60. Asagraea officinalis, Lind.—Spike-flowered Asagraea.

Botanical name: 

Fig. 220. Asagraea officinalis. Sex. Syst. Hexandria, Trigynia.
(Alkali e semine comparatum, L.—Sabadilla; Fruit of Veratrum Sabadilla [See p. 185.] of Helonias officinalis, and probably of other Melanthaceae, E.)

Synonymes.—Veratrum officinale, Schlecht; Helonias officinalis, Don.

History.—This plant was described by Schlechtendahl, [Linnea, vi. 45.] afterwards by Mr. Don, [Ed. New Phil. Journ. Oct. 1839.] and subsequently by Dr. Lindley. [Bot. Reg. June, 1839.] The seeds were known to Monardes in 1573. They were called sabadilla, or cevadilla, or, more properly, cebadilla (from the Spanish cebada, barley), on account of the supposed resemblance of the inflorescence of the plant to that of hordeum.

Botany. Gen. Char.—Flowers polygamous, racemose, naked. Perianth six-partite; segments linear, veinless, almost equal, with a nectariferous excavation at the base, equal to the stamens. Stamens alternately shorter; anthers cordate, as if unilocular, after dehiscence shield-shaped. Ovaries three, quite simple, attenuated into an obscure stigma. Follicles three, acuminate, papery; seeds scimitar-shaped, corrugated, winged. Bulbous herbs, with grass-like leaves, and small, pale, densely-racemed flowers. (Lindley.)

Sp. Char.—The only species known.

Leaves linear, acuminate, subcarinate, roughish at the margin, four feet long, and three lines broad. Scape round, about six feet high, llaceme, a foot and a half long, very dense, very straight, spicifonn. Flowers white, with a bractca at the base. Anthers yellow.

Hab.—Eastern side of the Mexican Andes, near Barranca de Tioselo (Schiede). Neighbourhood of Vera Cruz (Hartweg).

Description.—The cabadilla, cevadilla, or sabadilla of the shops (sabadilla; semina sabadillae mexicanae), comes from Vera Cruz and Mexico. It consists of the follicles (some containing seeds, others empty), loose seeds, stalks, and abortive flowers of the Asagraea officinalis, and perhaps of Veratrum Sabadilla also.

The follicles, commonly termed capsules, rarely exceed, or even equal, half an inch in length, and are about one line or a line and a half in diameter. They are ovate-oblong, acuminate. Their colour is pale yellowish-brown, or reddish-gray. The coat of each is thin, dry, and of a papery consistence. Each fruit is composed of three follicles mutually adherent towards the base, open at the superior and internal part. The receptacle, fruitstalk, and the remains of the dried and withered calyx, are usually present in the cebadilla of the shops. Seldom more than one or two, though sometimes three, seeds are found in each follicle.

The seeds are two or three lines long, scimitar-shaped, pointed, blackish-brown, shiny, wrinkled or corrugated, slightly winged. Internally, they are whitish or horny. Embryo straight, next the hilum, lodged in fleshy albumen. They have little odour, but a bitter, acrid, persistent taste.

Composition.—Two analyses of cebadilla have been made about the same time (1819); one by Meissner; [Schweigger's Journ. f. Chem. xxxi. 187.] and a second by Pelletier and Caventou. [Journ. de Pharm, vi. 353.] The following are the results:—

Meissner's Analysis.Pelletier and Caventou's Analysis.
Fatty matter (olein and stearin)24.63Fatty matter composed of Olein, Stearin, Cevadic acid.
Wax (myricin)0.10Wax.
Sabadillin (veratria0.58Supergallate of veratria.
Resin (soluble in ether)1.45Yellow colouring matter.
Hard resin (insoluble in ether)8.45Starch.
Bitter extractive with the acid which is united to the sabadillin5.97Lignin.
Sweet extractive0.65Gum.
Extractive separable by alkalis24.14Ashes composed of Carbonate of potash, of lime, Phosphate lime, Chloride potassium, Silica.
Vegetable jelly (phyteumacolla with choride of potassium and vegetable salts of potash1.11Cebadilla.
Oxalate of lime combined with bassorin1.06
The ashes contained oxide of copper.

