"Chiretta is the plant, Swertia Chirata, Buch.-Ham., collected when in flower, and dried." Br. "The dried plant of Swertia Chirayita (Roxburgh) Hamilton (Fam. Gentianaceae)." N. F.
East Indian Balmony; Chiretta; Chirette, Fr.; Chiretta. Ostindischer Enzian, G.
Chirata was for many years official in the IT. S. Pharmacopoeia and is still retained by the British authority and in the N. F. According to Lloyd, this drug has long been held in esteem by the Hindoos. It first attracted attention in England in 1829 and was introduced into the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia in 1839.
Swertia Chirayita (Roxb.), Hamilton (Ophelia Chirata, Griesbach).—The chirayta, or chirata, is an annual plant, about three feet high, with a branching oblique root, and an erect, smooth, slightly winged branching stem, and furnished with opposite, lanceolate, very acute, entire, smooth, three or five-nerved leaves. The flowers are numerous, peduncled, yellow, with a four-cleft calyx having linear acute divisions, the limb of the corolla spreading and four-parted, four stamens, a single style, and a two-lobed stigma. The capsules are unilocular. The plant is a native of Nepaul and other parts of Northern India. The whole of it is gathered when the flowers are well advanced. In the Indian bazaars the name chirata is applied to various dried gentianaceous plants; the most important of these is the Ophelia angustifolia (Buch.-Ham.). It yields the Paharee or Hill chirata, which is distinguished by its inferior bitterness, and its rectangular, winged stems, whose section presents a thick woody ring and a centre nearly or entirely hollow, with only traces of pith, A false chirata, which also found its way into the London markets, and resembles the official variety in having a well developed pith, but which is completely lacking in bitterness, is affirmed to be the product of Ophelia alata. (P. J., xvii, 903.) Under the name of Indian chirata, the dried plant of the Andrographis paniculata Nees has appeared in the London market. It resembles much more closely recently dried broom tops than the true chirata. It is a little more than two feet long. The branching stems are from 1/8 to 1/4 inch in thickness near the base, woody, quadrangular, furrowed, smooth, slightly knotted at the point from which the branches spring, the longitudinal furrows are continued through the roots, which have numerous fine radicles, the leaves are opposite decussate, branches erect or forming an acute angle with the stem, terminal shoots extremely slender.
The dried plant is imported into Europe in bundles, consisting mainly of the stems, with portions of the root attached. The stems contain a yellowish pith. The drug is officially described as "Stem about one metre long, smooth, brown, or purplish-brown, slightly winged and much branched above, rounded below and containing a large, continuous, easily separable pith. Root oblique. Branches slender, elongated, decussate. Leaves opposite, ovate, glabrous, entire, usually with three to seven lateral veins. Flowers small, numerous, panicled. Fruits superior, bicarpellary, unilocular. No odor; taste extremely bitter." Br.
It is described in the N. F. as "smooth, root simple, about 7 mm. in thickness near the crown, stem about 1 M. in length, externally yellowish-or purplish-brown; cylindrical near the base, quadrangular and slightly winged above, with numerous opposite, ascending branches; wood yellowish, thin, enclosing usually a large yellowish easily separable pith; leaves opposite, sessile, ovate-lanceolate, entire, five nerved, about 6 cm. in length; flowers numerous, panicled, small, with a four-lobed calyx and corolla, capsule ovoid-acute, one-celled, many-seeded. Odor slight; taste intensely bitter. Chirata yields not more than 6 per cent. of ash." N. F.
The virtues of chirata are imparted to water and alcohol, and are retained in the extract. According to Lassaigne and Boissel, the stems contain resin, a yellow bitter substance, brown coloring matter, gum, and various salts. Flückiger and Hohn, who subsequently examined the stems and roots of chirata, extracted from them sugar, wax, chlorophyll, soft resin, tannin, an acid which they name ophelic, possessing the formula C13H20O10, and a peculiar bitter substance, denominated chiratin, C26H48O15. The acid is syrupy, deliquescent, yellowish-brown, at first slightly sour, afterwards intensely bitter. It is soluble in water, with some turbidness, probably owing to resin mixed with it, and completely soluble in alcohol, or a mixture of this with ether. It decomposes certain salts, and forms amorphous compounds with acids. Chiratin is a yellow, hygroscopic powder, but feebly crystallizable, very bitter, sparingly soluble in cold water, more so in hot water, and readily dissolved by alcohol and ether. It is neutral to test paper, and yields a copious precipitate with tannic acid. By the action of acids, chiratin is separated into ophelic acid, and a yellowish-brown, amorphous substance, bitter, scarcely soluble in water, readily soluble in alcohol, and not reducing copper solutions, as the ophelic acid does. Hohn gives it the formula C13H24O3, and names it chiratogenin.
Uses.—Chirata has long been used in India. It has been introduced into Europe, and appears to be highly esteemed, but has not been employed to any considerable extent in this country. Its properties are those of the pure bitters, and probably do not differ from those of the other members of the family of Gentianaceae. (See Gentiana.) Like these, in overdoses it nauseates and oppresses the stomach. Some have supposed that, in addition to its tonic properties, it exerts a peculiar influence over the liver, promoting the secretion of bile and correcting it when deranged, and restoring healthy evacuations in cases of habitual costiveness. It has been used in dyspepsia, and in the debility of convalescence, and generally in cases in which corroborant measures are indicated. In India it has been employed in intermittents and remittents, combined with the seeds of Guilandina Bonducella L. It may be given in powder, infusion, tincture, or fluid-extract.
Dose, ten to twenty grains (0.65-1.3 Gm.).