159. Cocculus.—Fish berries.
159. COCCULUS.—FISH BERRIES. Coc'culus In'dicus. N.F. The fruit of Anamirta cocculus Wight and Arnott. Obtained from a climbing shrub in Eastern India, native of Malabar coast. The berries are ovoid, kidney-shaped, and about the size of a large pea, with an obscure ridge around the convex back. Externally wrinkled and blackish-brown in color. The endocarp is white, and extends from the concave side deeply into the interior.
The seed is semilunar, oily, very bitter, but the pericarp is tasteless. The chief constituent is picrotoxin.
Preparation of Picrotoxin.—To aqueous extract add MgO; treat this with hot alcohol. Evaporate and collect the deposited picrotoxin.
Locally employed in cutaneous affections. The decoction (or tincture added to water, 1 to 4) is used as an insecticide in head lice. Picrotoxin is an acrid narcotic poison; in its action on the secretions it is said to resemble pilocarpine. The berries have been used from ancient times for stupefying and capturing fish, but "this unsportsmanlike method of fishing in some parts of the country is now illegal."
Cocculus indicus has been sometimes confounded with the fruit of the Laurus nobilis, commonly known as bayberry. The latter is, however, generally larger, distinctly oval in form, and the seeds lie loose within and fill the cavity of the fruit. The seed of the bayberry has an agreeable aromatic taste.