1. Cevadic or Sabadillic Acid.—This is a crystalline, fusible, volatile, fatty acid, having an odour analogous to butyric acid. It is soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. It is obtained by the saponification of the oil of cebadilla (fatty matter). Cevadate of ammonia causes a white precipitate with the persalts of iron. The composition of this acid is unknown.

Oil of cebadilla given me by Mr. Morson is green, lighter than water, and has a faint, somewhat rancid taste.

2. Veratric Acid, of Merck. [Pharmaceutisches Central-Blatt für 1839, S. 235.]—This is a crystalline, fusible, volatile acid, soluble in alcohol, slightly so in water, but insoluble in ether. According to Schroetter, it consists of C18H9O7+aq.

3. Resins.—The two resins found by Meissner, but overlooked by Pelletier and Caventou, are probably endowed with activity.

Couerbe obtained from cebadilla seeds, sabadillina, helonin or resin of veratria, and gum resin of sabadillina.

α. Sabadillina is a white crystalline solid, possessing alkaline properties, being soluble in boiling water and in alcohol, but not in ether. In the fused state it consists of C20H18NO5. It forms with acids crystallizable salts. It is said, by Simon, [Berl. Jahrb. Bd. xxxix. S. 393.] to be merely a compound of resinate of soda and resinate of veratria. Dr. Turnbull found it inferior in activity to veratria.

β. Helonin or resin of veratria (veratrin, Couerbe; pseudo-veratria) is a brown solid, fusible at 365°. Insoluble in ether (by which it is distinguished from veratria), and in water. It combines with acids; but neither saturates them, nor forms with them any crystallizable salts. It consists of C14H9NO3. Its action on the animal economy has not been determined.

γ. Gum-resin of sabadillina (resinigomme, Couerbe; monohydrate of sabadillina, Alter.) is a reddish solid, soluble in water and alcohol, but slightly so in ether. It saturates acids, but does not form crystalline compounds with them. Alkalies throw it down from its saline combinations. It consists of C20H14NO6. Hence it differs from anhydrous sabadillina in containing an atom more water. Furthermore, it is distinguished from this alkali in not being crystallizable.

4. Veratria.—(See p. 190.)

Chemical Characteristics.—The brownish-coloured decoction of cebadilla reddens litmus, owing to the presence of free acid. Sesquichloride of iron deepens the colour of the decoction, and causes an olive brown precipitate. Alkalies deepen, whilst acids diminish, the colour of the decoction (by their action on the yellow colouring matter, Pelletier). Acetate and diacetate of lead, protonitrate of mercury, and sulphate of copper, form precipitates in the decoction. Oxalate of ammonia renders it turbid (oxalate of lime). Nitrate of silver forms a coloured precipitate, which is, for the most part, soluble in nitric acid: the insoluble portion is chloride of silver. Solutions of iodine and tincture of nutgalls have no obvious effect. Oil of vitriol reddens the decoction owing to its action on the veratria.

Physiological Effects. α. On Vegetables.—Not ascertained.

β. On Animals.—Are similar to those of Veratrum album. Cebadilla has proved poisonous to dogs and cats. [Willemet, Nouv. Mém. de l'Acad. de Dijon, 1782.] A pinch of it produced violent spasms in eats; half a drachm caused vomiting and convulsions in dogs. It is a poison to insects. Thus bugs die from it in convulsions: hence its use as a bug poison! [Seeliger, in Schmucker's Vermischt. chirurg. Schrift, vol. ii. p. 272.] Its efficacy in destroying pediculi has long been known.

γ. On Man.—The action is probably similar to, though more acrid than, white hellebore. The effects of small and repeated doses have not been satisfactorily ascertained. Large and poisonous doses cause burning and pain in the throat and stomach, nausea, vomiting, purging, prostration of strength, convulsions, delirium, and sometimes a cutaneous eruption. Even the external application of the powder has caused dangerous effects. Plenck tells us of a young man who was rendered temporarily insane by the application of powder of cebadilla to the head. Lentin says an infant, whose nurse had sprinkled the powder in its hair, died in convulsions. [Murray. App. Med. vol. v. p. 172.]

Rubbed on the skin, the tincture causes a stinging sensation similar to that produced by veratria. After its use for some days, a slight eruption appears on the skin. Rubbed over the cardiac region, it in some instances reduces the frequency and force of the pulse in a marked degree. The alcoholic extract has nearly the same effects, when taken internally, as veratria. It also induces sensations of heat and tingling on the surface of the skin, and sometimes acts as a diuretic. [Turnbull, On the Medicinal Properties of the Ranunculaceae, p. 7.]

