BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS.—A low perennial, common in rich woods, having a thick, prostrate root-stock, surcharged with an orange-red, acrid juice, and sending up in earliest spring a rounded, palmately lobed leaf and a one-flowered naked scape. Flower white, handsome; sepals 2; petals 8 to 12; stamens about 24; style short; stigma two-grooved; pod oblong, turgid, one-celled.
HABITAT.—Rich woods of North America.
DESCRIPTION OF DRUG.—A horizontal cylindrical rhizome about 50 mm. (2 in.) long and 10 mm. (2/5 in.) thick, slightly tapering and branched; externally reddish-brown, rough, wrinkled, and annulate; internally spongy, dotted with small resin cells of a ruby color. The color of a cut surface varies from a light to a very dark red, and presents a glossy, dotted appearance; bark thin, with resin cells scattered in the parenchyma; frequently the transverse surface shows either a uniform dark blood-red color, or a whitish, starchy surface scattered with numerous red dots; odor slight; taste bitter and acrid; the powder is sternutatory. The infusion of the drug becomes blood-red with sulphuric or hydrochloric acid.
Powder.—Characteristic elements: See Part iv, Chap. I, B.
ADULTERATION.—E. M. Holmes calls attention to an adulteration of Helionas rhizome (q.v.), false unicorn, a rather expensive admixture amounting, in one case, to 40 per cent. This root has a different transverse surface, being of a dirty white hue and horny texture, and exhibits a well-defined central column, occupying about one-third of the diameter, and containing irregularly placed vascular bundles.
CONSTITUENTS.—Sanguinarine, C20H15NO2, a colorless alkaloid yielding red salts, chelerythrine yielding lemon-yellow salts, homochelidonine and protopine. See Alkaloids, under Chelidonium (183). "A careful analysis of sanguinaria shows that the yield of sanguinarine scarcely reaches 1 per cent." Schlotterbeck believes that "the name Sanguinarine should be applied to the predominating alkaloid, to chelerythrine which forms yellow salts. Sanguinarine nitrate is becoming recognized more and more by the medical profession as a remedy in respiratory disorders and throat troubles." Ash, not exceeding 3 per cent.
Preparation of Sanguinarine.—Treat infusion of the powdered rhizome with dilute HCl or acetic acid, add NH4OH, collect precipitate, redissolve in alcohol, decolorize, and evaporate. It is white, soluble in alcohol, ether, benzene; yields bright red salts of an acrid taste.
ACTION AND USES.—An acrid emetic, stimulant, narcotic. Moderate doses produce nausea and circulatory depression, and in large doses it inflames the stomach, causing intense burning, thirst, vomiting, dimness of vision, vertigo, great prostration, and collapse.
Powdered sanguinaria snuffed up the nostrils is sternutatory, and applied locally it acts as a stimulant to indolent ulcers and as an escharotic to fungous granulations. The physiological action of sanguinaria bears no relation to its principal therapeutic application, namely, as a stimulating expectorant in subacute and chronic bronchitis. Dose: Expectorant, 0.2 Gm. (3 gr.); emetic, 1 Gm. (15 gr.).
Tinctura Sanguinariae (10 per cent.) Dose: 15 to 30 drops (1 to 2 mils)