, a yellow resin remains in the still The recovered oil has a specific gravity of 0.859, at 15.5° C., (Todd). [This was the product of twenty pounds of natural Oil of Fireweed, eighteen pounds being recovered. ] This method of procedure (steam) does not, in our opinion, give the true gravity of the characteristic part of the oil, and in order to attain this object Prof. Power conducted a fractional distillation, separating the product into portions corresponding with the changes of boiling point, the result in his own words being as follows:
"When subjected to distillation it began to boil at about 180° C., and the chief portion passed over between 180-200° C. Smaller fractions above this point were collected, but that distilling above 300° C., was very viscid, so that it did not flow readily from the flask, and was also dark in color. By fractional distillation the principal portion of the oil distilled between 185-190° C., (the mercury of the thermometer being entirely in the vapor). A very small and insignificant fraction was obtained below 185° C., and no fraction of constant boiling point above 190° C. The small fractions that distil above the latter temperature were evidently simple polymeric products, and were constantly formed with each successive distillation.
The fraction distilling between 180-190° C. is a bright, perfectly odorless, and very highly refractive liquid. The specific gravity at 15° C. is 0.8304."
This may be accepted as the gravity of the true oil, and it may be seen therefore that natural Oil of Fireweed is either contaminated with heavy resinous products,metals, or water from the steam. It may be safely said that the gravity of re-distilled Oil of Fireweed should neither exceed 0.850, nor fall below 0.825.
Boiling Point.—Oil of Fireweed begins to escape with steam at a temperature of 166° C., which quickly increases to 182° C. when the ebullition is brisk; increase of steam is followed by increase of temperature to about 188° C., when it remains constant for some time (Todd). This, in our opinion, is not expressive of the true boiling point of the oil, which must be determined alone and not in a current of steam. Prof. Power has determined (see preceeding) that re-distilled, dehydrated Oil of Fireweed begins to boil at 180° C.; but that only a small amount was obtained below 185° C.; the bulk distilling between 185° and 190° C.; that which passed afterward being small in amount, thick, colored polymers, of irregular and rising temperatures.
The boiling point of freshly distilled Oil of Fireweed should not be less than 180° C., nor greater than 190. [If any considerable amount distils at less than 180° C. it is not Oil of Fireweed. If it distils above that it may be resinified.]
CHEMISTRY OF OIL OF FIREWEED (C15 H24).—The chemical examination was undertaken by Prof. Power, who considers the subject as follows: [The oil examined was that purified by Prof. Power, having a boiling point between 185° and 190° C., and a specific gravity of 0.8304.—L.]
"The first actual analysis of the oil of Erechtites which I can find recorded is that of Beilstein and Wiegand, and of quite recent date. These chemists found the oil to consist almost entirely of terpenes (C10 H16). One of the terpenes, after treatment with sodium, they found to boil at 175° C., and to have the specific gravity 0.838 at 18.5° C. The higher boiling portion of the oil (240-410° C.), after treatment with sodium, also corresponded to the formula (C10 H16). No crystallizable compound with hydrochloric acid was obtained. [Berichte der Deutsch. Chem. Ges., 1883, p. 2854, also Am. Journ. Phar., 1883, p. 372, and Proc. Am. Pharm. Assoc., 1883, p. 220.]
In my hands, the composition of the pure oil was found to be as follows: 0.2555 gram of substance gave 0.8210 gram CO2 and 0.2745 gram H2O corresponding to 0.2239 gram C. and 0.0305 gram H. or 87.63 per cent. C. and 11.54 per cent. H.
|Calculated for (C10 H16)||Found.|
|C10 = 88.24 per cent.||87.63 per cent.|
|H16 = 11.76 per cent.||11.54 per cent.|
This body is thus seen to consist of a terpene, and, with consideration of its boiling point, probably has the molecular formula C15 H24, rather than C10 H16, or in other words, to belong to the group of so-called sesquiterpenes. This view may also, perhaps, be to some extent supported by the fact that, as Beilstein had found, it affords no crystallizable compound with hydrochloric acid, but absorbs one molecule of the latter.