Uses.—Cebadilla has been employed internally, as an anthelmintic, in both thread-worms and tape-worms. [Schmucker's Verm. chirurg. Schrift. Bd. ii. S. 571.] Dr. Turnbull [Op. cit. p. 7.] has given the extract with benefit in painful rheumatic and neuralgic affections. Though it is applicable in all the maladies for the relief of which veratria has been recommended, it is rarely administered by the mouth.

Externally the powder of the seeds has been used to destroy pediculi; hence the Germans called the seeds Läusesaamen, or lice-seeds. But it cannot be applied with safety to children, and especially when the skin is broken. I have already referred to the dangerous consequences of its employment. The tincture has been used as a rubefacient in chronic rheumatism, and, rubbed over the heart, in some cases of nervous palpitation. [Turnbull, op. cit.] It may, in fact, be employed as a cheap though efficient substitute for the tincture of veratria.

But the principal use of the seeds, for which indeed they have been introduced into the Pharmacopoeia, is for yielding veratria.

Administration.—The following are the preparations of cebadilla which have been employed in medicine.

1. PULVIS SABADILLAE; Pulvis contra pediculos; Poudre de Capucin; Powder of Cebadilla.—The dose for an adult is from two to six grains; gradually increased. In one case of tape-worm, half a drachm was taken daily for fourteen days.[Seeliger, in Schmucker, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 271.]

2. TINCTURA SABABILLAE; Saturated Tincture of Cebadilla, Turnbull.—(Cebadilla seeds, freed from their capsules and bruised, any quantity; Rectified Spirit, as much as will cover them. Digest for ten days.)—Used as a rubefacient liniment in chronic rheumatism and paralysis. It is rubbed over the heart in nervous palpitation.

3. EXTRACTUM ALCOHOLICUM SABADILLAE; Alcoholic Extract of Cebadilla.— Evaporate the saturated tincture, with a very gentle heat, to a proper consistence. Dose, 1-6th of a grain, gradually increased. It is given, in the form of pill, in rheumatic and neuralgic cases.

4. VERATRIA, L. E. [U.S.]; Veratrin; Veratrina, Thomson; Sabadillin, Meissner.—This vegetable alkaloid was discovered about the same time (1819), by Meissner in Germany, and by Pelletier and Caventou in Franco. Couerbe [Ann. de Chim. et de Phys. t. 52, p. 368.] probably was the first who obtained it pure.

The process of the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia is as follows:—

"Take any convenient quantity of Cevadilla: pour boiling water over it in a covered vessel, and let it macerate for 24 hours; remove the Cevadilla, squeeze it, and dry it thoroughly with a gentle heat. Beat it now in a mortar, and separate the seeds from the capsules by brisk agitation in a deep narrow vessel. Grind the seeds in a coffee-mill, and form them into a thick paste with rectified spirit. Pack this firmly in a percolator, and pass rectified spirit through it till the spirit ceases to be coloured. Concentrate the spirituous solutions, by distillations, so long as no deposit forms, and pour the residuum, while hot, into twelve times its volume of cold water. Filter through calico, and wash the residuum on the filter so long as the washings precipitate with ammonia. Unite the filtered liquid with the washings, and add an excess of ammonia. Collect the precipitate on a filter, wash it slightly with cold water, and dry it, first by imbibition with filtering paper, and then in the vapour bath. A small additional quantity may be got by concentrating the filtered ammoniacal fluid, and allowing it to cool.

"Veratria thus obtained is not pure, but sufficiently so for medicinal use. From this coloured substance it may be obtained white, though at considerable loss, by solution in very weak muriatic acid, decolorization with animal charcoal, and re-precipitation with ammonia."

Cebadilla yields, to rectified spirit, veratria in combination with a vegetable acid. Ammonia unites with the vegetable acid, and sets free the alkaloid.

By Couerbe's process, a drachm of commercial veratria may, it is said, be procured from one pound of cebadilla.

