6. Plocaria helminthocorton, Endl.—Corsican Moss.
History.—This plant has been in use for several centuries among the natives of Corsica, as a remedy for intestinal worms. In 1756, Vaucher sent it to Paris [J. P. Schwendimann, in Schlegel's Thesaurus Mat. Med. t. iii. p. 181.].
Botany. Gen. Char.—See Plocaria Candida, p. 60.
Sp. Char.—Frond cartilaginous, terete, tufted, entangled. Stem filiform, creeping; branches setaceous, somewhat dichotomous, marked indistinctly with transverse streaks.
Hab.—The Mediterranean Sea, on the shores of Corsica.
Physical Properties.—Under the name of Corsican moss, is sold in the shops a mixture of various marine vegetables and animals. The essential, though usually smaller, part of the mixture is the Plocaria Helminthocorton; the remainder consists of Corallines, Sertularias, and Ceramiums, to the number of twenty species [De Candolle, Essai sur les Propriétés Méd. p. 348, 2d ed.]. Lamouroux states he found the remains of eighty species of marine plants [Fée, Cours d'Hist. Nat. i. 147.]. (See also T. C. Martius. [Grundriss d. Pharmacog. 12.])
The structure of the frond of Plocaria Helminthocorton is "very peculiar, being exceedingly lax and cellular, with a consistence similar to that of the stems and leaf-stalks of some aquatic herbaceous phaenogamous plants, and having the appearance of articulations which do not actually exist." [Greville, Algae Brit. p. 146.] The fructification is scarcely ever seen. The plant has a reddish-gray colour externally, but is whitish internally. Its odour strong, marine, and disagreeable; its taste is saline.
Composition.—Bouvier [Ann. de Chim. ix. 83, 1791.] obtained from 100 parts of Corsican moss, vegetable jelly [mucilage? carrageenin?] 60.2; vegetable fibre, 11.0; chloride of sodium, 9.2; sulphate of lime, 11.2; carbonate of lime, 7.5; iron, manganese, silica, and phosphate of lime, 1.7. Straub [Gilbert's Ann. Bd. lxvi. S. 212.] and Gaultier de Claubry [Ann. de Chim. xciii. 134.] have subsequently detected iodine, but the quantity is small.
Chemical Characteristics.—Corsican moss effervesces with acids, owing to the carbonate of lime which it contains. The brown watery infusion is deepened in colour by sesquichloride of iron, and lets fall some brown flocculi. Tincture of galls does not alter it. Nitric acid and starch give no indication of iodine.
Physiological Effects.—Its effects are not very obvious. The vegetable jelly (mucilage) must render it somewhat nutritive; the iodine and saline matters alterative. Mr. Farr [A Treatise explanatory of a Method whereby occult Cancers may be cured, 2d ed. 1825.] says that, after using the decoction for six or seven days, it acts as a diuretic and diaphoretic, and occasionally produces nausea and giddiness: after some time the stools become darker, present greenish specks, and are sometimes slimy.
Uses.—It has been principally celebrated as an anthelmintic against the large round worm (Ascaris lumbricoides). Bremser [Sur les Vers Intestin. 414.] ascribes its efficacy to chloride of sodium.
In 1822, Mr. Farr brought it forward as a remedy for cancer. He was led to try it from the circumstance of Napoleon Bonaparte having stated to Barry O'Meara that it was used in Corsica for dispersing tumours. Experience does not warrant us in ascribing any benefit to its employment in this disease.
Administration.—In powder, it is given in doses of a scruple to two drachms, mixed with honey or sugar; but the more usual mode of exhibiting it is in the form of decoction, prepared by boiling from four to six drachms of it in a pint of water; of this the dose is a wineglassful three times daily.