Polarization.—The rotary power of natural Oil of Fireweed, according to Mr. Todd, varies from -3.5 to + 4.4. This deviation of successive fractionsby re-distillation is irregular as shown by Mr. Todd's investigation with eighteen fractions, and we fail to formulate a connection between specific gravity and polarization, although it will be noticed that the eighth fraction decreases in specific gravity from 0.8275 to 0.8255, and that the angle of polarization changes also at this point from + 4 to - 2 as shown by the following table: [We again state that in our opinion the distillation by a current of steam is unreliable as a method of fractional separation. Although the bulk of the oil will distil at a mean temperature, the dividing of the distillate into even fractions is irrational. It would have been better to have obtained a less number of fractions and separated the portions into natural divisions as shown by a marked change in gravity or boiling point. This method of Mr. Todd is that employed in rectification of the oil on a manufacturing scale, and serves to eliminate the grosser impurities. The extremes as shown by the polarization are remarkable.]
Re-Distilled Oil of Fireweeed.
|No. of fraction||Sp. Gr. at 15° C.||Polarization.||No. of fraction||Sp. Gr. at 15° C.||Polarization.|
In this connection we requested Prof. Henry Trimble to consider the subject with a request to compare readings of one specimen of oil at different intervals to ascertain if there was a variation by time. [This specimen of oil was kindly furnished Prof. Trimble by Mr. Todd, and was of the re-distilled mixed fractions, made for our purpose, and was the same as that employed elsewhere.] In reporting the result we use his words, as follows:
"The rotatory power was determined by a Wild polaristrobometer, or shadow polarimeter, which proved to be a very satisfactory instrument. Both the 100 and the 200 millimeter tubes were used at first, but as the former only serves to determine whether the substance is dextrogyre or laevogyre, and most instruments are constructed for a 200 M. M. tube, I will only give the figures obtained with the latter.
|March 29th, 1887.||Average of 6 readings,||+4.58°|
|April 25th, "||5||+4.42°|
|May 6th, "||5||+4.61°|
|June 8th, "||5||+4.88°|
The reading of April 25th were made with a Laurent polarimeter, and proved that the Wild instrument used is practically correct.
The 100 M. M. tube, when used, gave figures which averaged half of those given, thus proving the dextrogyre properties of the sample."
It will be seen that as yet age seems not to affect it." Prof. Trimble continues his work, and, when we come to consider Oil of Erigeron, will report regarding both oils.
Adulteration and Sophistication.—Since dealers admit that at present Oil of Fircweed is in reality Oil of Erigeron, we do not consider this substitution as at present on the market in the light of an adulteration. Attention, however, being now called to the fact that Fireweed and Erigeron are different, each will probably assume its legitimate sphere, and we shall endeavor to give methods to distinguish them, but we do not underrate the extreme difficulty of identifying terpenes in mixture, even where the similarity in properties is not as great as it is with these two oils. The real adulterants would probably be Oil of Turpentine, Oil of Camphor, Oil of Hemlock, or Alcohol.
Oil of Erigeron.—Has usually a darker color, seldom being colorless at present. Its odor is so nearly like Fireweed as to render it impossible to describe their distinction. To determine whether it is Fireweed or Erigeron (adulterations being absent) proceed as follows:
If the oil is colored, distil a portion of it, taking all that passes over below 190° C. This will probably be colorless, but, should the distillate appear colored before it ceases to distil at 190° C. suspend the operation and mix the product.
Place a drop of the distillate on a porcelain slab, and then place in its center one drop of concentrated sulphuric acid. If it be Oil of Fireweed an immediate dark red color is produced, partly carbonaceous, brown and tar-like. If it is Oil of Erigeron, the darkest part of the color will be cherry red, but the major part of the color will be lemon yellow.
To a drop of the distillate on a porcelain slab, add a drop of concentrated nitric acid: if it be Oil of Fireweed an immediate deep brown color results, in some portions where but a small portion of acid is present, assuming a greenish hue; where an excess of acid is present a reddish brown color results. If it is Oil of Erigeron scarcely any change occurs at first, then a yellow, changing to a faint green. This test is characteristic and distinctive.
