British Pharmaceutical Conference.
Selected Papers on Plants
Catha.—Some contributions to the knowledge of catha leaves, by Professor FIückiger and Mr. T. E. Gerock, next came under the attention of the meeting. The greater part of this lengthy paper was of the historical and antiquarian nature that characterizes many of the writings of the senior author. Only the portion recording the results of the chemical examination therefore was read by Mr. Naylor. It appears that the first scientific notice of the plant was contributed rather more than a century ago by the Swedish botanist and explorer, Forskal, who reported that the Arabs ate the leaves greedily on account of their stimulating powers and the wakefulness they promoted; also that they believed the plague would not invade a place where the tree was cultivated, and that a man carrying a twig of catha in his bosom might safely go among the infected. A number of other quotations are given in the paper, tending to show that catha leaves are used by the natives of Arabia and Abyssinia in a similar manner and for a similar purpose as coca leaves in South America. The results of the chemical examination by the authors of a sample of catha are recorded in the last two or three paragraphs of the paper. About three pounds of the leaves were exhausted with water containing oxalic acid, the liquid neutralized with lime and shaken with light petroleum; the greater part of the petroleum was distilled off and the residue shaken with dilute hydrochloric acid; the acid solution was heated with lime in excess and then shaken with ether, which on evaporation left about half a gram of a thickish oily yellowish matter that readily dissolved in acetic acid, the solution giving precipitates characteristic of alkaloids. A watery solution of the substance reddened phenolphthalein paper, but the redness quickly disappeared, in consequence, it is supposed, of the volatilization of the alkaloid, which it is proposed to call "katine." A crystalline acetate of katine was also stated to have been obtained. The authors confirmed previous statements as to the absence of caffeine.
Ipecacuanha.—On resuming the second sitting of the Conference was commenced by the reading of a paper on the Estimation of Emetine in Ipecacuanha, by Mr. F. Ransom. The principal novelty in this paper was the suggested use for the percolation of the root of chloroform rendered alkaline by shaking it with a strong solution of ammonia. The alkaloid is removed from the percolate by means of dilute sulphuric acid, and estimated with Mayer's reagent. The author has ascertained that contact with the ammoniated chloroform does not decompose the alkaloid. Ten samples of root tested by this process yielded proportions of emetine varying from 1.3 to 2.3 per cent., the average strength being 1.66. At the conclusion of the paper, Mr. Naylor expressed some surprise at the high results obtained by Mr. Ransom, and remarked that hitherto no published process had quite satisfied him, as they all, in his hands, had yielded varying results.
Mackay bean.—The enormous bean known as the Mackay Bean, the seed of Entada scandens, was the subject of the next communication, by Mr. John Moss. It consisted of an account of a chemical investigation of the seed made with the object of isolating a poisonous principle that it was alleged to contain. No very definite result, however, has been arrived at, beyond establishing the probability of the occurrence of saponin in the aqueous extract, and the obtaining of three or four microscopic crystals, which it is hoped may be the beginning of a crop that will eventually be large enough to allow of their proper examination. Some question having been raised as to whether the substance occurring in the aqueous extract was really saponin, Mr. Holmes remarked that the root of the plant is used in the Philippines as a washing material.
Vesicating beetles —The next note, on "Two Species of Vesicating Beetles from South Africa," by Mr. J. O. Braithwaite, was another communication of practical value. It described the results of an examination of some "blistering flies", that had recently been consigned from South Africa. The sample consisted of two species of Mylabris which have been identified as M. bifasciata and M. lunata. The author reported that he had ascertained that the former of these is extremely rich in cantharidin, containing more than twice as much as Cantharis vesicatoria, and he suggested that as the beetle is plentiful at the Cape it might prove an economic source of the vesicant. M. lunata proved to be much poorer in cantharidin. After the paper had been read, Mr. Moss stated that another species of Mylabris is at present used as an important source of commercial cantharidin.
English-grown rhubarb.—A very brief note was then read by Mr. W. Elborne, in which he called attention to samples of English-grown roots of Rheum officinale, pointing out the great similarity in appearance and general characters existing between them and the dark-veined variety of the East Indian imported drug.
Oil of evodia.—The object of the next paper read, which was by Mr. H. Helbing, was to add oil of evodia to the list of deodorants of iodoform. The oil, which is derived from the fruit of the Evodia fraxinifolia, a rutaceous plant, native of Nepal, was described as having an exceedingly agreeable and intense odor similar to bergamot. Its specific gravity does not exceed .840, and it is soluble in ether and alcohol and has a pungent taste. The fruit on distillation yields about 4 per cent. of the oil. Some conversation arose as to a possible supply of the oil, but this was somewhat checked by the doubt expressed by the president, after examining the samples, whether the oil answered to the claim put forward on its behalf.
