Clearing Nuts. (Strychnos Potatorum.)

Botanical name: 

By M. C. COOKE, M. A.

The clearing nuts of India (See also June number Amer. Jour. Pharm, page 241.) are the produce of a tree which is described as larger than that of the nux vomica. It is without thorns or tendrils; leaves very shortly petioled, elliptic, acute, glabrous, membranaceous, five- and almost penninerved; corymbs axillary, opposite, shorter than the leaf; corolla hirsute within; berry one-seeded; flowers greenish-yellow, fragrant. It is found on the Coromandel coast, the Concans and the western Ghauts, flowering in April.

The native names given by Moodeen Sheriff are,—Nirmali, Hindustani, Bengali and Gujerati; Chilbinj, Dukhni; Tetran Kottai, Tamul: Chilla-gingalu, Telugu; and Tetran-parala, Malayalim.

The fruit, says Ainslie, when very young, is made into a preserve and eaten, but is reckoned, in its mature state, amongst the emetics of the Tamul doctors of southern India, given in powder in the quantity of about half a teaspoonful. The dried seeds are used for the purpose of clearing muddy water, one of them being usually rubbed hard for a short time round the inside of the earthen pot; the water is afterwards poured into it, and left to settle. The impurities soon subsiding, the water will be found clear, tasteless, and wholesome. Roxburgh adds that the natives never drink clear well-water if they can get pond or river water, which is always more or less impure, according to circumstances. These seeds are therefore constantly carried about by the more provident part of our officers and soldiers in time of war, to enable them to purify their water, They are easier obtained than alum, and probably less hurtful.

The tree grows to a larger size than the nux vomica, and is not so common, being only found amongst mountains and woods of great extent, flowering during the hot season. The berry is shining, and black when ripe, containing only one seed, whereas that of nux vomica is many-seeded. (See Pharm. Journ. 1st. ser. Vol. IX.) Roxburgh says the wood is hard and durable, and is used for various economical purposes. The seed is broadly lenticular, about half an inch in diameter and a quarter of an inch in thickness; of a dirty whitish grey color, and covered with a thick coating of delicate appressed hairs. These hairs are in bundles of from three to six, agglutinated together longitudinally; but when separated each hair is seen to be a simple, pointed, cylindrical cell. To the naked eye, the surface of the seeds appears to be mealy rather than hairy.

The seeds in powder, mixed with honey, are applied to boils to hasten suppuration; also with milk in sore eyes. When used as an emetic in southern India, the seeds are given in powder. Dr. Kirkpatrick says that the seeds are employed as a remedy in diabetes; and they are mentioned in the Taleef Shereef as useful in gonorrhoea, etc. Their chief use, however, consists in their application to the clearing of muddy water.

It is not so much the seed as the pericarp that commends itself to our notice. The former is not employed medicinally, whilst the latter is in common use amongst the natives as an emetic.

The use of the fruit as an emetic seems to have been wholly confined to the native practitioners. It has been supposed that the reason why it has never acquired repute is the improper way in which it is administered. The whole fruit is generally powdered, and given in about half a teaspoonful doses. It is not surprising, therefore, that failure should take place, since the large seeds are not emetic, the dry pulp of the fruit and the pericarp alone possessing that property. If these are used separately, the result is said to be very satisfactory.

When sold separately, the emetic portion of the fruit is found in the bazaars in two conditions. In one condition it is in thin, scaly, and shell-like pieces, which are shining externally, and of a greenish or yellowish-brown color. This is the pericarp removed when the fruit is dry. In the other condition it is formed together with the mucus into large balls or masses weighing about one pound. In this condition it contains a large quantity of dry mucus, and is much superior in action to the other form. Mr. Moodeen Sheriff states that the dry mucus appears to be more efficacious in dysentery than ipecacuanha.

The dose of the simple powder of the pericarp, prepared in the usual way, and kept in a stoppered bottle, is from 40 to 50 grains as an emetic, and from 15 to 30 in dysentery.—London Pharm. Journ., July 15, 1871.

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