By THOMAS ANTISELL, M. D.
In the month of March of this year, Mr. Flores, Minister of Ecuador at Washington, forwarded a box containing a vegetable medicament which he had received from his government for presentation to the State Department, and requested that some analyses and experiments might be made with it, to test its medicinal value. The samples of the drug were stated to have grown in the province of Loja, Ecuador, and extracts from the official journal accompanied the parcel, showing that great medicinal virtues were attributed to the wood and bark of the tree known as Cundurango. The extracts were testimonials from Doctors Caesares and Eguigureu of that province, as to its great value in cancer, fungus haematodes and constitutional syphilis. These statements were supported by a letter from Mr. Rumsey Wing, our minister resident at Ecuador, to Hon. H. Fish, Secretary of State, testifying to the medicinal virtues of the plant as admitted by the natives of Loja, in which he mentions that a decoction of the fruit is known to be a poison, and that the parts of the plant used medicinally are the bark and leaves.
During the month of April a sample of the plant (small branches) were received at this Department, from Hon. Mr. Fish, with the request to have an analysis made and reported to him for the benefit of the Ecuador government. Meanwhile the plant itself had been tried, in the form of a decoction, upon some patients in this city affected with cancer, and with apparent considerable relief to the sufferers.
About one pound and a quarter in weight were received for analysis.
The sample consisted of stem and branches of apparently a shrub, but was unaccompanied by leaf or root, so that the botanical characters of the plant could not be determined.
The stem is woody and covered by a greenish or ash grey bark, the former tint being due to the lichens on its surface; the branches are from a half inch to a little over an inch in diameter, averaging about the thickness of the finger; the woody fibre is straw colored and brittle, breaking with a sharp fracture; it is almost tasteless, having a slightly aromatic and bitter flavor when chewed.
The bark contains whatever medicinal virtues are in the plant; of grey color, slightly ribbed or fluted longitudinally from unequal contraction while drying on the branch; increasing in thickness in proportion to the diameter of the woody stem, in the thicker branches constituting more than half the weight of the whole, in the thinner somewhat less than half; readily separable from the stem by pounding or bruising, when it comes off in clean longitudinal pieces, brittle in the transverse fracture; of a warm, aromatic, camphor and bitter taste, resembling the cascarilla of the old collections. Under the lens it is readily resolvable into three layers: 1st, the inner layer or cambium of reticular woody tissue, having granules of starch and particles of resin imbedded. 2d, a middle layer of woody fibre and dotted ducts; resinous particles also in this layer; and 3d the cuticular or outer layer of cells of a brownish color, and containing coloring matter and tannic acid.
The usual methods of filtration from digestion in the usual solvents, as gasolene boiling at 110°, ether, alcohol, carbon disulphide and water &c. were adopted.
1. Ratio of bark to wood
|Bark||49.72||Mean of these experiments.|
2. 100 parts of bark yield
|Moisture at 100° C.||8.|
|Mineral salts (ash)||12.|
3. This vegetable matter was separable into the following:
|Fatty matter soluble in ether and partially in strong alcohol||.7|
|Yellow resin soluble in alcohol||2.7|
|Gum and glucose from starch||.5|
|Tannin, yellow and brown coloring matters (extractive)||12.6|
|Cellulose, lignin, &c.||63.5|
No crystalline alkaloid or active principle was separable by the usual methods of proximate analysis. A plan similar to that used for cinchona alkaloids and also that by precipitation with diacetate of lead was tried. By distillation no volatile oil or acid was obtained.
Whatever medicinal virtues the plant may possess must reside either in the yellow resin or in the extractive; the former is soluble in alcohol and the latter in water; in the watery decoction some of the resin is diffused, but the greater portion of the resin is not extracted by the water. The therapeutic position of the plant, judged from analysis, might be among the aromatic bitters.
Washington, D. C., May 27, 1871.