To a drop of the oil on a porcelain slab add one drop of concentrated hydrochloric acid. If it be Oil of Fireweed, a light greenish brown color is produced; if it be Oil of Erigeron only a faint greenish tinge results. Sprinkle into this acid a small portion of powdered bichromate of potassium; Oil of Fireweed gives a brown color, which changes to a beautiful emerald green, while Oil of Erigeron gives an orange color where the salt is dissolving; which gradually fades away, assuming a slight dirty green color as it disappears. In a short time all color has passed away with the Erigeron, while the Fireweed remains deep green. If a drop of concentrated hydrochloric acid on a porcelain slab be colored yellow by dissolving in it a little bichromate of potassium, a drop of Oil of Fireweed will produce an immediate green, while a drop of Oil of Erigeron slowly changes to greenish and fades away, the Fireweed remaining longer.
Place 30 C. C. of the distillate in a retort and gradually raise the temperature to 170° C. If it begins to distil, and mostly comes over when the temperature reaches 175° C. it is Oil of Fireweed; if the temperature reaches 185 before it distils freely, and then most of the oil distils on the temperature reaching 190° C. it is Oil of Erigeron. [Admit that each distillation will produce some polymers of higher boiling points.]
In this connection we present the following from Prof. F. B. Power prepared for this publication:
"In a paper entitled: "Zur Kenntniss der Terpene und aetherischcn Oele," Wallach [Liebig's Annalen der Chemie. Bd 238, (1886) p. 87.] has quite recently directed attention to some color reactions which he considers peculiar to the terpenes of the molecular formula, C15 H24, and which consist in dissolving the terpene in an excess of chloroform, adding a few drops of concentrated sulphuric acid, and shaking. The chloroform is stated to become at first intensely green, then blue, and, upon warming, red. The beautiful indigo-blue color is best obtained when the terpene is dissolved in glacial acetic acid, and a little concentrated sulphuric acid gradually added. It was furthermore observed that the freshly distilled terpene does not give the reaction as well as the resinificd.
The reaction described by Wallach is also afforded by the oils under notice, although the conditions under which the reaction takes place appears to be subject to some variations, even in specimens of perfectly pure oils. The test is best performed by dissolving one drop of the rectified Oil of Erigeron or Fireweed in about fifty (50) minims of absolute glacial acetic acid, [It is quite important that an absolute acetic acid should be used in this test, as the presence of small amount of water will render the solution of the oil imperfect or milky.] subsequently adding one drop of concentrated sulphuric acid, and shaking the mixture. A green color is first produced, which soon becomes lighter, and in a short time changes to a beautiful purplish-blue, violet or lavender tint. The oils with which my experiments were made showed this reaction most quickly and handsomely in the Erigeron Oil, and the test seemed to be more characteristic of the latter than of the Oil of Fireweed. Upon communicating my observations to Professor Lloyd, who had kindly furnished me with the oils, the latter gentleman repeated the test, but found the conditions the reverse of those above noted,—namely, that the blue color was produced more quickly in the Oil of Fireweed than in the Oil of Erigeron. In order to be assured that neither of us had erred in regard to these observations, I was again kindly favored by Professor Lloyd with specimens of the pure rectified oils, obtained from the same original source as those previously examined and the tests were carefully repeated. Although both specimens of the same oil agreed in their general characters, such as odor, etc., and the correctness of my observations with the first specimens was confirmed, I found that with the second specimens of oil the reaction was indeed, afforded more quickly by the Oil of Fireweed than by the Oil of Erigeron, and that both oils produced the same handsome blue or purplish tint, which showed no marked distinction. To what cause this variation of the oils in question under this test may be attributed, I am unable to say, since I believe both specimens to have been distilled from the respective plants at the same time, although one specimen may possibly in the meantime have been more exposed to the action of the air than the other. A specimen of old, and quite dark-colored Oil of Erigeron, when tested in the above-descnbed manner, afforded simply a dirty-brown color, so that the colorless, recently rectified oil appears best adapted for the test. The handsome color is not produced nearly so well in chloroformic solution, nor when any other solvent than glacial acetic acid is used. This statement applies at least, besides chloroform, to alcohol, ether, petroleum ether, and benzol, which were tried without success. Oil of Turpentine affords no immediate coloration when tested in the same manner as the Oils of Erigeron and Fireweed, and upon standing develops simply a yellowish color. When, with the two latter oils, a drop of nitric acid is used in the test, instead of sulphuric acid, a blue color is also produced, but which is quite distinct from that produced by the latter acid.
