The seeds and pulp of the pods of Gymnocladus canadensis, Lamarck.
COMMON NAMES: American coffee-bean tree, Coffee tree, Kentucky mahogany.
Botanical Source.—This is a slender and unarmed tree, attaining the height of 50 or 60 feet, with a trunk from 12 to 15 inches in diameter. For about 25 feet from the ground the trunk is straight and simple, and covered with a rough, scaly bark. The leaves are compound, unequally bipinnate, 2 or 3 feet long, and 15 to 20 inches wide; the leaflets 7 to 13 in number, ovate, acuminate, and dull-green, the single leaflets often occupying the place of some of the pinnae. The flowers are large, regular, dioecious, whitish, in axillary racemes, succeeded by pods. Petals 5, oblong, equal, inserted on the summit of the calyx tube. Calyx tubular, 6-cleft, and equal. Stamens 10, short, distinct, inserted with the petals. Style 1. The legume is 8 to 10 inches long, 2 to 2 ½ inches wide, oblong, flattened, curving, pulpy within, and several-seeded. The seeds are from 2 to 4, quite hard, and somewhat egg-shaped, of a dark-olive color externally, slightly compressed, and about ¾ inch in length by ½ inch wide (W.—G.).
History and Chemical Composition.—This tree is indigenous to the United States, and is found growing in rich woods and along rivers and lakes in western New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, etc. It is known by several names, as Coffee tree, Kentucky coffee tree. The seeds were roasted and used by the earlier settlers instead of coffee. The trunk is naked for some distance above the ground, above which is a rather small but regular head, formed by a few, quite long branches. The wood is quite hard and strong, is reddish or light yellowish, rather fine grained, and susceptible of taking a very fine polish and presenting a most beautiful grained appearance; on this account it is highly prized in architecture and cabinetwork. In our eastern cities it has been represented as a wood from Japan and brought most fabulous prices. The pulp and the seeds of the pods are the parts to be used; the former has some reputation as a fly poison. It is greenish and viscid. The active principle of these is taken up by alcohol, which gives a yellowish-brown tincture, or, if the pulp alone be used, a beautiful green, and, upon standing, crystals are deposited. The tincture has an unpleasant, bitterish taste, followed by a persistent pungent acrimony in the fauces. Rafinesque states that the leaves are purgative and contain a principle, cysticine, of a nauseous, bitter taste. The seeds are said to produce emesis. S. S. Mell (1887) obtained from the seeds a yellowish, saponifiable, fixed oil (specific gravity 0.919) to the extent of 10 per cent. Wax, resin and fat were extracted by ether, some tannin and a glucosid, burning to the taste and possessing a distinctive odor, were abstracted by alcohol. The seeds also contained mucilage, starch, and albuminoids (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 230). J. H. Martin largely confirms these results, but found saponin in all parts of the plant, and concludes that to this principle the physiological activity of the plant is probably due. Tannic and gallic acids are absent in the seeds. The pulp surrounding it contains sugar, tartaric and citric acids, and probably saponin (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1892, p. 558). The carbohydrates of the fruit were investigated by W. E. Stone and W. H. Fest (Amer. Chem. Jour., 1893, p. 660).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The tincture of the pulp and pods, and in some instances of the bark also, has been used with benefit in intermittent fever. More recently it has been tried, and with advantage, in cases of abnormal states of the nervous centers, as indicated, among other symptoms, by impaired sense of touch and vision, numbness, dull headache, apathy, and formication. In one case of locomotor ataxia it proved decidedly beneficial, and is valuable in some of the more serious symptoms resulting from excessive masturbation. Recent reports (Dr. N. G. Vassar) confirm its value as a remedy for spermatorrhoea. Prof. Roberts Bartholow, M. D., investigated physiologically the purified tincture of the leaves as prepared for him by J. U. Lloyd and found it to be very marked in its qualities. It has likewise been recommended in laryngeal cough with chronic irritation of the mucous lining membrane of the air passages, in erysipelas, in all fevers presenting a typhoid condition, in puerperal peritonitis, and in the exanthematous affections. It is certainly deserving the attention of our practitioners. The tincture is best made by taking 2 ounces of the coarsely bruised seed and 1 ounce of the pulp, and adding to them 8 fluid ounces each of water and alcohol; let it macerate 12 or 14 days with frequent agitation, and then filter. One fluid drachm of this is to be added to 3 fluid ounces of water, of which the dose is a teaspoonful, to be repeated every 3 or 4 hours.
Related Species.—Cercis canadensis, Linné. Nat. Ord.—Leguminosae. The Red bud or Judas tree, is a small tree growing in rich woods in the middle states. The flowers expand in early spring before the leaves come out. They are borne in lateral clusters and are of a pale-reddish color. They have an agreeably acid taste, and are often eaten by children. The leaves are simple, acute, cordate, and are supported on slender stalks. The fruit is a dry, brown, flat pod, which hangs on the branches during the winter. The name Judas tree is inapplicable, and the tree is so-called because its relative, the Cercis siliquastrum, abundant in Palestine is said to have been the tree upon which Judas hanged himself. It only required a little further credulity to transfer the notion to the American species. The bark of the root is the preferred part, and is exceedingly astringent, even surpassing oak and hemlock. "When chewed it puckers the mucous membranes of the mouth almost as sensibly as the green fruit of the persimmon tree, or as the seed of the fruit of black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)" (Lloyd, in Drugs and Medicines of North America). Prof. J. U. Lloyd could detect neither alkaloid nor crystalline glucosid, the chief constituent being the tannin (ibid., Vol. II, 124). The leaves and bark of this tree, especially the bark of the root, possess powerfully astringent properties, and maybe administered in cases in which this class of agents is indicated, as in diarrhoea and dysentery, particularly in the chronic forms, and in chronic catarrhal conditions; also recommended as a local application in chronic gonorrhoea, gleet, leucorrhoea, and chronic conjunctivitis, and other affections attended with mucous profluvia.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.