147. Daphne mezereum, Linn.—Common Mezereon or Spurge-Olive.
Sex. Syst. Octandria, Monogynia.
(Radicis cortex, L.—Root-bark, E. D.)
History.—Tragus [Hist. Stirpium. 1532.] is the earliest author who mentions this plant. [Sprengel, Hist. Rei Herb. Praef. xi.] He calls it Thymelaea. The Mezereon of Avicenna, [Lib. 2ndus, tract. 2ndus, cap. 464.] and of other Arabian authors, is declared by C. Bauhin to be Chamelaea tricocca (now called Cneorum trioccon), a plant of the order Euphorbiaceae; but it is probably identical with the χαμελαία of Dioscorides, which is declared by Sibthorpe [Prod. Fl. Graecae.] and Fraas [Synops. Plant. Fl. Classicae, 1845.] to be Daphne oleoides.
Botany. Gen. Char.—Flowers hermaphrodite. Calyx funnel-shaped; limb in 4 segments; throat without scales. Stamina 8, inclosed within the tube, inserted in 2 rows near the throat. Hypogynous scales 0. Ovary 1-celled. Style terminal, very short; stigma capitate. Drupe baccate, 1-seeded, naked, with a crustaceous putamen or stone. Seed inverted; albumen 0; embryo orthotropal; cotyledons plano-convex (Endlicher).
Sp. Char.—Flowers naked on the stem, sessile, about 3 together. Leaves lanceolate, deciduous (Smith).
Stem bushy, 4 or 5 feet high, with upright, alternate, smooth, tough, and pliant branches; leafy while young. Leaves scattered, stalked, lanceolate, smooth, 2 inches long, appearing after the flowers, and soon accompanied by flower-buds for the next season. Flowers highly, and to many persons too powerfully, fragrant, seated in little tufts on the naked branches, with several brown, smooth, ovate bracteae underneath. Calyx like a corolla in texture, crimson all over; the tube, externally hairy. Berries scarlet.
Hab.—Indigenous. Plentiful near Andover. Flowers in March. Collected for medicinal purposes in Kent and Hampshire.
Var. flore albo has white flowers and yellow fruit.
Var. autumnale has larger leaves and flowers in the autumn.
Description of the Bark.—The root-bark (cortex radicis mezerei) is alone employed in this country. It is tough, pliable, and when dry fibrous; externally brown and corrugated; internally white, tough, and cottony. It occurs in strips of several inches long. When chewed, the taste is at first sweetish; afterwards an acrid burning sensation is felt in the mouth and fauces, and extends to the gullet and stomach if the bark and saliva be swallowed. This sensation continues for several hours. The odour of the fresh root is faint, but marked.
The stem-bark (cortex caudicis vel caulis mezerei) is usually considered to be somewhat less active than the root-bark; but in the Dublin, United States, and most of the continental Pharmacopoeias, the bark of both root and stem is included under the general name of mezereon bark (cortex mezerei). The stem-bark, in the fresh state, is externally somewhat darker and rougher than the root-bark; but it is most readily recognized, in the fresh state, by the green colour of the cellular integument beneath the epidermis.
In Germany, the bark of the stem and larger branches is removed in spring, folded in small bundles, and dried for medicinal use. It is imported from Hamburgh.
I am informed by Mr. M'Culloch, of Covent Garden Market, that the root-bark commands nearly three times the price of the stem-bark. The bark is stripped from the crushed roots while fresh and soft.
Sometimes the entire root (bark and wood) of mezereum is used instead of the root-bark; but this proceeding is highly objectionable, as the wood possesses only a feeble acridity.
The bark of other species of Daphne (as of D. Gnidium and D. Laureola) is said to be sometimes substituted for that of the mezereon. Mr. Squire [Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. i. p. 395, 1842.] states that
13 ¼ lbs. of fresh mezereon root produced by drying 3 ¼ lbs. of wood; 3 ½ lbs. of bark, dry; equivalent to 8 ½ lbs. of fresh bark.
