Baptisia.—Wild Indigo.

Fig. 38. Baptisia tinctoria. Preparations: Extract of Baptisia - Ointment of Wild Indigo - Compound Pills of Wild Indigo

The root and leaves of Baptisia tinctoria Robert Brown (Sophora tinctoria, Linné; Podalyria tinctoria, Michaux).
Nat. Ord.—Leguminosae.
COMMON NAMES: Wild indigo, Indigo weed.

Botanical Source.—Wild indigo is a perennial plant having a stem from 2 to 3 feet high, glabrous and branching, yellowish-green in color, and studded with small black dots. The leaves are subsessile, 3-foliate-palmate; the leaflets small, roundish, or obovate, acute at base, very obtuse at apex, bluish-green in color, and turn black on drying. The stipules are setaceous and caducous. The flowers are bright yellow, few, and borne in small, loose, terminal racemes. The calyx is 4 or 5-toothed. Petals 5, stamens 10, and distinct. The fruit is a subglobose, bluish-black pod the size of a pea, on a stalk longer than the calyx, and contains several seeds.

History.—Wild indigo is an indigenous perennial, having the appearance of a shrub, growing all over the United States in woods and on hillsides. It thrives best on dry, poor soils, being seldom met with in alluviums and rich, loamy soils. In New England the young shoots, like asparagus and poke, are eaten for greens, and like the latter, if too far advanced in growth, act as a drastic cathartic. The plant blooms from June to September, and yields a blue dye, not unlike, but inferior, to indigo. Baptisia is familiarly known as wild indigo, indigo weed, horsefly weed, yellow broom, clover broom, rattle bush, and yellow indigo. The name baptisia is derived from the Greek bapto or baptizo (to dye, to color), the plant having formerly been used as a coloring agent.

Owing to the great number of antiseptic remedies that have been presented to the profession within the last few years, wild indigo, the favorite drug of this class with the early Eclectics, has fallen into unmerited neglect. Baptisia was mentioned early in the present century by Dr. James Thacher, in his Dispensatory, as a local remedy for gangrenous and other ill-conditioned sores due to debilitated conditions of the body. Still it received but little attention until the "Eclectic fathers," in their studies of indigenous plants, pronounced it a valuable drug. In the Western Medical Reformer for 1846, Prof. John King highly recommended it for its alterative and antiseptic properties. Prior to this (1837) it was used by Eclectic physicians in diarrhoea with offensive discharges and typhus (?) fever, scarlatina maligna and putrid sore throat.

Description.—Baptisia presents a root-head, giving off knotted branches, and numerous tent or curved roots about 18 to 20 inches in length and from ⅛ to ½ inch in thickness. Externally the bark is rather scaly or dotted with wart-like excrescences, and is brown in color. The root breaks with a tough, fibrous fracture, displaying a whitish interior. The bark is thick; the corky layer thick and brown; the woody portion strong and porous. The root is inodorous, and of a nauseous, somewhat acrid taste; its virtues appear to reside chiefly in the bark. Both the root and leaves are medicinal. When the whole plant or any portion of it is dried it becomes black, and yields a blue dye, inferior to indigo. Alcohol or water will take up its active properties; also chloroform, ether, and glycerin.

Chemical Composition.—Mr. B. L. Smedley found in the root gum, albumen, starch, a yellowish resin, and a crystalline substance, which he believed to be probably a new alkaloid (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1862, p. 310). This supposed alkaloid was, however, asserted by Mr. J. A. Weaver to be a calcium salt. Both Weaver (1871) and Dr. F. V. Greene (1879) found an alkaloid the chloride of which possessed a nauseous, acrid taste. This alkaloid, baptisine (baptitoxine), will not dissolve in chloroform, benzol, or benzin, but it is soluble in water, ether, and alcohol. It has an acrid taste, and is said to be actively poisonous. Later investigations by Von Schroeder (1885) show the existence of three active constituents in baptisia root. One of them is the above baptisine, to which he gives the name baptitoxine. The others are two glucosids, baptisin and baptin. The former is bitter, does not dissolve in water, and is indifferent, so far as its activity is concerned.

The other (baptin) is in the form of soluble, acicular crystals, and is laxative and cathartic. The glucosid baptisin should not be confounded with the "Eclectic concentration," BAPTISIN, described below. The active principles of baptisia root were recently investigated, in detail, by Dr. K. Gorter (Arch. der Pharm., 1897). He isolated baptisin, a non-bitter and (to frogs) non-poisonous glucosid of the formula, C26H32O14+9H2O, capable of splitting with diluted sulphuric acid into sugar and baptigenin (C14H12O6). Baptisin melts at 240° C. (464° F.); is difficultly soluble in water and dilute alcohol; when cold easily soluble in glacial acetic acid. He furthermore isolated the alkaloid baptitoxine, which he found identical with cytisine (C11H14N2O), the alkaloid of the unripe seeds of Laburnum (Cytisus Laburnum). Previously (1895) Plugge established the identity of Von Schroeder's baptitoxine, which he obtained from the seeds of baptisia with cytisine, hence ulexine, sophorine, baptitoxine, and cytisine all denote one and the same substance.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—To the taste baptisia is somewhat bitter, subacrid, and subastringent. It increases the secretions of the glandular apparatus of the gastro-intestinal tract. Large doses are dangerous, acting as an emeto-cathartic. Sometimes this action is so violent as to produce gastro-enteritis. Large doses have caused an excessive flow of viscid saliva, ulceration of the pharynx, insomnia, restlessness, and ocular disturbances. It produces soft, mushy stools, accompanied by a sensation of soreness of the whole body. Small doses act as a laxative. Baptisia is an active and efficient hepatic, stimulating the liver and causing an increased biliary secretion. It loses much of its activity when dried or boiled. It is asserted that baptitoxine increases the respiratory movements, and in toxic doses kills by asphyxiation through paralysis of the respiratory centers.

