138. Asarum europaeum, Linn.—Common asarabacca.

Botanical name: 

Sex. Syst. Dodecandria, Monogynia.
(Folia, L. D.)

History.—This plant was used in medicine by the ancients. Dioscorides [Lib. i. cap. ix.] calls it άσαρον.

Botany. Gen. Char.—Calyx campanulate, 3-lobed. Stamens 12, inserted on the ovary; anthers adnate to the middle of the filaments. Style short. Stigma stellate, 6-lobed. Capsule 6-celled. (Bot. Gall.)

Sp. Char.—Leaves 2 on each stem, kidney-shaped, obtuse [somewhat hairy] (Smith). [Eng. Flora.]

The branching root-fibres arise from an underground stem or rhizome. The aerial stems are several from each rhizome. Leaves petiolated. From the axil of the two leaves springs a solitary, rather large, drooping flower, upon a short peduncle, of a greenish-brown colour and coriaceous substance. Segment of the calyx incurved. Capsule coriaceous. Seeds ovate, with horny albumen.

Hab.—Indigenous. Perennial. Flowers in May.

Description.—The whole plant (root-fibres, rhizome, and aerial stems, with leaves and flowers) is kept in the shops under the name of asarabacca (radix cum herbâ asari), but the leaves only are directed to be used in the Pharmacopoeia. Dr. Batty [Eng. Flora.] states that the plant is gathered for medicinal uses in the woods near Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland. The rhizome is about as thick as a goose-quill, grayish, quadrangular, knotted. It has a pepper-like odour, and an acrid taste. The leaves are almost inodorous, but have an acrid, aromatic, and bitter taste.

Composition.—Goerz [Pfaff, Mat. Med. Bd. iii. S. 229.] published an analysis of the root in 1784; Lassaigne and Feneulle another in 1820; [Journ. de Pharm, t. vi. p. 561.] Regimbeau a third in 1827; [Ibid. t. xiv. p. 200.] and Gräger a fourth in 1830. [Goebel and Kunze, Pharm. Waarenk.]

Gräger's Analyses.
Volatile oil
Asarin [? Asarite]
Starch2.048Citric acid0.54
Glutin and albumen1.010Ligneous fibre15.00
Citric acid0.316Water74.84
Ligneous fibre12.800Loss0.35
Salts (citrates, chloride, sulphate, and phosphates)3.042
Fresh root of asarabacca100.818Fresh herb of asarabacca100.00

1. Volatile Oily Matters.—By submitting asarabacca root to distillation with water, three volatile oily matters are obtained; one liquid and two solid, at ordinary temperatures.

α. Liquid Volatile Oil (Oleum Asari).—It is yellow, glutinous, lighter than water, and has an acrid, burning taste, and a penetrating valerian-like odour. It is slightly soluble in water, more so in alcohol, ether, and the oils (volatile and fixed). Its constituents are C8H4O.

β. Asarite of Gräger.—In small needles of a silky lustre. It is odourless and tasteless. It is fusible and volatilizable by heat; its vapour being white and very irritating. It is soluble in alcohol, ether, and the volatile oils, but not in water. Both nitric and sulphuric acids dissolve the crystals without the evolution of gas: if water be added to the sulphuric solution, the asarite is thrown down unchanged.

γ. Asarum-camphor.—Is distinguished from asarite by the following characters: Water throws it down from its alcoholic solution in cubes or six-sided prisms, whereas asarite is precipitated in delicate flexible needles. It dissolves in nitric acid without effervescence. Water added to its sulphuric solution throws down a brown resin. After fusion, it has the form of a crystalline, striated mass. Its composition is C8H5O2. Blanchet and Sell regard it as the hydrate of the liquid volatile oil.

2. Bitter Principle of Asarabacca (Asarin of Gräger and of some other pharmacologists).—Brownish, very bitter, soluble in alcohol.

Physiological Effects.—Every part of the plant possesses acrid properties. Applied to the mucous membrane of the nose, it excites sneezing, increased secretion of mucus, and even a discharge of blood. Swallowed, it causes vomiting, purging, and griping pains. It is also said to possess diuretic and diaphoretic properties. Dr. Cullen has enumerated it in his list of diuretics, but expresses his doubts whether it possesses any specific power of stimulating the renal vessels.

Uses.—Asarabacca has been employed in medicine to excite vomiting, and as an errhine. As an emetic, it is now superseded by ipecacuanha and tartarized antimony. As an errhine, to excite irritation and a discharge of mucus from the nasal membrane, it has been used in certain affections of the brain, eyes, face, mouth, and throat, on the principle of counter-irritation: thus in paralytic affections of the mouth and tongue, in toothache, and in ophthalmia.

Administration.—We may administer either the root or leaves, recollecting that the latter are somewhat milder than the former. As an emetic, the dose is half a drachm to a drachm. As an errhine, one or two grains of the root, or three or four grains of the dried leaves, are snuffed up the nostrils every night.—The powder of this plant is supposed to form the basis of cephalic snuff.

Pulvis Asari Compositus; Compound Powder of Asarabacca.—(Asarabacca Leaves, dried, ℥j; Lavender Flowers, dried, ʒj. Reduce them together to powder.)—Used as an errhine in headache and ophthalmia. Dose, from grs. v to grs. viij.

The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1854.