On a Neutral Crystallizable Principle in Black Snake Root—(Cimicifuga Racemosa.)

Botanical name: 


An Inaugural Essay.

As this plant is a very common one, and has been fully described in articles heretofore written, I will not enter into any description of it, but merely state the condition of the root acted upon; and of the very many experiments made I will give those only which resulted most satisfactorily.

In order to get the advantage, if there should be any, in using the perfectly fresh root, I obtained it in this way directly from the ground. It was dug in the latter part of July, at which time the roots were was quite well developed.

A portion of these, thoroughly cut and bruised, were put in a still with water, and a varied and continued heat was applied, but without producing in the distillate any perceptible amount of volatile principle. The addition of liquor potassa to the mixture and redestillation was tried, which also failed to develop a volatile oil or other substance; there was no separation of anything from the water which distilled over, nor had it any taste or smell, except an earthy, rooty taste, characteristic of any inert vegetable matter. From these facts we infer the root does not owe its active properties to the possession of a volatile substance.

The next experiments I will give in outline. Three and a half pounds of the root, cut and bruised, were treated with four and a half pints of strong alcohol by maceration for four weeks and filtered. Two pints of this tincture was treated with three fluidounces of the solution of subacetate of lead, which completely precipitated the resin, tannin, etc., and most of the coloring matter, as will be seen below. The lead was separated from the filtered liquid by means of sulphuretted hydrogen in excess; after agitating for some time together, filtered. A repetition of the process proved the solution to be entirely free from resinous or gummy substances, also from much coloring matter. The tincture was set aside and allowed to evaporate spontaneously. The resulting powder was treated repeatedly with benzine. The several washings were mixed and evaporated, yielding a minute portion of a disagreeable, nauseous, fatty substance without color. The powder was freed from the odor of benzine, placed on a filter and thoroughly washed with water; then dried and dissolved in sixteen times its weight of strong alcohol, forming a saturated solution. This was mixed with one hundred and twenty grains of pure alumina, moistened with a few drops of water, and agitated for twenty-four hours. Then put in a capsule and evaporated spontaneously to a very dry light mass. This was put on a filter and hot alcohol poured on it until entirely exhausted. This was allowed to evaporate, and there remained it crystalline substance of a light yellow color, not of a very regular or decided shape, but of a massy appearance, resembling almost exactly the crystals of sulphate of alumina on a small scale. But under the microscope, at a low power, their crystalline form was more distinct, presenting an appearance similar to that of rock candy. This substance in powder has little taste, on account of its extreme insolubility in the liquids of the mouth. But its solution in alcohol has the intensely acrid and sharp taste that characterizes recent cimicifuga.

The crystals have the following characteristics: They are very soluble in cold alcohol, more so when heated. Dissolve readily in dilute alcohol, also in chloroform, and slightly in ether; but are entirely insoluble in benzine, turpentine and bisulphide of carbon. Fusible at a moderate temperature, at a higher taking fire, and at a red heat entirely dissipated.

This substance, from the following experiments and their results, appears to be a neutral principle: A small quantity moistened on a jar lid with liquor potassa, and approached with the stopper of a muriatic acid bottle did not give off the characteristic white fumes of a volatile alkaloid, nor did it produce fumes when heated with liquor potassa and brought near muriatic acid, as an ordinary alkaloid. A small quantity with liquor potassa put in a tube with a small outlet, was gently heated, but no odor of ammonia was given off. Reddened litmus paper remains unchanged by continued contact with its solution. Entirely incompatible with all acids refusing to unite with them in any form or proportion. These few facts point very strongly to the conclusion that it is neither an alkaloid nor an acid principle, being entirely indifferent the alkalies and not reddening litmus paper. The therapeutic properties of this substance have not been ascertained.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).