Delphinium consolida. Larkspur. Delphinium staphisagria. Stavesacre.
Nat. Ord. — Ranunculaceae. Sex. Syst. — Polyandria Trigynia.
The Root and Seeds.
Description. — Delphinium Consolida is an annual herbaceous plant, with an erect, slightly pubescent, cylindrical, divaricate stem, from one to two feet high ; root simple, slender. The leaves are sessile, and divided into numerous linear, acute segments, usually bifurcate at the summit. The flowers are bright-blue or purple, and disposed in loose, few-flowered, terminal racemes, on rigid peduncles which are furnished with two small, alternate bracts. The nectary is one-leaved, with an ascending anterior spur, about the length of the corolla. Carpels follicular, solitary, smooth, containing numerous black, or blackish-brown, angular, hirsute seeds.
Delphinium Staphisagria is a handsome annual or biennial plant, one or two feet high, with a simple, erect, downy stem. The leaves are broad, palmate, five or seven-lobed, on hairy petioles. The flowers are bluish-gray, in terminal loose racemes, with hairy pedicels twice as long as the flower, and bracts inserted at their base. The nectary is four-leaved, and shorter than the petals, which are five in number, dirty-white, the two lower spathulate, the uppermost projected backward so as to form a spur, which incloses two spurs of the upper leaflets of the nectary. Capsules three, large, villous, containing many globose, three-cornered, thick, black seeds.
History. — The Delphinium Consolida is a native of Europe, which has become naturalized in the United States, growing in woods and fields, and flowering in June and July: when wild the flowers are blue, but when cultivated, are of various colors, as red, white, blue, etc. The finest flowers are obtained from seed sown late in summer, or in the beginning of autumn. All parts of the plant are endowed with a bitter, acrid principle, which is most strongly developed in the seeds, which also contain much oil. The flowers furnish, by expression, a blue pigment, which is permanent if alum be used as a mordant. Diluted alcohol is its best solvent.
The D. Staphisagria is a native of the south of Europe, growing in waste places ; the seeds are the officinal part. They are about the size of a grain of wheat, irregularly triangular, wrinkled, externally black or brown, internally whitish and oily, with a slight, unpleasant odor, and a very acrid, bitter, hot, nauseous taste. Their virtues are extracted by water or alcohol.
The seeds of the D. Consolida contain delphinia, volatile oil, fixed oil, gum, resin, chlorophylle, gallic acid, and salts of potassa, lime and iron. Those of the D. Staphisagria contain a brown and a yellow bitter principle, a volatile oil, a fixed oil, albumen, an azotized substance, a mucilaginous, saccharine matter, mineral salts, and a peculiar alkaline principle combined with an excess of malic acid, called Delphinia.
Delphinia may be obtained by boiling a decoction of the seeds with magnesia, collecting the precipitate, and treating it with alcohol, which dissolves the delphinia, and yields it upon evaporation. It is white, pulverulent, inodorous, of a bitter, acrid taste, fusible by heat, and becoming hard and brittle upon cooling, slightly soluble in cold water, very soluble in alcohol and ether, and forms salts with the acids. It contains three distinct principles, — one of a resinous nature separated from its solution in diluted sulphuric acid by the addition of nitric acid, — another insoluble in ether, and termed Staphisain, — and a third soluble both in alcohol and ether, and considered as pure Delphinia.
Properties and Uses. — The D. Staphisagria possesses the same properties as the D. Consolida, but in a higher degree. In large doses they are irritant poisons ; in medicinal doses the former is emetic, cathartic, and narcotic, but its action is too violent and uncertain for these indications. An infusion of the seeds of Stavesacre, may, however, be advantageously used both by the mouth, and in injection, as a vermifuge. Powdered and mixed with lard, the seeds have been found useful in some forms of cutaneous disease, and to destroy lice in the hair; a tincture, or infusion of the bruised seeds in vinegar may be employed for the same purpose. The seeds have likewise been used in some countries to intoxicate fish.
The flowers of the D. Consolida, are considered diuretic, emmenagogue, and vermifuge ; they were formerly used as a local application to wounds, and the decoction was recommended as efficacious in some ophthalmic affections. The seeds possess similar properties with those of the D. Staphisagria, but less energetic. A tincture of them has been recommended in calculus, as a vermifuge, and to destroy lice in the hair; it has also been found useful in spasmodic asthma and dropsy. It may be prepared by macerating an ounce of them in a pint of diluted alcohol ; the dose is ten drops gradually increased until some effects upon the system are produced. The root possesses similar virtues but is seldom employed. A drachm of two of the flowers of D. Consolida, placed in a pint of hot water, and slowly simmered down to half a pint, then strained and sweetened, is said to be an excellent remedy for cholera morbus ; to be administered in teacupful doses, at short intervals, until relief is obtained. As an antiemetic in the vomiting of autumnal fevers and other diseases, this plant is highly extolled, calming the stomach speedily, and giving a delightful relief; it is used in infusion, made similar to the above, by adding half an ounce of the leaves and flowers to half a pint of boiling water. The dose is a wineglassful, to be repeated every half hour or oftener, if .necessary. This plant undoubtedly deserves further investigation.
Delphinia possesses the peculiar properties of the seed in an eminent degree. It is very poisonous exerting its effects chiefly on the nervous system ; six grains of it dissolved in vinegar killed a dog in forty minutes, — the symptoms are vomiting, giddiness, and convulsions. Dr. Turnbull states that pure delphinia may be given in doses of half a grain, to the extent of three or four grains a day, without any unpleasant results ; it sometimes purges, mostly promotes diuresis, and occasions feelings of heat and tingling in various parts of the body. If used at all, it should be with excessive caution. Externally, it has been successfully used in neuralgia, rheumatism, and paralysis ; it is applied by friction over the part in the form of ointment or alcoholic solution, in proportions varying from ten to thirty grains of delphinia to one ounce of the vehicle ; and the friction should be continued till some redness and burning are produced.