Camphor oil was next brought before the Conference in a paper by Mr. P. MacEwan, who, having examined numerous samples of the oil during the last two years, has been struck with the great range of quality they exhibited. Some were almost colorless, others very dark, and their other physical characters showed great variations. Some experiments have led him to the conclusion that high specific gravity and dark color are indicative of the absence of camphor. Mr. MacEwan considers it desirable that camphor oil should be brought to approximate uniformity before it reaches the hands of the retailer, by excluding the dark and heavy oils, bulking the remainder and submitting it to distillation to get rid of all that will distil below 170° to 175° C., which would be still useful for varnish making. Mr. Moss mentioned that in the distillation of crude oil, which is carried out to a considerable extent for the sake of the camphor it contains, a fraction is obtained resembling safrol, and he believed that a great proportion of this constituent finds its way into commerce as oil of sassafras. Another portion of the distillate, he had been informed, resembled eugenol, the heavy constituent of oil of cloves, and although occurring in small relative proportion the total yield is large, as the quantity of the oil distilled is enormous.
Another spurious cubeb was the subject of a histological paper by Mr. Kirkby. It appears to agree more closely with Flückiger and Hanbury's description of Piper crassipes than the false cubebs described by Mr. Kirkby in this journal, which has been referred to that species. To distinguish them, therefore, he at present speaks of the earlier one as the short-stalked variety. Mr. Holmes mentioned the interesting fact that be had recently examined a sample of cubebs of the best quality he could obtain, and that he had found it to contain the different spurious "cubebs" that have been described and he was inclined to believe that the cubebs of the present day consist of mixtures of genuine and spurious fruits. Dr. Symes said that many samples of powdered cubebs when triturated with water showed a considerable separation of gritty and sandy matter, and one sample of powder yielded to him upon incineration as much as twelve per cent. of ash.
Pharmacy of logwood, by Mr. Louis Siebold. The object of this note was to deal with the questions: What is the best logwood for use in pharmacy? What is the nature and condition in which this wood is intended by the authors of the Pharmacopoeia to be employed? Are these intentions fulfilled in practice? In reference to the first question the author thought that Campeachy or Honduras was much more suitable for use than the inferior kinds obtained from San Domingo and Jamaica. As to the condition in which the wood was to be used the Pharmacopoeia was silent, and ignored the fact that the wood in logs and that ordinarily sold in chips or in the form of a coarse powder, were most essentially different from each other from a chemical point of view, since the ground wood or chips as met with in commerce had undergone a long process of fermentation by being laid up with water in heaps and exposed to the air for weeks. The great difference between the two was well known to those engaged in dyeing and calico-printing, and to technical chemists acquainted with these processes; but it was little known to and not at all appreciated by pharmacists. The author fully explained the difference in the chemical nature of the two woods, and expressed the opinion that the fresh or unfermented wood ought only to be used in pharmacy, the aged or fermented wood being very unsuitable for the decoction and the extract, especially for the latter, both from a pharmaceutical and from a medical point of view. He had no doubt in his mind that the framers of the Pharmacopoeia meant the unfermented wood, as this alone had the sweetish taste alluded to in the characters. The last question he answered in the negative, asserting that fermented chips were almost exclusively used by pharmacists and wholesale houses for the B. P. preparations. Unfermented chips were rarely met with in commerce, and, to his knowledge, were never sold to retailers. He thought that pharmacists or wholesale druggists should prepare their own extract, as that imported so largely from France and America was not pure enough for pharmaceutical purposes. He would recommend in the place of the extract a liquor haematoxyli, representing its own weight of wood, which after settling was an elegant and very permanent preparation. He gave full details as to how this should be made.
Quinological work in the Madras cinchona plantations.—Mr. David Hooper supplied another convenient summary of results obtained in further experiments carried out by him in his capacity of quinologist to the Madras government. The first series of twelve analyses referred to, showed that bark from trees of the same age and growing in the same situation might vary in alkaloidal strength, the figures ranging from 1.75 per cent. to 3.90 per cent. of quinine, and from none to 0.16 per cent. of quinidine. It also seems probable that there is no advantage in raising only one stem from a coppiced tree. Bark from the same twelve trees, examined in each consecutive month, showed that in the six months next following the original stripping there was a decrease of alkaloids in the bark left, as if the tree had suffered in this respect from the shock of the operation; but in the seventh month recovery had well set in, and by the twelfth the bark was richer than it had been a year before. Incidentally, it was also observed that March is the month in which cinchona bark appears to be richest in alkaloids. Some further experiments as to the effect of manuring cinchona trees, seem to show that bone manure and cattle manure are best suited for the purpose, though the improvement of the bark in quinine was in no case more than 14.58 per cent. Another experiment as to the extent to which renewal of bark can be profitably carried appears to show that the maximum in the case of a hybrid Ledger plant had been reached with the third year's renewal, although the fourth renewal still resulted in a rich bark.