Gelseminum sempervirens. Yellow Jessamine.

Botanical name: 

Nat. Ord. — Apocynaceae. Sex. Syst. — Pentandria Digynia.

The Root.

Description. — This plant is likewise known by the names of Wild Jessamine, and Woodbine; it is the Bignonia Sempervirens of Linnaeus, and the Gelseminum Nitidum of Michaux and Pursh. It has a twining, smooth, glabrous stem, with opposite, perennial, lanceolate, entire leaves, which are dark-green above, and pale beneath, and which stand on short petioles. The flowers are yellow, having an agreeable, but rather narcotic odor, and stand on axillary peduncles. The calyx is very small, with five sepals ; the corolla is funnel-form, with a spreading border, and five lobes nearly equal. Stamens five ; pistils two. Capsule two-celled, compressed, flat, two-partible. Seeds flat, and attached to the margins of the valves.

History. — This plant was brought into notice, as far as we can learn, in the following manner : A planter of Mississippi, whose name we have forgotten, while laboring under a severe attack of bilious fever, which resisted all the usual remedies, sent a servant into his garden to procure a certain medicinal root, and prepare an infusion of it for him to drink. The servant, by mistake, collected another root, and gave an infusion of it to his master, who, shortly after swallowing some of it, was seized with a complete loss of muscular power, unable to move a limb, or even raise his eyelids, although he could hear, and was cognizant of circumstances transpiring around him. His friends greatly alarmed, collected around him, watching the result with much anxiety, and expecting every minute to see him breathe his last. After some hours, he gradually recovered himself, and was astonished to find that his fever had left him. Ascertaining from his servant what plant it was the root of which acted in this manner, he collected some of it, and employed it successfully on his own plantation, as well as among his neighbors. The success of this article finally reached the ears of some physician, who prepared from it a nostrum called the "Electrical Febrifuge," which was disguised with the essence of wintergreen. The plant was the Yellow Jessamine, and a knowledge of its remarkable effects was not communicated to the profession until recently.

The Yellow Jessamine abounds throughout the Southern States, growing luxuriantly, and climbing from tree to tree, forming an agreeable shade. On account of its fine yellow flowers, and the rich perfume which they impart to the surrounding atmosphere, as well as the shade it affords, it is extensively cultivated in the gardens of the South as an ornamental vine. The flowers appear from March to May. The root is the officinal part, and yields its virtues to water or alcohol. It is several feet in length, with scattered fibers, and is from two or three lines in diameter to nearly two inches. The internal part of the root is woody, and of a light yellowish color ; the external part, or bark, in which the medicinal virtues are said principally to reside, is of a light snuff-color, and from half a line to three lines in thickness. The root of this plant has been said to contain a resin which is poisonous in very small doses, and a tincture, made by digesting it in undiluted alcohol, is stated to have proved fatal. This statement is denied, and upon good grounds, for were it true, death would necessarily follow the use of the tincture made with undiluted alcohol, in consequence of the presence of this resin which would still be taken up by the alcohol in a proportion corresponding to the alcoholic strength of the solvent. Again, it has been asserted, that the deaths which have occurred where this article was used, were owing, not to the Gelseminum, but to the presence of another very poisonous root, somewhat resembling it, which was carelessly or ignorantly collected and mixed with it. Others again, state that they have given large doses without any serious consequences, and in one case, six fluidrachms of the tincture were swallowed by a lad twenty years of age, without any permanent injury. Notwithstanding these statements, death has followed the employment of what was supposed to be the tincture of gelseminum, in a few instances, and further investigations are required to determine its probable cause, and whether this agent will produce any fatal results in large medicinal doses. Yellow Jessamine may be administered in decoction, infusion, or tincture. It is reputed incompatible with no known substance, but this remains to be satisfactorily determined.

Dr. Hiram H. Hill, formerly of the firm of F. D. Hill & Co., of Cincinnati, has collected many hundreds of pounds of the Gelseminum root in the South. I am indebted to him for the following statement of it. "The length of the Gelseminum root, in clay soil, is from three to ten feet, and on the Magnolia ridges, and along small streams, I have traced some roots to the extent of thirty feet, although the average length is about fifteen. Like the roots of many other vines, it is branching, with scattered fibers, and runs horizontally near the surface of the ground, sometimes merely under the leaves, for several feet. When first pulled up it is very yellow, and has a peculiar odor, like that of the tincture, with a bitter, rather pleasant taste to most persons, at least people were constantly tasting or chewing it, while I was collecting it. The vine is of a green color, and always runs to the top of the tree or bush on which it fastens, then branches out, covering the topmost branches with its thick foliage. I have seen it on trees that were fifty feet in night, and the size of the vine was the same near the top as at the ground ; its general length is from twenty to thirty feet. The bark of the vine is full of a silk-like fiber, which is not found in other vines that I have seen. On old vines, the leaves are about one and a half inches in length, of a dark-green color, lance-shaped, and on short footstalks ; on young vines or shoots they are longer and are four or five inches apart, while on the old ones they are very close and always opposite. The flowers are funnel-shaped and yellow. The vine, the root of which is sometimes gathered by mistake for the Gelseminum, resembles it very much in appearance, though it is of a lighter color, and the outer bark is covered with white specks or marks somewhat similar to those on young cherry or peach limbs, and the lower part of the old vines become rough and have small tendrils that fasten upon the bark of trees, and which are never seen on the Gelseminum. The bark of the vine is also more brittle, and the leaves are always on long footstalks which are opposite, at the end of which are two opposite leaves, almost exactly resembling the leaf of the Aristolochia Serpentaria. The root is almost white, very tough, straight, and about the same length of the medicinal root, and has a slightly bitter, disagreeable, nauseating taste. I never saw any of the flowers, though they are said to resemble the others in shape, but are snowy- white, with a slight, unpleasant odor. The vine is called White Poison Vine, and White Jessamine."