It would not seem probable that the above described reaction is limited to the terpenes of the molecular formula C15 H24, as Wallach has presumed, for the boiling point of the Erigeron Oil would certainly indicate that its molecular formula is C10 H16, and that it does not belong to the class of so-called sesqui terpenes, although I have not yet been able to establish the supposition experimentally by a determination of its vapor density."
Mixtures of Erigeron and Fireweed—[Prof. Virgil Coblentz made for us a line of determination of color tests of commercial Oils of Fireweed. He found that all specimens were Oil of Erigeron.] When mixtures are made, color test is unreliable. [Mr. H. W. Weld conducted the detail work of distillation in the McMicken University laboratory, Cincinnati. It is needless for us to say that the result is accurate.] It is true that as the proportion of Oil of Fireweed increases the characters shown by the preceeding tests are intensified, but there is no color method of determining the amount of each. The difference in boiling point is the more conclusive method suggested to us and mixtures in varying proportions were closely identified by Mr. Weld, the following rule being evolved .
Introduce 30C. C. of the suspected oil into a retort and gradually raise the temperature to 175° C., the proportion obtained is the of Oil of Fireweed proportion, very little Erigeron passing. If the remainder is Oil of Erigeron, the temperature rises quickly from 175° C. to 185° C., then between that and 190° C. about two-thirds the remainder will distil. At this point the distillation slackens and the temperature rises to 230° C., a darker liquid distilling, equalling in bulk about one-fifth the liquid that remained in the retort after the Fireweed Oil had been recovered. The latter liquid consists of polymers and is produced from recently distilled oils as well as from old ones. In case the oils are old and resinous, the amount of distillate below 175° C. (Oil of Fire-weed) and 190° C. (Oil of Erigeron) will be less in amount than if fresh, but the fractions obtained between the temperatures named represent about the proportion in which the oils were mixed.
Oil of Turpentine—Is the usual adulterant of essential oils that will disguise its sensible characters, and, as is well known, many essential oils will completely cover its odor and flavor. Comparisons of mixtures of pure Oil of Fireweed and Turpentine, in varying proportions, show us that its presence is easily detected by the sense of smell and taste. Oil of Fireweed, fresh or old, has no resemblance to Oil of Turpentine, and the contamination of that substance is evident if the foreign odor of Turpentine is present. However, while the presence of this impurity is easily demonstrated the amount of contamination is not shown, for mixtures in various amounts, ranging from one part of Turpentine to three of Oil of Fireweed, and equal amounts of each were not to be distinguished.
Oil of Turpentine boils at a temperature of from 150 to 160° C, and thus, by fractional distillation, will mostly vaporize before the temperature reaches 170°, at which point the Oil of Fireweed begins to appear. The proportion of the distillate (Turpentine) between 150 and 160° C, compared with the undistilled portion, will fairly identify the proportion of the adulteration, if Turpentine only is the foreign body. [We call attention to the fact that in these fractional distillations, the process must be conducted slowly.]
Oil of Camphor.—Recent years have noted the importation into America of large amounts of Camphor Oil and the known consumption is small. In view of the general opinion that it finds its way into essential oils, we examined the possibility of its being used to adulterate Oil of Firewecd. We doubt if it is practicable, for even a small amount of Oil of Camphor imparts a strong odor and taste of Camphor. Especially is the odor prominent if the mixed oil is rubbed between the fingers; then the Fireweed evaporates, leaving the Camphor.