Commercial veratria was said by Couerbe to be composed of pure veratria, sabadillina, resin of veratria (veratrin, Couerbe), and gum-resin of veratria (resini-gomme, Couerbe). These are separated from each other by the successive action of water, ether, and alcohol, as shown by the following table:—

Commercial Veratriayields to boiling water1. Sabadillina, which crystallizes on cooling.
2. Resin of Veratria, left in the cold solution.
insoluble in boiling water3. Veratria, soluble in ether.
4. Gum-resin of veratria, insoluble in ether, but soluble in alcohol.

The nature of sabadillina has been already pointed out (p. 188).

Properties.— Commercial veratria is pulverulent, odourless, and grayish or brownish white. All the samples I have tasted were bitter and acrid, and produced a feeling of numbness and tingling when applied to the tongue. But pure veratria is an almost white, friable solid, having the aspect of a resin: it is uncrystallizable, odourless, has a very acrid taste, without any mixture of bitterness. It is fusible at 240° F. It is sparingly soluble in ether, readily so in alcohol, scarcely so in cold water. It possesses alkaline properties: thus, it restores the blue colour of reddened litmus, and saturates acids. Its salts crystallize with difficulty: indeed, the sulphate and hydrochlorate alone have been obtained in the state of crystals; the other salts have a gummy aspect. Both the hydrochlorate and sulphate are soluble in water.

Characteristics.—Veratria is known by the following characters: Its alkalinity, its combustibility, its uncrystallizability, the difficult crystallizability of its salts, its solidity at ordinary temperatures, its ready solubility in alcohol, its being almost insoluble in water, and by the intense red colour which it assumes when mixed with oil of vitriol. Pure veratria is readily soluble in ether; not so, impure or commercial veratria. Nitric acid renders commercial veratria reddish, and forms a yellow solution with it (see Morphia and Narcotina). A solution of veratria in dilute acetic acid produces a whitish precipitate (tannale of veratria) with tincture of nutgalls, a white one (hydrated veratria) with ammonia, and an intense red colour with oil of vitriol. Carbazotic acid does not occasion a precipitate unless the solution be concentrated. To these chemical peculiarities must be added those characteristics derived from its physiological effects: A minute portion of veratria causes violent sneezing, and a small quantity of a solution of four grains of veratria in a fluidrachm of rectified spirit, rubbed on the wrist or forehead, produces, within three or four minutes, heat and tingling. Pure veratria is less apt to occasion sneezing, by handling, than the impure or commercial sort.

The London College (1851) gives the following characters of veratria: Dissolves but slightly in water, more soluble in ether, but most in alcohol. It has no smell, but violently irritates the nostrils, and has a bitter taste. It is to be cautiously administered.

[The following characteristics are given by the U. S. Pharm. Pulverulent, grayish-white, inodorous, but very irritant to the nostrils, and of an acrid bitter taste, causing a sensation of tingling with numbness in the tongue. It is very slightly soluble in water, but readily and wholly dissolved by alcohol. It has an alkaline reaction, and is entirely dissipated by a red heat. With nitric acid it forms a yellow solution, and, when in contact with concentrated sulphuric acid, becomes intensely red.]

Composition.—The following is the composition of pure veratria, according to Couerbe:—

Atoms.Eq.Wt.Per Cent.Couerbe.
Carbon 3420470.8370.786
Hydrogen22 22 7.647.636
Nigrogen 1 14 4.865.210
Oxygen 6 4816.6716.368
Veratria 1288100.00100.000

Physiological Effects. α. On Animals.—Magendie [Formulaire, p. 162. 8me edit.] has shown that the local action of veratria is that of an irritant. Placed in the nostrils of a dog, the acetate of veratria provoked violent and continued sneezing. When introduced into the intestinal canal, it caused inflammation. Applied to parts whence absorption goes on actively (as the pleura and tunica vaginalis), it occasions tetanus, and death in a few minutes. Forcke [Untersuch. über d. Veratrin, 1837.] gave moderate and gradually increased doses (1/8 to 1/4 of a grain) of veratria for twenty days. It caused vomiting, and occasionally foaming at the mouth. The stools continued hard. Dr. Bardsley [Hosp. Facts and Observ. 1829.] observed vomiting and giddiness (reeling) produced in animals to whom he gave veratria.