Properties and Uses. — Gelseminum is, undoubtedly, an unrivaled febrifuge, and which appears to be dependent upon its relaxing and antispasmodic properties. Whether it is a narcotic, is not yet satisfactorily established. It has recently been employed in the form of tincture by many respectable physicians, who speak highly of it in all fevers, except the congestive form, in which its use is considered injurious. It has also proved efficacious in nervous and bilious headache, colds, pneumonia, hemorrhages, leucorrhea, chorea, ague-cake, and several other diseases, though it is in fevers especially in which its efficacy has been mostly observed. It is said by some to be the only agent ever yet discovered capable of subduing, in from two to twenty hours, and without the least possible injury to the patient, the most formidable and most complicated as well as the most simple fevers incident to our country and climate, quieting all nervous irritability and excitement, equalizing the circulation, promoting perspiration, and rectifying the various secretions, without causing nausea, vomiting or purging, and is also adapted to any stage of the disease. It may follow any preceding treatment with safety. Its effects are clouded vision, double sightedness, or even complete prostration, and inability to open the eyes, and which gradually pass off in a few hours, leaving the patient refreshed, and completely restored ; and as soon as the heaviness or partial closing of the eyes is induced, no more of the remedy is necessary, although these effects should even follow the first dose. If carried to such an extent that the patient cannot open his eyes, the relaxation may be too great for the system to recover from, hence its use should cease, as soon as the symptoms above-named have been produced.

The tincture is the form in which it is employed ; the dose is from ten to fifty drops, in a wineglass half- full of water, to be repeated every two hours ; the second dose, in the majority of cases, usually effecting the cure. From two to ten grains of quinia, according to the severity and character of the disease, should accompany each dose, or it is said the system will again relapse into the febrile state, in a few hours, for want of tonicity following the relaxation produced by the remedy. The original discoverers of the use of the article say, however, that the quinia is not actually necessary, but that its addition renders the cure more prompt, and, by its combination, its usually unpleasant effects, as determination to the head, etc., are completely obviated. When the fever does not yield in six hours, a mild purgative may be administered, or podophyllin in small doses, may be added to the medicine ; if diarrhea be present, add an opiate to it.

In the treatment of typhus and typhoid fevers, it should be given in smaller doses, say from three to eight drops of the tincture, with from two to four grains of sulphate of quinia, and repeated every two or three hours until the more active febrile symptoms subside ; then give one or two grains of the quinia, every two hours, and eight or ten drops of the tincture of Gelseminum, every six or eight hours. A writer observes, that his experience in the treatment of fevers, with this agent, inclines him to believe that when given in doses sufficiently large to produce its full and complete constitutional effects, it impairs the tonicity of the muscular fibers of the heart (which are always weakened in those fevers), and thus retards or prolongs convalescence.

Gelseminum possesses a most perfect control over the nervous system, removing nervous irritability more completely than any other known agent. It may be used in all forms of neuralgia, nervous headache, toothache, and lockjaw or tetanus. It is recommended in this last difficulty, as an agent that may be relied upon with definite certainty. In gout and rheumatism, it may be advantageously added to the tinctures of guaiacum, or of colchicum. Combined with mild diuretic and secernent agents, nephritic and cystic irritability, and leucorrhea, have readily yielded.

Upon the uterus it appears to exert an opposite influence, for while it produces complete and powerful relaxtion of every other tissue, it tends to promote contraction of the uterus; causing an influence intermediate between ergot and cimicifuga, it being less energetic than the former, and more so than the latter. This property, when continued, as it is, with its relaxing effects upon every other tissue, promises to render it an important aid in parturition.

Externally, the tincture will be found of service, in neuralgic and rheumatic pains. Its internal administration is contra-indicated in congestive fever, in cases where there is great muscular or nervous prostration with relaxation, and when there exists a determination to the brain or other important viscus. Like all newly discovered agents which possess active and efficacious influences, this has probably been too highly lauded, yet if one-half of the virtues reported to exist in this plant are true, it is certainly deserving the close investigation of all classes of physicians.

Off. Prep. — Tinctura Gelsemini.

The American Eclectic Dispensatory, 1854, was written by John King, M. D.