Oil of Spruce [Oil of Spruce, Hemlock and Cedar, we now view as various names applied to one substance.].—Like Oil of Camphor, imparts a peculiar odor that is easily distinguished. We found that even in small proportion it was plainly perceptible, and we have no reason to believe it a feasible adulterant. There is no chemical method known to us for distinguishing the presence of either of these Oils (Turpentine, Camphor or Spruce) or their proportion. [It would seem that dry hydrochloric acid gas would form turpentine camphor in the presence of Oil of Turpentine and thus identify itself. Our experience, corroborated by that of Mr. Weld, is to the effect that associated products from Oil of Fireweed, by action of HCl, obscure the reaction.]
Alcohol, Ether, Chloroform.—Ether is shown by its odor, and Chloroform by its odor and gravity. Either of them is separated by raising the mixture to its boiling point, when the adulterant will escape before the temperature reaches the boiling point of the oil. If a mixture of Alcohol and Oil of Fireweed be agitated with its bulk of water, and permitted to stand until a clear line of demarcation forms, the oily layer will have decreased in proportion to the Alcohol present in the original oil. As Alcohol is, in our opinion, (aside from Oil of Erigeron) the most likely substance to be employed as an adulterant, it should be considered first.
Finally, we will add that purchasers who really desire the true oil, and purchase from responsible dealers in essential oils, can, without doubt, hereafter obtain true Oil of Fireweed, providing a fair price is allowed. Use the name, Erechtites hieracifolia, and not Oil of Fireweed. [We are not believers in the utter depravity of the Jobbing Druggist. Upon the contrary, we venture to assert that they are, as a class, willing to supply the demand. If pure oils are desired, they can be obtained. In this connection, we doubt not, that dealers in essential oils will, to a man, be interested in these papers, and perhaps feel under obligations to us for the information derived by this rather perplexing series of investigation.]
MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTY.—Rafinesque (1830) [Medical Flora of the United States, Vol. II., p. 262.] briefly states that the plant is "vulnerary, acrid tonic, astringent, useful in hemorrhage, wounds, headache, inflammation, salt rheum, herpes, diseases of skin, etc." It is evident that he knew but little, if anything, personally of its uses, and he neglects to give his authority.
Lee (1848) [Medicinal Plants of New York, p. 33.] curtails Rafinesque's contribution, and adds that the essential oil is used for piles. That it had then some reputation is evidenced from the fact that Augustine Duhamel (1844) [Mr. Duhamel states that the oil was distilled from Erechtites.] read paper before the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, "on Oil of Fireweed, [American Journal of Pharmacy (1844), p. 8.] distilled in one of the Western States, from the common Fireweed plant, where it is much used." Subsequently, Bigelow [List of Medical Plants of Ohio, p. 20.] and Williams [Transactions American Medical Association, Vol. II., p. 896.] corroborate this statement by giving the plant slight attention. However, it passed from view many years ago, and to writers of the Regular School of Medicine, the plant and oil are comparatively unknown.
The United States Dispensatory has never recognized either the drug or its products, which strikes us as a peculiar oversight. Prof. Maisch, one of the most painstaking searchers into substances pertaining to the Materia Medica of America, in the National Dispensatory, gives the name "Fireweed" as a synonym for Erigeron, only, neglecting the plant, Erechtites. Neither Cutler, Schoepf, nor Barton, mention it. Hence, the following contribution from Prof. Bartholow will prove of more than ordinary value. [Prof. Bartholow employed true Oil of Erechtites, furnished by us, and of the quality employed in our chemical investigations.]
A PRACTICAL NOTE ON THE ACTIONS AND USES OF THE OIL OF ERECHTITES.—(Written for this publication by Roberts Bartholow, M. D., L. L. D., Professor of Materia Medica, General Therapeutics and Hygiene, in the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia).
A preliminary physiological investigation demonstrated that the Oil of Erechtites possesses the general properties of the oils composing the antiseptic group.