3 lbs. of stems produced ¾ lb. of dried bark.
Composition.—The bark of the stem was analyzed by C. G. Gmelin and Bär, [L. Gmelin, Handb. d. Chem, Bd. ii. S. 1317.] and found to consist of wax, an acrid resin, daphnin, a trace of volatile oil, yellow colouring principle, uncrystallizable but fermentable sugar, nitrogenous gummy matter, reddish brown extractive, woody fibre, free malic acid, and malates of potash, lime, and magnesia.
1. Acrid Resin.—Obtained by boiling the bark in alcohol; when the solution cools, some wax is deposited. The supernatant liquid is to be evaporated, and the residual extract washed with water. The resin then left behind is dark green, and soluble in both alcohol and ether. To this substance mezereon owes its acridity. There is, however, some reason to suspect that this resin is itself a compound of two principles, viz. an acrid, vesicating, fixed oil, and another substance. The resin is rendered soluble in water by means of the other constituents of the bark. Mr. Squire could not obtain any blistering effect from the resin extracted by alcohol.
2. Daphnin.—A peculiar crystalline principle, having a bitter, slightly astringent taste. It is soluble in alcohol and ether, but possesses neither basic nor acid properties. Gmelin and Bär consider it to be analogous to asparagin. It is not the active principle of mezereon.
3. Acrid Volatile Oil?—According to Mr. Squire, mezereon contains a volatile acrid sub stance which is carried off by the vapour of water, but not by the vapour of alcohol. He says that "the pungent odour given off by boiling mezereon root in water over a lamp is so powerful, that, after holding my head over it for a short time, great irritation was produced, and it was difficult to carry on respiration."
Physiological Effects.—All parts of the plant, but more especially the bark and the fruit, are endowed with excessive acridity; in virtue of which they cause irritation and inflammation in tissues to which they are applied. When swallowed, therefore, in large quantities, they prove poisonous. The topical action of mezereon bark is that of an irritant, and, when the bark has been applied to the skin, vesicant.
A decoction of mezereon bark, taken in moderate quantities, sometimes appears to promote the action of the secreting and exhaling organs (especially the kidneys and the skin). But Dr. Alex. Russell [Med. Observ. and Inq. vol. iii. p. 194.] could not observe, upon the strictest inquiry, "that it sensibly increases any of the secretions, more than the same quantity of any small liquor would do." In some cases it proves laxative, where the patients are easily moved, and large doses disturb and irritate the stomach. Richter [Ausführ. Arzneimittell. Bd. ii. S. 193.] says that, under the long-continued use of mezereon, the saliva acquires a peculiar odour. In larger doses it causes dryness and heat in the throat, increased saliva, pain in the stomach and bowels, and sometimes vomiting and purging—the stools being occasionally bloody. The urinary organs are sometimes specifically affected by it; irritation, analogous to that produced by cantharides, being set up by it. An affection of the cerebro-spinal system (marked by great feebleness, giddiness, incapability of keeping the erect posture, and slight convulsive movements) is occasionally brought on.[Vogt, Pharmakodynamik, Bd. ii. S. 305, 2te Aufl.] I am unacquainted with any cases which have proved fatal from the use of mezereon bark. Vicat [Orfila, Toxicol. Gén.] mentions the case of a dropsical patient, in whom the wood caused diarrhoea, pain, and vomiting, which continued for six weeks.
Uses.—In this country, mezereon is scarcely ever employed alone. It is usually administered in conjunction with sarsaparilla (see ante, p. 278), and is employed as a sudorific and alterative in venereal, rheumatic, scrofulous, and chronic cutaneous diseases. Decoction of the root-bark of mezereon was recommended to the notice of the profession, by Dr. Alexander Russell, [Op supra cit. vol. iii. p 189.] as a very efficacious remedy in cases of venereal nodes and nocturnal pains. Dr. Home [Clin. Exper. and Hist.] also speaks of it as " a powerful deobstruent in all venereal tumours of the scirrhous kind, where mercury has failed." But Mr. Pearson, [Observ. on the Effects of various Articles of the Mat. Med. 1800.] after many years' observation of it, says, "I feel
myself authorized to assert unequivocally, that the mezereum has not the power of curing the venereal disease in any one stage, or in any one form." Dr. Cullen [Mat. Med.] employed it with success in some cutaneous diseases.