Therapeutically baptisia is indicated in pathological conditions characterized by feeble vitality with tendency to disintegration of tissue. The keynote of this drug is sepsis, accompanied by dark or purplish discoloration of skin and mucous membranes. The appearance of the face is swollen, dusky, and expressionless—has the appearance of having been long exposed to cold. It is not the remedy for acute disease characterized by great activity, but rather for cases showing marked capillary feebleness, with tendency to ulceration—a condition of atony.

Baptisia was first employed as a dressing for all kinds of ulcerations, malignant ulcers, sore mouth, mercurial or otherwise, especially when accompanied by foul breath, loss of appetite, and general gastric disturbance. Sore nipples, erysipelatous, scrofulous, and syphilitic ulcers were treated with a decoction of wild indigo. The greater the tendency to mortification, the more highly the remedy was valued. It controls irritable and painful ulcers, lessens their foul discharges, and overcomes putrescency.

Baptisia is of marked value in many forms of malignant sore throat. The dusky, leaden-colored, faucial ulcerations of scarlatina and tonsillitis point to this drug. Diphtheria, with swollen and enfeebled mucous membranes, with free secretion, appearing either dusky or blanched, and accompanied by sloughing, calls for baptisia. While the infusion is undoubtedly the best preparation of baptisia, it can not always be employed, for the dried plant is almost worthless, and the fresh herb not always easily procured. We depend upon specific baptisia, giving it internally in small doses, and applying it locally, diluted with water. Putrid ulcerations of the mucous membranes of the nasal passages are benefited by baptisia. The offensive breath, with turgidity of tissue, will indicate the drug.

All typhoid conditions, marked by the dusky appearance of skin and mucous tissues, are promptly benefited by this agent. Typhoid dysentery, with stools like "prune juice or meat washings," or dark, tar-like, fetid discharges, mixed with decomposed blood, yields to its kindly action. Typhoid fever with persistent diarrhoea, typhoid pneumonia, typho-malarial fever, as well as common continued fever, with the usual indications, call for baptisia. It is said to be valuable in variola and cerebro-spinal meningitis. In the sore throat of variola it is of great utility. Septicaemia following retained fragments of placenta after abortion has been promptly checked by this drug. In fetid leucorrhoea and ulceration of cervix uteri, especially with muco-purulent discharges, a douche of baptisia will be found beneficial. It acts as a gentle excitant and local tonic to the vessels implicated in the ulcerative process. It has been employed with good results in atonic varieties of acute rheumatism. In fetid discharges from the ears, etc., the infusion will be found efficient, if injected into the parts with a suitable syringe. The leaves applied in fomentations have discussed tumors and swelling of the female breast, resembling scirrhus. Webster suggests baptisia in mania, dementia, and melancholia, with stupor, in conditions characterized by drowsiness in typhoid states. Baptisia is an old and tried remedy, but will still repay further study.

Dose of the decoction—made by boiling 1 ounce of the powdered bark in 2 pints of water down to 1 pint—1 tablespoonful every 1, 2, or 4 hours, as required; if it purge, produce nausea, or a disagreeable relaxation of the nervous system lessen the dose, or omit its use entirely for a time; of the alcoholic extract, 1 to 4 grains every 2, 3, or 4 hours. The usual form of administration is as follows: Rx Specific baptisia, gtt. xx; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Sig.: Teaspoonful every ½ or 1 hour. Indicated remedies may be given with or alternated with the above. Locally an infusion of the recent plant; or, Rx Specific baptisia, fl℥ss; aqua, Oi. Mix. Sig.: Apply 2 or 3 times daily. An ointment: Rx Specific baptisia, flʒi; vaseline, ℥i. Mix. Sig.: Apply locally to inflamed tumors, chancres, buboes, and ulcers.

Specific Indications and Uses.—The indications will be found to be fullness of tissue, with dusky, leaden, purplish, or livid discoloration; tendency to ulceration and decay; sepsis; typhoid conditions; enfeebled capillary circulation; color of skin effaced by pressure and returns slowly; patient's face swollen and bluish, appearing like one having been frozen, or long exposed to cold, fetid discharges, with atony, and gangrene.

Related Species.Baptisia alba, Robert Brown. Prairie indigo. Plains of western United States and in rich soil from Virginia to Florida. This species has white flowers, and is said to possess similar properties to the Baptisia tinctoria, for which it has been used as a substitute.

Photo: Castela emoryi.Castella Nicholsonii.—Contains a resinous body named by Putegnat amargosin. Reputed antiseptic.

Derivative.—BAPTISIN, prepared similarly to aletrin, was once supposed to be the active principle of the plant, but it is a mixture containing a greater or less proportion of the active principles of baptisia. Baptisin is of a yellowish-brown color, a strong odor, similar to that of the powdered root, and of a rather bitter, not very disagreeable taste, persistent in its character. It is partially soluble in alcohol, but gives a precipitate on standing. "I have found it to exert a powerful influence on the glandular system in doses of from ¼ to ½ grain; if given in large doses it produces a very disagreeable prostration of the whole system. It is also an excellent application to gangrenous and erysipelatous ulcerations, and malignant and fetid ulcerations of the cervix uteri. Combined with extract of leptandra, resin of podophyllum, quinine, or resin of cimicifuga, in diseases where these agents are indicated, it will be found valuable in typhus and typhoid fevers, dysentery, and all diseases of a typhoid character, when administered internally" (Prof. King, in Amer. Disp., 15th ed.).

King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.