Irish Moss as a Substitute for Gum Acacia in Pharmacy.


Read before the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain at an Evening Meeting in Edinburgh, Wednesday, May 11. Reprinted from Phar. Jour. and Trans., May 21, p. 941.

At the present time when the price of gum arabic is about five times what used to be considered its normal value it seems not inappropriate to introduce for consideration a subject such as I have to bring before you tonight. A mucilage of Irish moss, prepared by boiling in water, has been largely used in America for the emulsification of cod liver oil, but so far as I have been able to ascertain by liberal reference to journals published in that country and in this, its more extended pharmaceutical use has not been proposed.

Some years ago I made experiments with the moss mucilage as an emulsifier of cod liver oil, but my experience with it did not indicate any evidence of its superiority to other substances used for the same purpose, such as acacia and tragacanth. In consequence I abandoned further consideration of it, especially as the cost was not then an element of so urgent importance as it is now.

A few months since, however, in conversation with a pharmaceutical friend, the subject of a substitute for acacia came up. Remembering my previous experiments with Irish moss I thought this substance might possess some qualities which would make it worth considering with this object in view. Since then I have from time to time as leisure permitted gone into the subject, and the results of my experiments, so far as they appear to me to be worth recording, I propose to lay before you.

The only two British species of algae which yield a mucilaginous jelly with water are Gelidium corneum and Chondrus crispus, or Irish moss. The latter is the more plentiful, and being a well-known article of commerce is easily obtainable. The composition of commercial Irish moss is given by Church as

Water 18.8
Albuminoids 9.4
Mucilage 55.4
Cellulose 2.2
Mineral matter 14.2

Stanford says it yielded him 63.7 per cent. of carragheenin, or vegetable jelly; this probably includes the albuminoids and mucilage given in Church's analysis.

The mucilage may be obtained by boiling, by heating on a waterbath, and by cold maceration. The usual method is boiling. However, having put a quantity of the moss into water to soak one afternoon, and being unable to attend to it till the next day, I found when I examined it that the water was distinctly viscous. By putting a larger quantity of moss into a smaller quantity of water, and macerating with occasional gentle stirring for twenty-four hours, I obtained a mucilage of about three-fourths the viscosity of acacia mucilage.

At the commencement I encountered a difficulty which threatened to be a serious objection. I found it exceedingly troublesome to get the mucilage clear, the insoluble particles suspended in it being so minute that the straining medium necessary to exclude them required to be so fine that the mucilage would scarcely pass through it. Mr. Huested (Pharm. Journ., July 16,1881, p. 49) records similar experience. In a case where the small particles in suspension would not be objectionable, a fairly presentable product may be obtained by using muslin or calico as the straining material, and gently stirring or pressing. For emulsions this serves admirably. In a clear mixture, however, the particles become objectionably evident when the mucilage is diluted. To obtain a clear preparation Mr. Huested recommends that the mucilage while hot should be poured into a flannel filteringbag and allowed to drain through, no pressure or stirring being employed. Proceeding in a similar way I failed to get satisfactory results. I could neither get the mucilage to run through reasonably rapidly nor obtain it so clear as I desired. It may be that Mr. Huested's manipulation is superior to mine, or his mucilage was not so clear as that which I have now succeeded in preparing. After many failures, the details of which I need not give, I found that by using a hot water funnel and straining the mucilage through absorbent cotton wool supported on muslin, a preparation clear enough for all but exceptional purposes could be obtained with comparatively little difficulty. If a perfectly water-clear preparation be required, it may be obtained by making a weak mucilage, filtering it clear, and then evaporating to the thickness required. If a clear jelly were wanted this would be the only way to prepare it, because a decoction of this consistence could not be strained, even when kept hot, in anything like a reasonable time, if at all.

A quarter of an ounce of moss, washed free from dust and sand, soaked in 24 ozs. of cold water for an hour or so, boiled gently for five minutes or heated on a water-bath for double the time, and strained in the manner I have described, yields about 18 ozs. of mucilage closely resembling in appearance and viscosity the acacia preparation, and possessing as little taste.

I have observed that the clear mucilage has less taste,—"flavor" perhaps I should say,—than that which has not been freed from insoluble particles.

A quarter of an ounce macerated in 4 ozs. of cold water for twenty-four hours, or longer, gives a mucilage such as that to which I have already made reference.

Specimens of these and of some other strengths are on the table. I have observed variations in the results from different parcels of the moss.

Comparing the moss mucilage with acacia mucilage in combinations, I find that it serves as well as the latter for chalk mixture. Guaiac. mixture made with it does not soon acquire a greenish tinge as that made with acacia: oxidation appears to be retarded and presumably the moss is therefore to be preferred. For suspending copaiba it is superior to acacia, separation taking place much more slowly and less completely. Part of the copaiba remains in an emulsified state at the bottom of the bottle when moss is used, but with acacia the liquid in the lower part of the bottle is free from anything of that kind, all the oleoresin having risen to the top.

For emulsifying cod liver oil it is greatly superior to acacia in point of preventing separation, but a finer division of the oil can be obtained by the use of acacia in greater proportion than the equivalent.

Moss mucilage, 5 drams, cod liver oil, 1 fluid ounce, and water 2 fluid ounces, produce an emulsion that is practicably inseparable. Using 5 drams acacia mucilage, 1 fluid ounce cod liver oil, and 2 fluid ounces water, the product obtained quickly separates.

It should not be used for suspending heavy powders without some caution, for I find that when it is employed to suspend subnitrate of bismuth, the bismuth when once it settles down will not again shake up. Where there is no objection of this kind it is superior to ordinary mucilage.

Specimens are shown illustrative of the results of these comparative experiments.

In regard to compatibility moss mucilage forms a clear jelly with subacetate of lead solution; it is miscible with rectified spirit and dilute nitric acid; perchloride of iron gives a slight gelatinous precipitate.

The preparation keeps good for some weeks in full bottles without any preservative. One specimen is shown that has been kept in a partially filled bottle in the front shop for two months and it can hardly be said to be bad; other specimens, however, of about the same age have become mouldy on the top. It does not sour like acacia mucilage.

Pereira says that Chondrus crispus has a popular reputation for pulmonary complaints, chronic diarrhoea and irritation of the kidneys and bladder. The mucilage strikes one as being well suited for use with medicines for any of these complaints; a few ounces of it in a cough mixture, for example. It may be used freely, for it is readily digested-the melting point of the jelly being 80° F., not much above that of isinglass jelly used for invalids.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 59, 1887, was edited by John M. Maisch.