Erythrophleum.—Sassy Bark.

Botanical name: 

The bark of Erythrophleum guineense, Don (Erythrophleum judiciale, Procter; Fillaea suaveolens, Guillemin and Perrottet).
Nat. Ord.—Leguminosae.
COMMON NAMES: Sassy bark, Mancona bark, Teli, Bondou, Bourane des floupes.
ILLUSTRATION: American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXIII.

Botanical Source and History.—Sassy bark is obtained from a large forest tree of Western Africa, and was first brought into notice by Prof. Procter (1851), who referred it to the genus Erythrophleum (Afzelius), and named it E. judiciale. Upon subsequent examination, Lindley identified it as the E. guineense, G. Don (Fillaea suaveolens, Guillemin and Perrottet). The tree has a close resemblance, both in leaves and fruit, to the Gymnocladus canadensis, or Coffee-nut tree of the United States. The leaves are bipinnately compound, and have ovate, acute leaflets, which are smooth, coriaceous, and alternate. The flowers are in dense, terminal, compound racemes; they are regular, and have a 5-cleft calyx, and 5 petals, imbricated in the bud; the 10 stamens are distinct and perfect. The fruit is a thick, leathery, brown legume, containing from 3 to 5 oblong, flat, albuminous seeds. The tree, when wounded, yields a red juice (whence the generic name), which, like the bark, is used by the natives as an ordeal, and as a poison for their arrows.

Description.—The bark occurs in flattened, or more or less curved pieces of various sizes, of a reddish-brown color, somewhat similar to the color of ferric hydrate, and usually having an external, corky covering, irregularly fissured; it is hard, friable, odorless, and astringent to the taste.

Chemical Composition.—Prof. Procter, Jr. (1851), examined the bark, but failed to isolate the poisonous principle; he predicted its separation, and remarked that when found, it would "possess great activity," a prediction since verified by N. Gallois and E. Hardy, who, in 1876, succeeded in obtaining the alkaloid erythrophleine, and demonstrating, by experiment, its fatal action upon animal life. Erythrophleine is an organic base, and may be obtained by extracting the bark with alcohol slightly acidulated with hydrochloric acid, evaporating the tincture to a small bulk, exhausting this, when cold, with warm distilled water, evaporating the resulting solution, adding ammonia (or sodium carbonate) to the residue until it has an alkaline reaction, and then agitating the mixture with acetic ether, from which the alkaloid may be obtained by evaporation. Erythrophleine is crystalline, transparent, colorless, and soluble in water, acetic ether, alcohol, and amylic alcohol; only slightly soluble in ether, benzin, and chloroform. It forms salts with acids; is very poisonous, acting upon and paralyzing the heart. Curare, it is said, delays its effects. Boiled in the presence of diluted acids or alkalies erythrophleine yields manconine, a volatile, alkaloidal base, bearing some resemblance to nicotine, and a non-nitrogenous erythrophleic acid. Procter found both tannic and gallic acids, gum, resin, and other minor constituents.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Sassy bark furnishes a red decoction, which is used by the natives on the western coast of Africa as an emeto-cathartic, and as a test for the detection of criminals; should it purge the person is considered guilty, but if it causes vomiting only, he is deemed innocent. The action of the bark has been investigated by Dr. T. Lauder Brunton and Walter Pye, Esq., in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Vol. 167, Part II, and by Santos, Liebreich, and others. Used hypodermatically, it is stated to produce vomiting, but no catharsis. In large doses it occasions a progressive stupefaction, when administered to animals, with complete muscular relaxation, paralysis of the heart's action, and death. During the progress of these effects there may also be observed a period of restlessness, succeeded by vomiting, quickened and labored respiration, and finally convulsions. With man it is said to produce vomiting, vertigo, muscular relaxation, gradual cessation of the heart's movements, with dyspnoea, convulsions, and death. The cause of its effects appear, according to investigators, to be owing to the fact that it contracts the blood vessels, thus occasioning an increased blood pressure, resulting in the symptoms named. The alkaloid, erythrophleine, was at one time recommended as a substitute for cocaine in eye surgery. Its effects on the conjunctiva and cornea are so severe, however, that this idea has been abandoned, as the untoward symptoms do not subside for several days. Besides it is charged with being painful, as well as provocative of inflammation, cloudiness, and exfoliation of the corneal structures. Therapeutically, it has been found efficient in those affections in which an agent was indicated, combining narcotic, astringent, and cholagogue properties, as in diarrhoea, dysentery, passive hemorrhages, etc. It has likewise been suggested in dropsy, due to obstruction of the mitral valves, and in capillary hemorrhages. Prof. Scudder states that it may be "given to stimulate the capillary circulation, to increase secretion of urine, arrested by feeble circulation, and to check atonic diarrhoea." For this purpose he suggests the minute dose, a teaspoonful of a solution of 1 drop of the tincture in 4 ounces of water. A tincture of the bark is probably the best form for administration in doses of from a fraction of a drop to 5 drops. Brunton and Pye consider the watery extract more powerful than the alcoholic. The powdered root is a violent sternutatory.

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