By C. HARTWICH.
Several genera of the family Simarubaceae are distinguished by the large quantity they contain of intensely bitter substances, which, so far as is known, may be all identical with or nearly allied to the more exactly investigated quassiin. It is to the presence of these substances that is due almost exclusively the medicinal use of different parts of these plants, especially in former days, and which is still tolerably wide spread in the present time. For instance, the wood from Picraena excelsa, Lindl., and Quassia amara, L., are used, and the root bark of Simaruba officinalis, DC., (The bark of this tree is used in British Guiana for tanning.) and S. medicinalis, Endl. According to Fremi, the flowers also of the Quassia amara are in favor with the natives as a remedy against disorders of the stomach. ("Pharmacognosie," 2d ed., p. 461.) Further, Flückiger has referred to the high quassiin contents of the seeds of Samadera indica, Gaertn., without, however, mentioning any medicinal use of them. In Brazil the freshly pressed juice of Simaruba versicolor, S. Hil., is used as a remedy against skin parasites. ("Jahresbericht," 1880, p. 35.) Further in the same country the fruit of Simaba Waldivia enjoys a great reputation on account of its healing action.
To this latter genus belongs also the Simaba Cedron, Plainch., (In Brazil the seed of Simaba ferruginea, St. Hil., is called "cedron" (Amer. Jour. Phar., Feb., 1880).) yielding the seeds that are the subject of the present note, which have long been known and formerly enjoyed an unmerited reputation, but afterwards fell, almost into oblivion. These seeds have again recently frequently appeared in commerce as a remedy in stomachic disorders. Their reputation in former times was due to the beneficial action attributed to them in fevers and snake-bites. In the latter respect it is even now believed in Costa Rica that they not only have a healing effect when taken by a bitten person, but it is said the exhalation from people who for a time drink a liqueur prepared from the seed or the bark acquires such an odor that poisonous snakes, insects and spiders are seared by it. But it is now recognized that an antidotal action against snake-bite does not exist in the seeds, whilst their antifebrile properties appear also very problematic. Du Coignard observed that the Indians of New Granada used 95 grains of the seed with effect during the cold shiverings, and he himself obtained results with them where quinine had failed, but he confesses that the activity of the seeds was not uniform. Other observers could recognize no action at all. Whether, as has recently been affirmed, the drug is a remedy against insanity, is probably also open to doubt.
The plant occurs in New Granada, especially along the Magdalena river. Polakowsky brought the seeds from Costa Rica, where the plant, according to his statement, grows in the hot lowlands of the coast district on the western side of the republic. He mentions also the statements of Scherzer and Wagner that it is frequent in the woods on the eastern side. It appears, however, to extend considerably further north, since seeds were exhibited in Berlin, in 1883, from Mexico.
The seeds have long been known; according to Lindley they were mentioned as far back as 1699. The tree was discovered in 1846, by Purdie, and described by Planchon. It attains a height of 6 metres, and the stein a diameter of 15 to 25 centimetres. The pinnate leaves are smooth, at least 60 centimetres long, consisting of at least twenty leaflets, and are alternate or opposite; the leaflets are sessile, 10 to 15 centimetres long, acuminate and penninerved. The common petiole is cylindrical, and terminated by an odd leaflet. The racemes are 60 centimetres long or more, densely crowded, strongly branched, covered with a short velvety reddish down. The calyx is small, cup-shaped, with five obtuse teeth, and an ochreous down. The corolla has six [according to Planchon five] spreading, pale brown petals, downy externally. Ten short stamens stand behind a similar number of scales, which approximate to form a tube. Carpels five; styles five, above the base, and longer than the stamens; one ovule in each carpel. The fruit is very large, one-seeded by reason of the abortion of the other carpels, berry-like, ovate, oblique at the top; the fleshy part of the fruit, which does not appear to be very soft, is enclosed in a horny endocarp. Seeds very large, suspended, covered with a membranous integument, with a very distinct chalaza; no endosperm; cotyledons very large, in the fresh condition fleshy and white.
Only the cotyledons are met with in commerce. They are 3 to 4 centimetres long, 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres broad, longish ovate, rounded on one side; on the other side, straight or even somewhat reniform, indented, ridged on the outer surface, smooth on the inner. At one end the cotyledons are notched in a peculiar manner, a fissure that begins nearly at the top of the ridged side running right and left for about 1 ½ centimetres and separating two semicircular pieces of about 2 millimetres in diameter. To this notch corresponds a point on the inner flat side of the cotyledon, which, according to Vogl, is the residue of the radicle. In a transverse section are seen upon the convex side five or six faint vascular bundles; the remainder of the tissue, consists of uniform polyhedric cells, which appear to be pressed together and elongated tangentially. The contents consist of tolerably large roundish oval starch granules. In addition albumen can be detected, especially in a layer lying next the cell wall, and traces of fat.—Phar. Jour. and Trans., Aug. 8, 1885, p. 127, from the Archiv der Pharmacie, cciii, 249.