Copaifera Officinalis. Officinal Copaiva tree.
Nat. Ord. — Fabaceae, Jussieu, or Amyridaceae Lindley. Sex. Syst. — Decandria Monogynia.
The Oleo-Resinous Juice.
Description. — Copaifera Officinalis, the Copaifera Jacquini, of Desfontaines, is a large and handsome tree, with a lofty stem, numerous, crooked and small branches at the top, a nearly smooth, brownish-gray bark, and crowned by a thick canopy of foliage. The leaves are alternate, large, equally pinnated, and composed of from two to five pairs of ovate-lanceolate, smooth, entire, incurved, inequilateral, coriaceous leaflets, two or three inches in length, pellucidly punctate, somewhat shining and on short petioles. The flowers are white, almost sessile, and are in axillary panicles at the ends of the branches, and divided into about eight alternate common peduncles. The calyx is composed of four oblong, acute, spreading, concave sepals, somewhat united at base, and tomentose within. The petals are wanting. The stamens are filiform, incurved, somewhat longer than the sepals, and bearing oblong, incumbent anthers. The ovary is roundish, compressed and hairy, crowned with a thin incurved style furnished with an obtuse stigma. The legume is ovate, subcompressed and coriaceous, containing a single elliptical seed.
History. — There are several species of the Copaiba tree, which furnish the oleo-resin copaiba. For a long time it was supposed to be the product of but one tree, but the researches of Martius, Hayne, and others, have shown that the species are numerous, and that, probably, several of them contribute to furnish the copaiba of commerce. Beside the one described above, are the C. Guaianensis, C. Langsdorffi, C. Coriacea, C. Beyrichii, C. Martii, C. Bijuga, C. Nitida, G. Laxa, C. Cordifolia, C. Jussieui, C. Sellowii, C. Oblongifolia, and C. Multijuga. These trees are all peculiar to South America, growing in Brazil, the West Indies, and other parts. It is principally collected in the provinces of Para and Maranham, in Brazil, the trees of which yield the finer qualities of juice. It is imported from Para, and other Brazilian ports, Carthagena, Maracaibo, etc., from each of which places it differs in quality. The juice is obtained by deep incisions being made into the trunk or stems of the trees, during or immediately following the wet season ; the balsam flows freely, being clear, colorless, and thin, but soon acquiring more consistency, and a yellowish tinge. The incisions either heal spontaneously, or are closed with either wax or clay. Sometimes the operation is performed two or more times annually, and some trees so abound in the juice as to yield twelve pounds in three hours. Although Copaiba differs much in its appearance, owing to its various botanical sources, yet but two kinds are usually distinguished in commerce ; the Brazil, and the West Indian.
The Brazil Copaiba, which is the most common in use, is a clear, transparent fluid, rather thinner in consistence than new honey, of a pale wine-yellow color, of a peculiar, resinous, not unpleasant odor, and of a bitter, nauseous, somewhat acrid, aromatic, persistent taste. Its specific gravity varies from 950 to 1,000. When long kept, it becomes darker, more dense, and of greater consistency ; and after some years its resin partly crystallizes in minute six-sided prisms. Water does not dissolve copaiba, but acquires its odor ; it is moderately soluble in rectified spirit, and freely so in alcohol, fixed and volatile oils, and sulphuric ether. With the aid of heat it dissolves iodine and sulphur ; sulphuric acid unites with it, rendering it reddish brown and thicker. Solution of potassa forms a soap with it; magnesia, and its carbonate are freely dissolved by it, especially with the aid of heat, producing a honey-like translucent mass which gradually hardens ; carbonic acid is disengaged with the latter. Hydrate of lime causes a similar change. It is composed of volatile oil, resin, and a minute proportion of acid.
The West Indian Copaiba is of a thicker consistence than the above, likewise of a darker yellow color, turbid but translucent, of a less agreeable and more terebinthinate odor, and more bitter and acrid in taste. Neither of these varieties contain benzoic acid; hence the term balsam, as applied to copaiba, is incorrect.
The volatile oil constitutes from one-third to one-half or more of the copaiba, and is obtained by distillation. (See Oleum Copaibae.) The resinous matter which remains after the oil has been separated, becomes hard and brittle in cold, but continues soft in warm weather, it is translucent, greenish-brown, nearly inodorous and tasteless. When treated with the oil of petroleum, it becomes separated into two distinct resins, one of which is dissolved, and may be obtained separate by evaporation, the other is left behind. The first is hard, brittle and yellowish, constituting the largest proportion of the resin of copaiba, is soluble in naphtha alcohol, ether, fixed and volatile oils, possesses acrid properties, and in termed Copaivic acid. The second resin is soft, brown, unctuous, possesses no acid reaction, and is insoluble in naphtha.
