Botanical Source.—Ailanthus is a large tree, with blunt, clumsy branches, which give to it an odd appearance after the leaves have fallen. The leaves are odd-pinnate, each consisting of from 10 to 20 pairs of leaflets and a terminal one. The leaflets are about 2 inches long, ovate, smooth, acute, and have a few blunt, glandular teeth at the base (hence, the specific name, glandulosa). The flowers are small, green, and collected in large terminal panicles. They are polygamous, or generally dioecious. The calyx consists of 5 united sepals. The petals are 5, small, green, and longer than the sepals. The stamens are 10 in the male flowers, but fewer in the female. The pistil is surrounded at the base by a disk, and consists of from 3 to 5, 1-ovuled, free carpels, with united styles. The fruit is a flat, membranous samara, bearing a seed in the middle, and somewhat resembling the fruit of the ash.
History, Description, and Chemical Composition.—Ailanthus glandulosa is a native of China, where it is known as "Ailanto," of which the German name "Götterbaum" is said to be a translation. "Tree of Heaven" is the name by which the tree is vulgarly known in this country. It is in common cultivation as a shade tree throughout Europe and the United States, and has become naturalized in many localities. It was formerly classified in the natural order, Rutaceae, but is now placed in that of Simarubaceae. It is allied to the genera, Quassia and Simaruba, from which it differs in the fruit being a samara.
This tree is of rapid growth, and easily accommodates itself to any soil, thus being well adapted to cultivation; but it is objectionable on account of a fetid odor, which is mostly exhaled from the sterile flowers. The genus Ailanthus consists of 4 species, all large trees, and natives of Asia, none of which, however, are cultivated in this country excepting the A. glandulosa. The recent root is white, hard and woody. It is covered with a white, fibrous bark, the outer part of which is gritty, brittle, and yellowish, over which is a gray epidermis. The epidermis of the limbs and growing sprouts is smooth, shiny and brown, or yellowish. It is studded with numerous little eruptions which increase in size with age, until, when old, the bark is rough. Beneath this a green coloring matter is found in young specimens, while the bark next to the wood is white. In growing shoots the woody matter is thin, surrounding a yellowish-brown pith, which latter decreases in proportion with the growth of the shrub. Both the root and shrub have an acid reaction when fresh, and exhale a disagreeable odor when broken. For medicinal purposes, the bark of the small bushes and roots is to be preferred. Prof. Hetet, of Toulon, noticed the tree in the Journal de Pharmacie, in 1859, at which time it attracted attention in France, in consequence of its leaves having been suggested as food for a species of silk-worm. The bark of the tree was experimented with, and attracted some attention at that time as an emeto-cathartic and anthelmintic, but it seems to have quickly fallen into disuse.
In the year 1875, Dr. H. L. True published an article in the E. M. Journal, which revived, among the Eclectic practitioners of this country, an interest in the therapeutical uses of the bark; since which numerous communications to medical journals have created a demand for it, the bark being supplied in abundance in most localities. In the later fifties, M. Payen analyzed the bark, and detected lignin, chlorophyll, yellow coloring matter, pectin, bitter substance, aromatic resin, traces of volatile oil, nitrogenous matter, and some salts. Afterward (1861), Mr. Alonzo Lilly, Jr., made an examination, the result of which differs considerably from the above, as, according to this gentleman, the constituents are, starch, tannin, albumen, gum, sugar, oleoresin, and a trace of volatile oil, potash, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, iron, lime, and magnesia.
The bark has a nauseating, bitter taste, and when recent, a sickening odor. Both the fresh and the carefully dried bark impart a deep-green color to alcohol, probably due to chlorophyll, the color gradually changing to yellowish-brown by age, the action of light accelerating the change. According to our experience the bark contains a resinous substance, which, with the volatile oil, is extracted by alcohol, which agent will perfectly exhaust all the characteristic properties of either the fresh or dry ailanthus. According to the experiments of M. Hetet, the purgative property resides in the resin, while the volatile oil gives rise to the prostrating and other ill effects produced on those exposed to the vapors of the evaporating extract; and, probably, to a similar hydrocarbon, may be ascribed the sickening sensation experienced by many persons when inhaling the atmosphere vitiated by the emanations from an Ailanthus tree in blossom. M. Hetet's statement, that the resin is purgative, has been disputed; some even assert that the resin is inert.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The bark of ailanthus has been employed by Roberts, Dugat, and others, both in the recent and dried state, as a remedy for dysentery and diarrhoea; also in gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea, prolapsus ani, etc. Fifty grammes of the root-bark are infused for a short time in 75 grammes of hot water, then strained, and when cold, administered in teaspoonful doses, night and morning. To lessen the disagreeable impression following its use, as well as to mask its bitterness, it may be administered in sweetened orange-flower water, or in some other aromatic. Professor Hetet, of the Toulon Naval School, states in Jour. de Chim. Med., December, 1859, that the leaves and bark, in powder, or in the form of an aqueous or of an alcoholic extract, will remove tapeworm; but he found its action upon patients to be very disagreeable and nauseating, somewhat like that occasioned by tobacco upon young smokers. Dupuis has also found it useful as a taenifuge. In the September number of the Eclectic Medical Journal, for 1875, p. 393, Dr. H. L. True, of Ohio, states, that from his observations, the bark is not poisonous, but produces vomiting, great relaxation, and a deathlike sickness, which symptoms gradually pass away. He has successfully employed a tincture of the root-bark in cardiac palpitation, obstinate singultus, asthma, and epilepsy. Its use in epilepsy has gained in reputation. It should be studied for its action in sick and nervous headache, with nausea, and an indescribable burning sensation in the forehead. Webster states, "the remedy, in 2x dilution, will cure malignant sore throat, ulcerated tonsils, and other tonsillar inflammations, marked by adynamia and persistency." He states that he has been pleased with it in putrid, malignant, typhoid scarlatina, with dusky, carmine eruption, high temperature, pungent surface, pulse small and extremely rapid, with thirst, delirium, and coma. The tongue is dusky, parched, and fissured; sordes upon the teeth; and the urine discharges involuntarily. Dose, 1 to 10 drops of the 2x dilution. His uses of the drug were derived from homoeopathy. Dr. True considers the presence of these trees in malarial districts to have a strong action, similar to that of the eucalyptus, in antagonizing those influences that produce intermittents. The dose of the tincture is from 5 to 60 drops, repeated as often as required, or, from 2 to 4 times a day; specific ailanthus, 5 to 20 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Cardiac palpitation; spasmodic or epileptiform muscular contraction.
Related Species.—Ailanthus excelsa, Roxburgh. Bark used in India as a powerful febrifuge, tonic and stomachic, being used in decoction in dyspepsia. Leaves and bark in good repute as a tonic after labor, and the juice of the leaves and fresh bark employed by the Concans as a remedy for after-pains (Dymock). Daji found in it ailanthic acid, a reddish-brown, deliquescent mass, bitter, soluble in water, less so in ether and alcohol; insoluble in benzol and chloroform.
Ailanthus malabarica, De Candolle. Habitat, Canara. Yields a fragrant resin called "mutteepal," which is powdered and administered in small doses, in milk, for dysentery and bronchitis. It is also employed as incense. The bark is tonic, febrifuge, and valued in dyspepsia (Dymock).