On the Seeds of Two Species of Strychnos.
BY J. M. MAISCH.
(Read at the Pharmaceutical Meeting of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, May 16.)
Last fall, I was informed that a vessel, which had arrived at the port of New York from the East Indies, had brought, as ballast, a quantity of seeds of a species of Strychnos. To the kindness of Dr. Fr. Hoffmann I owe a small sample of the same, and subsequently, Messrs. McKesson & Robbins very kindly went to the trouble of hunting up for me a few pounds of the same seeds, which, under the name of Indian gum-nuts, were offered for sale in New York, without finding a purchaser. I felt interested to ascertain whether, like the seeds of some other strychneae, they contain strychnia. I exhibited the seeds at the pharmaceutical meeting in February, and showed, at the same time, from my cabinet, some seeds of Strychnos Tieute, Leschinault. This plant grows in the mountainous districts of Java, and its juice is used by the Malays to prepare the poison called upas radja or upas tieuté tjettek. The tieute seeds are orbicular or somewhat oblong, disc-like, resembling in shape nux vomica, five-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, yellowish grey in color, and covered with soft, appressed hairs, having a silky lustre; the disc is rather sharp-edged, with a slightly-projecting point, indicating the hilum, and covering the somewhat club-shaped radicle of the embryo. As in nux vomica, the white horny albumen has the shape of the seed, and is composed of two discs united near the circumference, thus enclosing a hollow space, into which the cotyledons project, occupying one- quarter to one-third the diameter of the cavity. The cotyledons are broadly oval, scarcely cordate, rather acute, three to five-nerved.
Spach (Histoire Naturelle des Vegetaux. Phanérogames viii, 485. Paris 1839.) describes the tieute seeds as follows: Elliptic, oval or suborbicular, velvety, brownish, (brunâtre,) lenticular or plano-convex; embryo projecting from the hilum, marginal, about one-third shorter than the perisperm; cotyledons heart-shaped, acuminate, nerved, foliaceous; radicle club-shaped, as long as the cotyledons. The description corresponds closely with the tieute seeds in my possession, the color excepted.
The so-called Indian gum-nuts are subglobose, of an appearance, as if composed of two unequally-convex halves, with an elevated line surrounding the largest circumference; they are of a dirty, somewhat brownish grey color, with very short, closely appressed hairs; the largest diameter is three-eighths to one-half inch. A rather thin, but hard, integument covers a horny albumen which encloses, as in nux vomica, an orbicular cavity, into which the embryo reaches to about one-third the diameter. The radicle is marginal, short, cylindrical; the cotyledons are broadly oval, somewhat acuminate, and about three-nerved. Notwithstanding the horny texture of the albumen, the seeds are readily broken in an iron mortar, but are difficult to powder; their taste is insipid, not bitter.
When the seeds are boiled with dilute muriatic acid, they become very soft, so that they are readily mashed between the fingers; the acid decoction, which is not precipitated by iodohydrargyrate of potassium, was treated with an excess of lime, the precipitate washed with cold water, dried, exhausted with boiling alcohol, and the clear filtrate evaporated; a yellowish mass was left without the slightest tendency to crystallize. It had an insipid taste, and did not show the color reactions of either brucia or strychnia; concentrated sulphuric acid decomposed it rapidly. The seeds, therefore, contain no alkaloid.
In the East Indies, the seeds of Strychnos potatorum, Lin. fil., are used for clearing muddy water, under the name of tettan-kotta, or clearing-nut. Spach (Loc. cit.) describes them as greyish, suborbicular, about five lines in size. Dr. Waring (Pharmacopoeia of India, p. 146. London, 1868.) says they are of a flattened, spherical form and yellowish grey color, having the testa covered with short, close hairs; albumen horny and tasteless. As far as they go, these descriptions agree with the Indian gum-nuts, which I believe to be derived from Strychnos potatorum, Lin. fil.
According to the Pharmacopoeia of India, these seeds are also used in native practice as in emetic, (Ainslie,) as a remedy in diabetes, (Kirkpatrick,) gonorrhoea, (Taleef Shereef,) &c. On what principle the clearing action depends is a matter of speculation. Dr. O'Shaughnessy, at one time, thought it was due to an astringent principle, while Pereira (Pharm. Jour. & Trans., ix, 478. 1850.) supposed it depending on the presence of albumen and casein, and Guibourt attributes it to mucilage or pectin. The seeds are free from tannin, contain but little albumen, while, in the few experiments instituted by me, I could not ascertain the presence of casein or pectin. A considerable proportion of a peculiar mucilage is present, which does not yield a very ropy solution, and is not precipitated by alcohol, acetate of lead or sesquichloride of iron. If vegetable matter is suspended in water, the turbid liquid put into two glass vessels, and solution of this mucilage added to one, the latter liquid will settle the suspended matter in a short time, while the other remains turbid much longer.
The testa appears to offer obstructions to the absorption of water by the albumen; for, if the testa be unbroken, the seeds may be immersed in cold water for twenty-four hours, and still retain their hardness; but, if the testa is partly removed, or the seeds are broken, the albumen, after twelve hours immersion in cold water, becomes soft enough to be readily split by the finger-nail.