β. On Man.—Applied to the nose, a minute quantity excites excessive sneezing. Rubbed on the skin in the form of ointment, it causes a sensation of heat and tingling (called by Dr. Turnbull electro-stimulation). This effect is not confined to the part and its immediate neighbourhood where the application has been made; for somewhat similar sensations are occasionally experienced in distant parts.

Taken internally, in small or medicinal doses, veratria excites a feeling of warmth in the stomach and bowels, which extends to the chest and extremities. Tingling and various anomalous sensations (as of a current of hot or cold air or water passing over the skin) are perceived in various parts of the body. Nausea and vomiting are occasionally excited by a full dose. On the secretions and exhalations its action is not very uniform. It frequently produces perspiration, and not unfrequently diuresis. Forcke [Op. cit. p. 22.] mentions increased secretion of saliva and of tears produced without the contact of the veratria either with the conjunctiva or mouth. The bowels are for the most part confined, so that purgatives are not uufrequently required during the use of it. Yet in some cases veratria has caused copious bilious evacuations. In some instances it has promoted, in others diminished, the appetite. Forcke mentions that a pustular eruption is sometimes induced by it. Dr. Bardsley generally found the pulse become slower and depressed after the use of veratria.

I am not acquainted with any cases of poisoning in the human subject by excessive doses of veratria. Vomiting and convulsions would probably be induced.

Uses.—Veratria is employed externally or internally: sometimes in both ways at the same time. It has been tried in the following cases:—

α. In neuralgia, it has been used by Dr. Turnbull, Dr. Ebers of Breslau, [Dierbach, Neuest. Entd. in d. Mat. Med. 1837.] and Dr. Forcke. It is applied in the form of ointment, containing from twenty to forty grains of veratria to an ounce of lard. The frictions are to be continued until the heat and tingling caused by the veratria have acquired a considerable degree of intensity. Though, according to my own experience, it fails to give relief in a large majority of cases, yet in some few its effects are highly beneficial, and in none is it injurious. As a remedy for neuralgia, it is, however, far inferior to Aconitum and its alkali Aconitina.

β. In some nervous diseases (Neuroses, Cull.)—Veratria has been extensively used in this class of diseases, but for the most most part empirically. If it possess any therapeutical power, "a more extended experience is required to establish its claim to our regard." [Paris, Appendix to the 8th edit. of the Pharmacologia.] Among the maladies against which it has been used (in some instances internally, but mostly externally) are—nervous palpitation, paralysis, hooping-cough, epilepsy, hysteria, hypochondriasis, &c. [See the treatises of Turnbull and Forcke, before referred to.]

γ. In rheumatism and gout.—Dr. Bardsley gave it internally in rheumatism, but with no remarkable results. Externally it has been employed in the form of ointment by Sir C. Scudamore and Dr. Turnbull. It should not be applied while the inflammation is of an active kind. It would appear to be best adapted for the neuralgic forms of rheumatism.

δ. In dropsy.—Dr. Bardsley administered it internally in dropsy, but says it possesses "no particular claims to the attention of the profession." Ebers employed veratria endermically, and also in the form of ointment, epidermically. It acted as a diuretic, and gave relief. [See Forcke, op. supra cit.]

Administration.—The ordinary veratria of the shops is administered in doses of one-sixth of a grain, three times a day. On account of its acridity it should not be given in solution, but in the form of pills.

α. Pililae Veratriae; Veratria Pills; Turnbull.—Veratria gr. j; Extract of Hyoscyamus; Liquorice powder, aa. gr. xij. Let 12 pills be made, of which one may be taken every three hours.

β. Tinctura Veratriae; Veratria Embrocation; Turnbull.—Veratria ʒj.; Rectified Spirit ℥ij. Dissolve. This embrocation is sometimes used as a substitute for the ointment. Magendie (Formulaire) directs a tincture of veratria to be prepared by dissolving four grains of the alkali in an ounce of alcohol. Of this from 10 to 25 drops are taken, in a cup of broth, as a substitute for the tincture of Colchicum.

γ. Unguentum Veratriae; Veratria Ointment; Turnbull.—Veratria ʒss.; Olive Oil ʒj; Prepared Lard ℥j. M.

δ. Sales Veratriae.—The sulphate and tartrate of veratria (prepared by saturating veratria with sulphuric or tartaric acid) are sometimes used instead of the uncombined alkali. The dose and mode of administration are the same as for the latter.

Antidote.—Vide Veratrum Album.