As a topical remedy, it is sometimes applied to relieve toothache. It is occasionally used as a masticatory. Dr. Withering [Arrangement of Brit. Plants, vol ii. p. 490, 7th edit.] cured a case of difficulty of swallowing (arising from a paralytic affection) by mezereon, which he directed to be chewed frequently. In France, the bark of both Daphne Mezereum and D. Gmdium is used as a vesicatory. [J. A. Leroy, Essai sur l'Usage de l'Ecorce du Garou, ou Traité des Effets des Exutoires employés contre les Maladies rebelles. Paris, 1774.] The mode of applying it is this: First soften the bark by soaking it in hot vinegar and water, and then apply it to the part by a compress and bandage. The application is to be renewed night and morning, until vesication is produced.
Administration.—Mezereon is usually administered internally, in the form of decoction. It is a constituent of the decoctum sarzae compositum (see ante, p. 278).
As a masticatory, a few grains of the bark may be chewed.
For external use, an ointment prepared with the extract is sometimes employed.
Antidote.—In a case of poisoning by mezereon, evacuate the contents of the stomach as speedily as possible, and give emollient drinks, opiates, and the vegetable acids. To counteract inflammatory symptoms, the usual antiphlogistic treatment should be adopted.
1. DECOCTUM MEZEREI, E.; Decoction of Mezereon.—(Mezereon Bark, in chips, ʒij; Liquorice Root, bruised, ℥ss; Water Oij. Mix them, and boil down with a gentle heat to a pint and a half, and strain.)—Stimulant and sudorific. Used in chronic rheumatism, and secondary syphilis. Dose, f℥iv to f℥viij, three or four times a day.
From Mr. Squire's observations, already referred to, it appears that ebullition is injurious to the action of mezereon, by dissipating a volatile active principle.
2. EXTRACTUM MEZEREI ALCOHOLICUM; Alcoholic or Spirituous Extract of Mezereon.—A tincture of mezereon is first made with rectified spirit, and the spirit then drawn off by distillation.
In the Prussian Pharmacopoeia, the alcoholic extract is directed to be digested in ether, and from the ethereal tincture is obtained by distillation the extractum mezerei aethereum.
Extract of mezereon is greenish or brownish-green coloured, and is insoluble in water. Mr. Squire obtained a drachm of dry resin (alcoholic extract) by digesting half an ounce of the bruised bark in ten ounces of alcohol, and then distilling off the alcohol. During the distillation, none of the pungency of the root came over.
Extract of mezereon is used for the preparation of a blistering ointment or tissue.
3. UNGUENTUM MEZEREI [U. S.]; Mezereon Ointment—The Prussian Pharmacopoeia directs this to be prepared by mixing ʒj of the ethereal extract of mezereon with ℥j of wax ointment. In the Hamburgh Codex, it is prepared by dissolving ʒij of the spirituous extract in a small quantity of spirit, and then mixing ℥viij of purified lard and ℥j of white wax.—[The U. S. Pharm. directs to take of Mezereon, sliced transversely, four ounces; Lard fourteen ounces ; White Wax two ounces. Moisten the mezereon with a little alcohol, and beat it in an iron mortar until reduced to a fibrous mass; then digest it, by means of a salt-water bath, with the lard and wax previously melted together, for twelve hours; strain with strong expression, and allow the strained liquid to cool slowly, so that any undissolved matters may subside. From these separate the medicated ointment.]—The ointment is used as an irritant. Applied to ulcers or wounds, it serves to excite suppuration. Mr. Squire states that an ointment made by boiling the root in lard soon spoils by keeping.