Botanical Source and History.—Cyclamen hederaefolium is a native of Italy and Sicily, and is occasionally found naturalized in the wet, clayey soil of England. The leaves are all radical, on slender leaf-stalks; they are heart-shaped, finely-toothed on the margin, and variegated with light and dark-green color. The flowers are solitary and nodding, on long, slender stalks; they closely resemble the flowers of the American cowslip (Dodecatheon Meadia). The corolla is monopetalous, with a very short tube, and a large, reflexed, 5-parted limb, which gives the flower an odd appearance. The fruit is a many-seeded, 5-valved capsule. After flowering, the slender flower-stalk twists into a spiral curl, and, bending over, ripens the seed vessel on the surface of the ground. On account of the graceful little flowers, this and other species of Cyclamen, are often found in cultivation. The tubers of C. europaeum, Linné, and of C. persicum, Miller, are also used, and the various species have been employed in medicine from an early period. Pliny and Dioscorides advised the root as a curative agent in numerous affections. It occupied a place in the Pharmacopoeia Londonensis (1653), under the name Artanitae cyclaminis, and in Lewis' Materia Medica (1761), as Arthanita. It was official in Germany about 120 years ago.
Description and Chemical Composition.—The green root is an orbicular, flattened tuber, brown externally, white within, with blackish radicles. It contains about 80 per cent of moisture, and ½ per cent of ash. The constituents are saccharine matter, starch, gum, and cyclamin (M. de Luca), which is the poisonous principle of the tuber. Cyclamin was first obtained by Saladin, and named by him arthanitin. To prepare it, exhaust the dried and powdered tubers with alcohol; filter this tincture, evaporate to dryness, extract the residue with alcohol; and then permit the solution, after filtration, to evaporate spontaneously in a cool, dark place. Whitish amorphous aggregations of cyclamin will be deposited, which may be purified by re-solution in hot alcohol, and subsequent evaporation over sulphuric acid (Comptes Rendus, 1857).
As obtained by M. de Luca, cyclamin (C20H34O10), is white, amorphous, opaque, inodorous, friable, neutral, and of an acrid taste. It absorbs moisture in damp air, becomes gelatinous in a small quantity of cold water, and dissolves in 500 parts of this fluid, rendering the liquid frothy, like soap-suds. In aqueous solution, it is coagulated by a temperature of from 60° to 77° C. (140° to 170° F.), but the coagulated matter redissolves after a few days. It readily dissolves in hot alcohol, acetic acid, wood spirit, and glycerin, but is insoluble in chloroform, ether, oils, and disulphide of carbon; tannin precipitates it from its solutions. By the action of boiling diluted acids, glucose is formed, and a body called cyclamiretin (C15H22O2); hence it is a glucosid. For further details regarding these substances, see Husemann and Hilger (Pflanzenstoffe). Both cyclamin and the juice of the tuber are poisonous to man and fish, but the tubers are sought for and eaten by hogs with impunity, thus giving rise to the vulgar names applied to the plant—"sow-bread," or "hog's-bread." Cyclamin, the chief active principle of this plant, has not been employed therapeutically; administered to small animals, it has occasioned their death in a few days. Its action has, by Bernard, been compared to curarine; and to saponin, senegin and smilacin, by Schroff.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The root or tuber of cyclamen, in its recent state, is a drastic cathartic, for which purpose it has been long in use among the peasantry of some parts of Europe. Its effects, however, are frequently very severe, as violent emesis, hypercatharsis, intestinal inflammation, cold sweats, tinnitus aurium, spasmodic movements, etc., which sometimes result in death. This severity of action is lessened by drying the tubers. In the dried state, 8 or 10 grains of the powder, rubbed up with an equal quantity of starch or gum, will have a purgative effect. Formerly, an ointment was prepared from the fresh tubers, "ointment of arthanita," which was rubbed upon and around the umbilicus of children, for the expulsion of worms, upon the abdomen of adults to cause emesis, and upon the region over the bladder to increase the urinary discharge. The fresh tubers, bruised and formed into a cataplasm, have been employed as a local stimulating application to indolent scrofulous swellings, abscesses, etc.
Prof. Scudder (Spec. Med.) states that the tincture is prepared from the tuber in early spring, or during the period of rest of the plant. He suggests a tincture to be made from the tubers of hot-house plants The special uses to be made of this tincture are to arrest severe emesis, particularly that depending upon brain disease, vertigo, tendency to fainting, inability to walk straight, and diarrhoea, with tormina and tenesmus. Tincture of cyclamen (℥viii to alcohol Oj) gtt. v to aqua fl℥iv; teaspoonful every hour. Dose of powder, 5 grains, of decoction (ʒi to ʒiii, in aqua Oj), 1 to 4 fluid drachms.