It is not irritant to the stomach, and it rather improves than lessens the appetite and digestion. The glands of the stomach, and of the intestines, and, probably, of the pancreas, are stimulated by it, pouring out an abundant secretion. The result is that the evacuations are easy, more copious, and rather more frequent. In some cases of habitual constipation, it proved quite effective. In such cases, accompanied by flatulence and acid fermentation, it is often of signal service. In membranous enteritis, an affection difficult to to cure, it has seemed to be, in a high degree, useful.
On the organs of circulation the Oil of Erechtites has effects corresponding to those of the same group. It first stimulates the heart, the arterioles dilate, and a general subjective sensation of warmth is felt throughout the body. Then the skin becomes perspiring, and the sensation of warmth is succeeded by a fall of temperature, by a slower pulse, and by contraction, instead of dilatation, of the arterioles. A rise in the vascular tension subsequently rakes place.
The Oil of Erechtites is rapidly diffusive, quickly absorbed, and quickly excreted. It is eliminated largely by the lungs; also, by the kidneys and the skin. The most important of its therapeutical properties, are those due to the local action in the process of elimination. In chronic bronchitis, and pulmonary affections, accompanied by catarrh of the air-tubes, in the neuroses of the chest, and in coughs of local origin, it exerts a therapeutical power, not unlike, and probably nearly, if not quite, equal to that of terebene. As the oil is volatilizable, it can also be given effectively by inhalation, alone or in combination with other volatile or gaseous substances.
It has acted in a very beneficial manner in cases of catarrh of the genito-urinary tract—in pyelitis, cystitis, gleet, etc. Acting topically, no doubt, as it passes with the urine, it appears to have a systemic action on the nervous apparatus, and allays irritability.
I should not, also, fail to mention that this remedy has seemed to me to be very useful in Sciatica, in muscular rheumatism and cognate affections. A larger experience is needed in respect to its power in these troubles.
The oil is not disagreeable to most persons, and is usually taken without objection. It may be dropped on a lump of sugar; it may be made into an emulsion, or taken in gelatine capsules.
HISTORY OF OIL OF FIREWEED IN THE ECLECTIC SCHOOL OF MEDICINE.—In Eclectic Medicine, Oil of Fireweed has been of some importance, and the plant has been used more or less for a number of years. As early as 1852, [Eclectic Dispensatory, King and Newton, p. 375.] Prof. King referred to the fact that Dr. A. R. Wyeth, of Pennsylvania, used a tincture of Senecio hieracifolius [A synoym for this plant. (See our Botanical History, p 129.)] in the treatment of dysentery, "promptly arresting the muco-sanguineous discharges, relieving pain, and effecting a speedy cure. In the summer complaint of children, he has found it to prove almost invariably successful, even in cases where other means failed."
Prof. Scudder [Specific Medication and Specific Medicines, Scudder, p. 128, tenth edition.] considers it worthy of investigation, saying: "We have here another remedy that requires study. It influences mucous tissue, especially of the bowels and lungs." [In the light of Prof. Bartholow's recent work with true Oil of Fireweed, we feel that a tincture of the fresh matured plant promises to prove a valuable addition to our Materia Medica. (See Prof. Male's paper on its uses in Homoeopathy).] This embraces the literature on the medicinal record of the plant, outside of Homoeopathy, which section is considered by Prof. E. M. Hale in a special contribution.
The Oil.—That Erechtites hieracifolia was an oil-producing plant was known at an early day to American botanies, and Prof. King recognized Oil of Fireweed in the first edition of his dispensatory (1852). [This was distinguished from Oil of Erigeron or fleabane.] He states that the plant appears to depend for its properties "upon a volatile oil, which may be obtained from the plant by distillation with water, and which possesses in an eminent degree the taste and odor of the plant," [The first edition under the name, Eclectic Dispensatory of North America, by King and Hewton, appeared in 1852; the second under the name, American Eclectic Dispensatory, by John King, appeared in 1854. In the second edition the oil was recognized among the volatile oils, and the plant was called Erechtites, instead of Senecio.] Prof. King writes as follows of the oil: [Eclectic Dispensatory, (1854,) p. 1154.]