Copaiba, especially in the European markets, is often adulterated with oil of turpentine, or fixed oils. If turpentine, or other volatile oil be present even in small proportion, it may be detected by its odor on the application of gentle heat. Any fixed oil except castor oil, may be discovered by agitation with absolute alcohol, giving a turbid, instead of a clear and permanent solution, from which the impurity slowly separates. Carbonate of magnesia added to the suspected article, and a gentle heat applied, is a better test for all fixed oils. Pure copaiba dissolves onefourth of its weight of the carbonate, and remains translucent ; but a small proportion of any fixed oil renders the product opake.
Various plans have been proposed for ascertaining the presence of castor oil. The simplest is to boil one drachm of the copaiba in a pint of water till the liquid is wholly evaporated. If the copaiba contain a fixed oil, the residue will be more or less soft according to the quantity present; otherwise it will be hard. Another mode, proposed by M. Planche, consists in shaking together in a bottle one part of aqua ammoniae of the sp. gr. 0.9212 (22° Baume) with two and a half parts of copaiba, at a temperature of from 50° to 60° F. The mixture, at first cloudy, quickly becomes transparent if the copaiba is pure, but remains more or less opake if it is adulterated with castor oil ; this test, however, is said to fail in some varieties of the genuine article. If pure copaiba be triturated with sulphuric acid, it reddens it, but does not alter its color if any fixed oil be present. All these tests, however, when taken singly, are open to sources of fallacy, and the best method of determining the purity of the article, is to ascertain the quantity of volatile oil it affords by distillation. Recent copaiba examined by Gerber yielded 41 per cent, of volatile oil, 51.38 of the hard and brittle resin, 2.18 of the soft resin, and 5.44 of water; while an older specimen gave 31.07 per cent, of oil, 53.68 of hard resin, 11.15 of soft resin, and 4.10 of water.
Properties and Uses. — When given in large doses, copaiba is an irritant ; in medicinal doses it is stimulant, cathartic, and diuretic ; it likewise exerts an especial influence on the mucous tissues of the system, diminishing their secretions when excessive, and for this latter purpose it is principally employed. When swallowed, it causes a sensation of heat in the throat and stomach, and exerts an influence throughout the alimentary canal, the urinary passages, and upon all the mucous membranes. In the course of its action it becomes absorbed, so that its odor and bitter taste are communicated to the urine, while the former can also be detected in the breath. Among the inconveniences attending its use, especially when used in large doses, the most frequent are nausea and vomiting, occasionally painful purgation, bloody urine, and febrile symptoms ; these effects may be obviated very often, by administering the remedy oftener, but in smaller doses, and by combining it with cinnamon, nutmeg, or some other aromatic. It likewise frequently produces a transient papular eruption on the skin, resembling that of measles, and accompanied with a disagreeable itching and tingling. It has been found most beneficial in chronic mucous affections, as in chronic gonorrhea, bronchitis, irritable conditions of the bladder, gleet, leucorrhea, chronic catarrh, chronic dysentery, and painful hemorrhoidal affections. Its effects in gonorrhea are much increased by the addition of liquor potassa ; and it is much more beneficial in the gonorrhea of males than of females, because, in the latter, the vagina is oftener affected than the urethra. In injection, it has been used with good results ; make an emulsion of two drachms of copaiba with the yelk of an egg, add twenty or thirty drops of laudanum to it, in order to prevent its too speedy discharge from the rectum, and eight fluidounces of water. This may be used as an injection, and repeated three or four times a day. Locally, it forms an excellent application to chilblains, old ulcers, and fistulous ulcers, in which it serves to speedily soften the callosity of the walls of the fistulous canal. The dose of copaiba is from twenty to sixty drops, two or three times a day. It may be taken in emulsion, made by triturating each dose with the yelk of one egg, adding half an ounce of mint, cinnamon, or other aromatic water, and sweetening with sugar; or it may be taken in the form of pill with magnesia; the best and least objectionable form in which it can be taken is in the form of capsules. (See Article "Ghee.") The oil is the best form for obtaining the effects of the copaiba, which see.
Off. Prep. — Mistura Copaibae Composita; Oleum Copaibae ; Pilulae Copaibae Compositae; Pilulae Copaibae.