"It seems to resemble the Oil of Fleabane in its influence upon various hemorrhages, and for which agent it is frequently substituted, and is considered by many to be the most efficacious in such cases, of the two oils. It also exerts a beneficial effect on mucous surfaces, and has been successfully used in diarrhoea, dysentery, hemorrhoids, etc. As an antispasmodic, it has been found of value in spasms of the stomach and bowels, colic, hiccough, hysteria, and pertussis, though it is apt to disagree with the stomach, causing nausea, etc. It is chiefly employed for the same purposes as the Oil of Fleabane.
The dose is from five to twenty drops on sugar, or in emulsion. When triturated with the extract of stramonium, Oil of Fireweed is said to form a valuable preparation for piles." This completes the record in Eclectic Medicine, recent authors having added little, if anything. [The name, Fireweed, led some persons to infer that the oil was intended to be a dressing for burns, and led to its employment in cerates for that purpose. It has considerable use in that direction, but in semi-proprietary form, and not by the medical profession. That it si not objectionable is evident. This reminds us of the plant, Hepatica triloba, that came into extended use as a "liver remedy", not from any value of itself, but by mistake for the true liverwort. (See Vol. I., p. 46.)]
In Homoeopathy, Prof. E. M. Hale has for some years considered Erechtites of value, and we are pleased to offer his views of the subject, as follows:
HOMOEOPATHIC HISTORY AND USES OF ERECHTITES.—(Written for this publication by Edwin M. Hale, M. D., Emeritus Professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics in the Chicago Homoeopathic College).
This drug was introduced to the Homoeopathic School in the first edition of my New Remedies, in 1862. We had no provings of it at that time. I collected all the clinical testimony available, and for several years it was used to some extent empirically. In my second edition it appeared with additional clinical observations (1867). In 1868 it was proved by Drs. Merriman and J. M. Cunningham. These provings appeared in the Trans. Hom. Med. Soc. of the State of New York. These provers experimented with the tinctures of the fresh plant, which made the provings reliable. In our practice the tincture is generally used, although some have used the Oil of Fireweed, supposing it to be Oil of Erechtites, which is generally a doubtful supposition. [It has been shown in our paper that commercial Oil of Fireweed is Oil of Erigeron.] Chemists inform us that these oils are chemically identical with turpentine, but their physiological effects differ. The same has been said of Caffeine and Theine, but it has been disproved by Prof. May.
When given for acute hemorrhages (arterial), the dose should be small (2nd dil). When for passive hemorrhage, the drug can be safely given with benefit in doses of ʒi to ℥j of the tincture. If the true Oil of Erechtites is given the dose should not exceed 5 to 10 gtts. The specific indication for its use in acute hemorrhages, is the bright, florid character of the arterial blood, with evident excitement of the circulation. In passive hemorrhages, the blood may be dark and grumous, with an appearance of lack of fibrin, and disorganization of the globules. Epistaxis, Haemoptysis, Haematemesis, Haematuria, and hemorrhage from the uterus and bowels are all controlled by this remedy. I have found in useful also in irritability of the bladder, with dysuria, and mucus in the urine. In menorrhagia and metrorrhagia it will act very promptly. In large doses it will increase the menses, and bring them on before time, but it should be used continuously, and only in torpid, cold, and phlegmatic persons.
It causes burning in the stomach, with gastralgia, nausea and vomiting colic and yellow diarrhoea—worse in the morning. I have often cured just such gastro-intestinal derangements with the first dilution. In dysentery, with pure blood stools, it has been used with benefit. Gonorrhoea and gleet have been cured by it when the discharge is scanty and bloody, and very painful. In orchitis it is almost specific, equalling clematis or pulsatilla. In the tympanites of typhoid fever, I have often used the oil (what I supposed to be the Oil of Erechtites), with a success as good as I ever gained from Terebinthina.